The Ferguson effect in Chicago, a response to Prof. Rappaport

Mike Rappaport, a distinguished law professor at the University of San Diego and a leading exponent of originalism, takes issue with a post I wrote called “‘The Ferguson Effect’ Documented in Chicago.” Professor Rappaport says nice things about Power Line, which I appreciate, but calls my piece “really problematic” for two main reasons.

First, he finds it outrageous to compare the situation in Chicago to that in Ferguson because in Chicago the police officer who killed a black committed murder which the police department tried to cover up, whereas in Ferguson the police officer who killed Michael Brown acted properly. Second, he believes police officers in Chicago are engaging in a slow down, which is outrageous and which I fail to condemn.

As to the first criticism, I don’t think the existence of the Ferguson effect is contingent on whether the event that is thought to have triggered it was proper police conduct. I understand the Ferguson effect to be an increase in crime that results from less proactive policing that, in turn, results from harsh criticism of policing. The criticism can be sparked by proper police behavior (as in Ferguson), improper police behavior (as in Chicago), or behavior that may or may not have been improper (as in Baltimore).

I argued, based on empirical analysis performed by two writers at FiveThirtyEight, that in Chicago “arrests have declined and gun violence has spiked since the release of the video showing Laquan McDonald being shot and killed by the police” and that “this is evidence of the ‘Ferguson effect.’” That the shooting of McDonald was unjustified does not, in my view, have any bearing on this argument. Nor did I condone that shooting, though given the egregiousness of the police conduct, I can understand why Rappaport is unhappy that I didn’t condemn it.

As to the second criticism, I don’t know whether members of the Chicago police force are engaged in what Rappaport describes as “an under the radar mini slow down,” as opposed to just being exceedingly cautious in their policing. I haven’t seen enough evidence to reach a conclusion about this. (I agree with Rappaport that a deliberate slowdown would be a dereliction of duty and an improper response to criticism, a point I have made in my writing about post-Freddy Gray policing in Baltimore).

What seems clear based on the reporting in FiveThirtyEight is that members of the Chicago police force are being significantly less proactive than they used to be, and that this started right after the police came under attack following the release of the McDonald video. This strikes me, as it struck the FiveThirtyEight authors, as evidence of the Ferguson effect.