FBI director links ‘viral videos’ of police to rise in violence

24 Oct 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Cellphone videos of cops are making officers timid about fighting crime, FBI director says.

FBI director James Comey has said police anxiety in “the era of viral videos” appears to be part of the reason for rising violent crime in several big US cities. Comey made the remarks in a speech at the University of Chicago Law School, lending the prestige of the FBI, the nation’s most prominent law enforcement agency, to a theory that is far from settled: that the increased attention on the police has made officers less aggressive and emboldened criminals, according to The New York Times. Violent crime — including homicides — have increased dramatically in many large cities, Comey said, pointing to Chicago, Cleveland, Dallas, Washington and Baltimore by name. He told several hundred students there could be multiple explanations for the increase in homicides and other violent crimes. “Something deeply disturbing is happening in places across America,” Comey said. “Far more people are being killed in many American cities, many of them people of color, and it’s not the cops doing the killing.

In today’s YouTube world, are officers reluctant to get out of their cars and do the work that controls violent crime?” Comey’s comments come as the nation continues to focus on policing tactics and communities of color nationwide. The suggestion that a so-called Ferguson effect has influenced policing is controversial among law enforcement officials, many of whom panned Comey’s comments. “Our officers are very, very sensitive to the climate right now, but I haven’t seen any evidence to say our officers aren’t doing their jobs,” Oakland, California, police chief Sean Whent told the Times. Some have dubbed the phenomenon the “Ferguson effect” — a reference to the fatal police-involved shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. on Aug. 9, 2014. He added that some of the behavioral change in police officers has been for the good “as we continue to have important discussions about police conduct and de-escalation and the use of deadly force.” Comey likened the strain between law enforcement and local communities to two lines diverging, saying repeatedly that authorities must continue to work at improving their relationships with citizens.

But Comey also said killers must be confronted by a strong police presence involving officers who go out at night and deal with men with guns standing on street corners. “All of us, civilian and law enforcement, white, black, and Latino, have an interest in that kind of policing,” Comey said. “We need to be careful it doesn’t drift away from us in the age of viral videos, or there will be profound consequences.” It makes sense to debate the causes of dropping crime rates over recent decades but people cannot lose sight of the role of law enforcement in saving lives, he said. Comey’s comments echoed Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel, who recently said Chicago police officers were going “fetal”, pulling back and second-guessing themselves for fear that scrutiny of their actions will get them into serious trouble. It’s real,” Obama said. “We as a society, particularly given our history, have to take this seriously.” Meanwhile, Comey’s statements echo what some have called the Ferguson effect, the idea that increased criticism of officers has made them police less proactively, leading to increases in crime because officers are not stopping violence from happening but rather waiting to be called once a crime has been committed. He suggested other factors, including the availability of cheaper heroin, guns getting into the wrong hands for wrongdoing, and street gangs becoming smaller and more territorial.

After civil rights leaders and the Justice Department accused the Seattle Police Department of discriminatory policing and excessive force, the number of officer-instigated stops declined and crime ticked upward, said Kathleen O’Toole, the police chief. But Comey said that he has been told by many police leaders that officers, who normally would have stopped to question suspicious people, are opting to stay in their patrol cars for fear of having their encounters become worldwide video sensations.

Those inquiries have found that many officers unfairly singled out African-Americans for stops and arrests, and too often used force that was unjustified. He said that the remedies to the problem were not clear, and that law enforcement authorities needed to have better data about crime and shootings involving police officers. Comey, who was in Chicago for the annual conference of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, plans to address the issue with law enforcement leaders. Some officers, he said, scrutinize minorities more closely using a mental shortcut that “becomes almost irresistible and maybe even rational by some lights” because black men are arrested at much higher rates than white men.

Comey said. “And people tend to tune out when you start to talk about it, but it’s important, because it gives us the full picture of what’s happening.”

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