Ferguson riot

By David Blake of the Blake Consulting and Training Group in Brentwood, CA. Republished from Force Science Institute:

Nearly half of patrol officers surveyed nationally say they have cut back on traffic and pedestrian stops, confirming that a suspected “Ferguson Effect” is significantly affecting proactive policing. The recent poll was designed and conducted by certified Force Science Analyst David Blake, a retired 16-year police veteran with a master’s degree in psychology who heads an independent law enforcement consulting and training firm. Through an online Survey Monkey questionnaire, he gathered responses from a cross-section of nearly 500 front-line sworn personnel, many of them encouraged to participate by their departments. . . .

The anonymous respondents, ranging in age from 21 to 65, have “between less than five to 30-plus years” on the job, Blake reports, and work for “small suburban (25 officers) to large metropolitan departments (3,000+) across the nation.”

HIGHLIGHTS. Blake intends to submit a full report of his findings for publication in a professional journal, but here are the highlights.

Over 97% of participants said they believe that proactive policing decreases crime. But amidst the highly charged atmosphere surrounding American law enforcement of late, 49% said they have cut proactive traffic stops by “between 5 and 10 a month,” and 47% said they have reduced proactive pedestrian stops by the same amount, reflecting a significant diminishment in “the things cops do proactively more than anything else,” Blake says.

Why the change?

• Nearly 60% of those surveyed said they have “slowed down/stopped proactive policing due to media influence.” The vast majority (94%) believe the media are “somewhat or completely biased toward a negative representation of law enforcement.

• 36% blamed their retreat on “low citizen support.” Some 46% reported having a “negative” or “increasingly negative” relationship with their community.

• Large numbers cited perceived shortcomings in departmental leadership: 47% cited “negative executive-level influence” for their slow down; half felt their leadership’s “response to current trends has left them feeling unsupported”; nearly 40% said management had “increased discipline against officers”; nearly 63% said management had “created more restrictive policies.”

• Without offering specifics, about one-quarter said that “new training” was responsible for their change in patrolling style. About 20% thought this training was “not evidence-based (proven to be successful)” and nearly 75% of the total sample thought that new training they had received was “not beneficial,” even if it didn’t directly impact their street practices.

(Overall, responses add up to more than 100% because many officers noted more than one cause for their change in performance.)

CAUSE FOR CONCERN. More than 60% of the officers responding “believe criminal activity has increased in their jurisdiction” in the last year, Blake reports. Most believe this spike is “due to less proactive enforcement.”

The question of whether a Ferguson Effect exists “is now less ambiguous,” Blake asserts. The survey data “should be concerning to police executives as well as society, based on the potential long-term effects of decreasing proactive policing.”

In analyzing his poll responses, he writes, “I have found there is a consistent theme within law enforcement patrol-level officers. That theme is one of anxiety and fear: An officer-level perception that doing their job may ultimately lead to discipline, termination, or criminal prosecution.”

It is not surprising, he notes, that “[t]he subsequent behavior associated with this perception [is] an aversion to proactivity based upon personal risk assessment, [a] concept within Psychology termed, ‘negative conditioning.’ “

In an interview with Force Science News, Blake urged that the IACP and other large law enforcement organizations springboard from his “exploratory” survey into a deeper investigation of the Ferguson Effect and its potential remedies.

In addition, he says, “individual agencies should survey their own officers anonymously” to see the extent, if any, that the phenomenon is having in their jurisdiction. “Once they have the data, they can drill down and find where the greatest concerns lie and what to do about it.

“There are a lot of unanswered questions, but agencies have the ability to answer them if they’re interested. If we let things go, the situation will just get worse and worse.”

OTHER VOICES. At about the time Blake’s survey results became available, two other pertinent items crossed our desk.

One was an article in the Chicago Tribune, reporting an “alarming” jump in the city’s street violence: a 25% year-to-date increase in homicides and a 73% leap in people shot, following “two consecutive years in which shootings rose by double digits.”

On Jan. 1, the paper noted, the Chicago PD “began requiring that cops fill out detailed reports every time they make a street stop” as part of a “landmark agreement” with the American Civil Liberties Union in concern over “racial profiling.”

The change, the Trib says, “has not only kept officers busy with paperwork longer than before…but also increased their anxiety about being second-guessed on whom they’ve stopped.”

The result: A plummet from more than 61,000 street stops in January 2015 to roughly 9,000 in January 2016–and a 32% drop in arrests.

“[C]rime experts and the ACLU have contended that no empirical evidence exists that would suggest the low police activity has led to a rise in violence,” the newspaper said. But a CJ and psychology professor from a local university says it is “foolish” not to draw a connection.

The other item of interest is an entry in a blog maintained by an officer in southern California under the pseudonym Jack Dunphy. The author invites his readers to “accompany” him and his partner on patrol in a crime-ridden section of Los Angeles where the murder toll so far this year has doubled over last and arrests for violent offenses are down by 19%.

Gathered near the entrance to an alleyway, the two officers spot “a few members of the local street gang,” one of whom is “perhaps responsible” for the recent killing of a teenage rival.

“What do we do? We drive on, for we are not police officers in an ideal world. We are police officers…in the year 2016, and we know there is little to be gained and much to be lost if we get out of our car and engage these young men.

“If everything goes as pleasantly as things can go these days, we will at the very least be given a load of grief, first by the young men themselves, then by the many family members and other sympathizers who…will soon emerge from nearby homes and apartment houses.

“And if one of them runs? Well then we might have to chase him, and if we catch him we might have to hit him, an incident that will be captured on cell phone video and posted on YouTube and, if the footage is sufficiently inflammatory, broadcast on local television news.

“And if one of these young men is armed and we have to shoot him, and if video of the shooting does not clearly demonstrate that we were fired upon first, we will see our chain of command abandon us and pronounce our tactics unsound, this despite the fact that few of our superiors have actually stood in our shoes.

“And we might see that video become a national news story, one that will prompt the police commissioners, the mayor, the governor, and even the president of the United States himself to offer their unschooled opinions on the deficiencies of our actions. So, as we are not fools, we drive on….

“And now that we’ve chosen to ignore this gathering of street criminals, and after other officers have done the same with similar groups across the area, those criminals will be all the more emboldened to carry on with the behavior that terrorizes their law-abiding neighbors, for the only thing that will deter that behavior is the credible threat of the bad consequences that flow from being stopped by the police while possessing a gun. If the cops won’t act, if they drive on by, the drive-by shootings will only increase. And that is exactly what is happening….”

David Blake of the Blake Consulting and Training Group in Brentwood, CA, can be reached at: dave@blake-consulting.com.

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45 Responses to Force Science Institute Survey: The “Ferguson Effect” on Policing Is Real

  1. Yup, knew this was going to happen, and it’s only going to get worse. While law enforcement falls back, the average person is even more responsible for their own safety. POTG already knew this, I just wonder how long or what event it’s going to take to make the rest of the population understand that.

    • The assumption that the anti-police faction makes is that the armed citizen would always do the right thing and never make a mistake like those awful police do. Except when a citizen takes the responsibility and has a confrontation we call him stupid even as we defend their actions. You can’t have it both ways. You either except policing with all its faults or you do it yourself like George Zimmerman.

      • “You either except policing with all its faults or you do it yourself like George Zimmerman.” No sir, we hold all accountable for their actions. We do not accept thuggery at any level. That goes for Zimmerman, the officer on the street, you and me.

        • Humans are imperfect. They make mistakes. The do things in the heat of the moment that they wouldn’t do when they have time for cool reason. When you penalize those charged with public safety for making mistakes then they stop doing things that put themselves at legal risk.

          You keep talking about getting the cops on the street like the old days. If you do that without giving them the leeway that they had in “the good old days” and without the social cohesion that existed during that era you are creating the conditions for more violent confrontations than you have now.

          Life is a lot simpler sitting behind a keyboard than being out on the streets.

        • You misunderstood tdiinva – We’re not discussing if George Zimmerman is a thug.

          The police said he didn’t do anything illegal.
          The prosecutor said he didn’t do anything illegal (before getting pressured to lie and recant).
          Finally, definitively, the jury said he didn’t do anything illegal.

          What tdiinva is saying (my understanding) is that Zimmerman took a lot of criticism for being too proactive in following the thug around. “Looking for trouble” may be how many described it. I remember that too. We all do.

          tdiinva is noting that one cannot watch a decrease in police activity, and expect one’s quality of life to stay the same without something filling its place.

          Remember the guy who would walk around a neighborhood occasionally, and suspiciously scope out cars and garages? Remember calling the police and he would leave as soon as a cruiser started following him?

          Well, they won’t send a cruiser anymore (like in the UK they ignore car burglary complaints in many areas). That guy is not going to leave unless YOU get off your ass and run him off. If you don’t, he starts breaking into cars at night and stealing stuff.

          Now you are a slave, forced to give a small, but growing percentage of your labor and sweat to someone taking it against natural and community law. Unless YOU now pull a Zimmerman and “look for trouble” by following the thug around and running him off, it will get worse.

        • tdi, of course mistakes happen, and that’s taken into account when we judge behavior. That’s why both involuntary manslaughter and murder exist, when the outcome is the same. For instance, TTAG posted a story about a cop that shot and killed an elderly unarmed man who was not resisting while he was handcuffed face down on the ground. Everyone understands that the cop didn’t mean to shoot him. It was a mistake. But if we do not hold that officer accountable, if we just accept this is going to happen, then policy and training won’t change to make sure that it doesn’t happen.
          And yes, I am behind a keyboard (keypad really) now, but I wasn’t always. In fact, I was once conducting searches, setting up road blocks, performing interviews on the street, and detaining people, back when I was on a Police Mentor Team, in Afghanistan. I’ve done the same thing with central American and Caribbean police forces as well.

  2. I have no problem with amy of this. Most of the hard data shows violent crime is at an all time low and continues to decrease, despite the polled officers “feelings”. At the same time, the agents of the state must always be scrutinized and questioned to the utmost degree to ensure they are not violating the rights of the citizenry.

    Officers are ostensibly professionals and volunteers. If they don’t like the public eye on them, they aren’t under any obligation to remain in their role. The backlash against law enforcement didnt come out of thin air, there are very real issues that need dramatic attention. Stop and Frisk, Asset Forfeiture, thousands of slain family pets and bad shoots defended tooth and nail by departments, etc ad nauseum. The media has its faults, and so do a lot of protestors, but anything keeping the agents of the star on their toes and on their best behavior is fine by me.

    Remember, despite having “To protect and serve” stenciled on their cars, they are under no obligation or expectation to do either, as confirmed by the Supreme Court. They can and will lie to you, and in some jurisdictions can and will steal any assets from you they might wish and require you to spend vast resources to counter sue to get those assets back. The more scrutiny the police get, the better they stay in line.

        • Let’s wait and see. All the numbers in this post are good to know, but one thing that is missing is what effect it all had on crime rates. My prediction is that it will be negligible.

      • Do we have any hard data on this that shows a verifiable trend, or just yearly variable spikes in cherry picked politically sensitive spots?

        And, more to the point, how are we defining areas “where SJW bullshit is prevalent”? I’m not a fan of many of these groups or the asinine things they seem to get upset about, but defining any specific are would seem to be rather difficult without having to deal with gobs of inconsistencies and exceptions.

  3. Let the neighbors who come out in defense of these kids deal with the fallout in their neighborhoods. Still, if you do there’s that not much point in paying the police to patrol the area. If only we had someone in a national leadership position who didn’t encourage behavior like this!

  4. So more cops now have an excuse for being lazy. They do less work to avoid increaseed accountability, and to avoid getting in trouble for violating a citizen’s rights. Bull****, police need to follow the same laws they are expected to enforce, if that is too scary or difficult, or they are too dumb to do it without breaking the law themselves, get a new job.

  5. If you know something is the right thing to do, and you choose to not do that right thing because it will make people mad at you, what does that make you? It makes you a coward.
    The same goes for law enforcement officers. If officers are not making legal stops when they should, not investigating, and not making arrests when there is cause to do so, because they are afraid the media will be angry at them, even if they are afraid some politician will be mad at them and cause them difficulty, then they have shown a lack of the moral character required for their position.

    Also, I found it interesting that a reduction in force by well over 600% left to an only 32% drop in arrests.

    • I think that John’s statement above works both ways too. If you see a pedestrian jaywalking through an abandoned road… do the right thing. If you see a guy sell his neighbor some loose cigarettes … do the right thing. If you see a guy get in his car even though the meter expired 10 seconds ago…do the right thing. If a car goes along and you catch them doing 61 in a 60… do the right thing. If the police chief tells you it’s quota time… don’t be a coward. Tell him off. Do the right thing. If your partner accidentally shoots a guy you were trying to arrest then sits on his body for a while – do the right thing.

      LOL.

  6. I love it when the police or firearm writers quote Force Science Institute research as authoritative, just like I love it when the MSM does the same for Southern Poverty Law Center research.

    Once an organization has been thoroughly discredited for its bias and lack of scientific rigor, it should henceforth be thoroughly ignored.

  7. Another problem: Survey Monkey. These kinds of online surveys are interesting, but they are usually not projectable to the universe of all LEOs. How the sample was recruited is key to the validity of any survey and this doesn’t sound like a random sample of LEOs.

    • Especially when “he gathered responses from a cross-section of nearly 500 front-line sworn personnel, many of them encouraged to participate by their departments. . . .”
      The potential for abuse and noise are astounding.

  8. Does this mean they are going to stop busting people who are trading cigarettes for cash on the corner where they live?

  9. These are management and leadership failures. Illustrate a poorly performing group of people in any profession and you can trace that back to a leader who’s not doing their job. This was the foreseeable outcome of treating citizens – whether it’s a targeted class of citizens or society at large as if their being “revenued” by the state.

    The citation quota system and it’s underpinnings, as well as the follow on system in which there is no “quota” for citations, just that you won’t get promoted if you don’t have the numbers is the root of this perception/image that police have with the public. It is by its very nature a system that is unfair to the citizen. If the leadership would stop chasing citation numbers and start tasking officers with finding non-traffic criminals, the dynamic just might change. Would we miss some “arrest by misadventure” busts? Yes. Would we be able to effect these arrests because these same people who would’ve been caught in an “arrest by misadventure” are stupid people doing stupid things in stupid places and we catch them anyway? Some of them. Will it be harder for criminals to ply their respective trades if we stopped fixating on speeders and general traffic citations and retask those officers smartly ? Definitely.

  10. I remember when “proactive policing” meant cops getting out of their cars and walking around neighborhoods, observing, talking to and making productive contacts with the people that they are supposed to protect.

    Proactive policing did not mean breaking people’s balls.

    Baltimore isn’t Fallujah. Chiraq isn’t Iraq. Tactics employed to keep the civilian population under control in the sandbox do not and will not work in American cities. The military mindset that kept soldiers alive in the sandbox doesn’t work once those soldiers change their uniforms from camo to blue.

    Cops need new training and new paradigms to be successful. They need political support to make the changes they need to make. They also need to know that the brass and politicians have their backs while they are making those necessary changes.

    Good luck with that.

  11. So “proactive policing” is just another euphemism for “trawling for revenue”. Got it.

    • That. And for arresting as many non wealthy males aged 15-35 as possible, since some progressive yahoo once read a study by a high priest that those are the demographic behind the largest share of crimes. As well as “crimes.”

      In a free society, policing is by necessity reactive. Innocent until proven guilty, unlawful search and seizure and all that jazz….

  12. Well, if they stop watching the thugs, they won’t be around when Lil’ Biggun ‘n’ the Boyz roll through your neighborhood slow, looking for someone wearing the wrong color ascot to ventilate. So feel free to unload on them at will.

  13. The problem here has more to do with the widespread superstitions regarding use of force. The kids have fully absorbed this shit attitude and feel invincible in their mighty social justice armor. They are planning to beat you up and steal your car and blame society and who are you to argue with them after you’ve pushed this cop bashing BS?

  14. Poor babies-can’t be jack-booted thugs. Or a standing army. I am constantly surprised black folks don’t riot weekly in Chiraq. Maybe they’re just unmotivated. And they had a gun “buyback” in the ghetto last weekend- removing any opportunity to defend yourself. Not excusing thuggery-but they just released a nearly 5 year old video of a fat black woman clearly unarmed with her hands up getting tasered/body slammed and busting out her teeth. Rodney King anyone?

  15. Sounds like excuses not to do their job. They aren’t afraid of the “Ferguson Effect” any more than the rest of us are. Oh sure, there’s a one in a zillion chance you could become entangled in some racial case that brings out the race baiters, but that can happen in any walk of life, not just police work. Sounds like they now have to do some extra paperwork in the course of harassing people, so they’re passing up more of such opportunities to avoid inconveniencing themselves. Boo hoo.

    They claim they’re worried about losing their jobs, as though they’d get railroaded? Hmm…how many officers who lose their jobs for excessive force also go to trial on charges stemming from that action? If there is a high degree of overlap, then perhaps their real fear isn’t so much losing their job for being victimized by the police bureaucracy, but rather going to prison for having victimized the public? Again, boo hoo.

    Do the job you were hired to do, or quit, or work to improve the situation; but don’t just hang around, half-ass it and cry about it.

  16. “More than 60% of the officers responding “believe criminal activity has increased in their jurisdiction” in the last year, Blake reports. Most believe this spike is “due to less proactive enforcement.”

    Not sure there is any real increase in crime because of reduced efforts. How would they test that?

  17. Good thing

    Stop messing with us

    For faster response time, stay near the high crime areas and spread out through the city, but dont give us this actively-looking-for-trouble thingy. When you wanna see trouble, you see trouble, out of innocent people.

    Just stop messing with people minding their own business

  18. Kinda surprised at the level of cop hate here. Not a huge fan of cops but I do appreciate living in a place with the rule of law, and Leo’s are a big part of making that work. (Cue the “boot licker” ad hominem attacks).

    • It’s great for cops, they have their own separate, more lenient set of laws to follow, even as they impose the law on everyone else, a law which has nothing to do with justice and everything to do with power, intimidation and revenue.

      People who fetishize “the rule of law” tend to forget what the law is nowadays.

  19. If this means they cut back on investigating violent crime, shame on them. If this meant they cut back on harassing average Joes or people engaged in victimless (but illegal) commercial activity, good.

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