National Police Association

Defendants are Patient Zero of the Ferguson effect

The Ferguson effect is a term coined by then chief of the St. Louis police, Doyle Sam Dotson III. In an interview published in the in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Dotson explained that, after the protests in Ferguson caused by the shooting of Michael Brown that August, his officers had been hesitant to enforce the law due to fears of being charged, and that "the criminal element is feeling empowered" as a result. Dotson used the phrase "Ferguson effect' to describe the state of affairs. [1] The term was soon after popularized by Thomas W. Smith Fellow of the Manhat-tan Institute, author and lawyer, Heather Mac Donald, in her May 29, 2015, Wall Street Journal op-ed [2] and her book The War on Cops. [3]

The fear by cops of being criminally charged for doing their jobs comes despite the fact that the then Ferguson po-lice officer Darren Wilson, who shot Michael Brown in the incident that was the progenitor for what was to become known as the Ferguson effect, was not criminally charged. Rather, the shots fired by Darren Wilson on August 9, 2014 were found by the Obama Administration’s Department of Justice to be not objectively unreasonable uses of force under 18 U.S.C. § 242. [4]

The Department of Justice report, however, was released on March 4, 2015, almost seven full months after the inci-dent in question. In those seven months a media narrative of police misconduct had become so prevalent as to em-bolden suspects to refuse to comply with officer's commands, instigate violence against officers and bring civil ac-tions against police causing a corresponding reduction in proactive law enforcement by agencies across the country.

Personal testimonies of this police fear were collected and published January 11, 2017 in a study by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center. [5] The report, titled, Behind the Badge, which includes feedback from 8,000 officers and sheriff’s deputies quantifies just how pervasive the Ferguson effect has become. More than three-quarters of U.S. law enforcement officers surveyed said they are reluctant to use force when necessary, and 72% advise they or their fellow officers are more hesitant to stop and question people who seem suspicious.

The thinking of the offenders who have taken advantage of the Ferguson effect was detailed in a FBI study written in April 2017, titled The Assailant Study Mindsets and Behaviors. [6] The study on 2016’s killings of police found officers are de-policing due to worries that anti-police activism is the new norm.

The report examined 50 of the 2016 confrontations in which officers were murdered. The assailants inspired by social and/or political reasons believed that attacking police officers was their way to get justice for those who had been, in their view, unjustly killed by law enforcement, the study reported. The killers revealed their feelings toward police comes in part from what they heard and read in the media about other incidents involving law enforcement shootings.

The results of the police fear detailed in the Pew Research Center poll and the offender aggression studied in the FBI’s Assailant study are manifested in the FBI's annual Crime in the United States report, released in September 2017. [7] The report detailed corresponding increases in homicides in 2016 with cities that had experienced riots and demonstrations against police. Chicago's 765 2016 homicides represented an 86% increase in just two years. And Chicago was not alone. Six more cities demonstrated a jump in homicides between 2014 (year Zero for the Ferguson effect) and 2016. Dallas recorded 171 murders in 2016 which was a 47% increase from 2014. Like Dallas and Chi-cago, St. Louis, Baltimore, Charlotte, and Milwaukee all saw major homicide increases. And like Dallas and Chica-go, have been the scene of large anti-police protests making unfounded claims of unjustified police killings.

As acknowledged by the FBI in its investigation of the incident upon which this suit is brought, there was no bad faith on the part of Darren Wilson in his actions that day. It is of paramount importance to police officers and the communities they serve that the false narrative that has arisen from the events of that day be corrected. Allowing the defendants’ motion to dismiss in this matter is a small but important first step in that correction.

  • 1. http://www.stltoday.com/news/local/crime-and-courts/crime-up-after-ferguson-and-more-police-needed-top-st/article_04d9f99f-9a9a-51be-a231-1707a57b50d6.html
  • 2. https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-new-nationwide-crime-wave-1432938425
  • 3. https://www.manhattan-institute.org/waroncops
  • 4. https://www.justice.gov/sites/default/files/opa/press-releases/attachments/2015/03/04/doj_report_on_shooting_of_michael_brown_1.pdf
  • 5. http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2017/01/11/behind-the-badge/
  • 6. http://www.mcsheriffs.com/pdf/news/vale_study_final.pdf
  • 7. https://ucr.fbi.gov/crime-in-the-u.s/2016/crime-in-the-u.s.-2016/cius-2016
National Police Association • 8710 Bash Street • Unit 501692 • Indianapolis, IN 46250 • (302) 469-1765