FBI Director James Comey caught heat last year when he blamed an uptick of violence in some cities, in part, on the “Ferguson effect.” He doubled down this week.
While Comey said Wednesday he was reluctant to use the term “Ferguson effect” – the notion that police are reluctant to enforce laws proactively for fear of becoming the next bad cop on YouTube – he said that was only because the shooting death of Michael Brown didn’t involve cameras.
The phenomenon can be better described as “the viral video effect,” he said, and it’s marked by “changes in the way police may be acting, and in the way communities may be acting, in terms on how much information they share with police.”
Before Wednesday’s round-table discussion, Comey was briefed on the quarterly homicide statistics in more than 40 cities, and in most of them, homicide “numbers are not only going up, they’re continuing to go up, in most of those cities, faster than they were going up last year,” he said.
“A whole lot more people are dying this year than last year. Last year than the year before. I don’t why for sure.”
The FBI on Thursday was not immediately able to provide the statistics he cited, but an agency spokeswoman said she was working on it. Comey noted during the round-table discussion, however, that there have been more than 60 murders in Las Vegas this year and more than 200 killed in Chicago.
“It’s again, happening in certain parts of the cities, and the people dying are almost entirely black and Latino men,” he said. “I don’t know what the answer is, but holy cow do we have a problem.”
His latest remarks echoed an October statement in which he said the prospect of being captured on video, and then vilified, loomed over many of the nation’s police officers – and was at least partly responsible for the rise in violent crimes.
“In today’s YouTube world, are officers reluctant to get out of their cars and do the work that controls violent crime? Are officers answering 911 calls but avoiding the informal contact that keeps bad guys from standing around, especially with guns?” he asked in October.
“I don’t know whether this explains it entirely, but I do have a strong sense that some part of the explanation is a chill wind blowing through American law enforcement over the last year. And that wind is surely changing behavior.”
The White House distanced itself from Comey’s comments last year, saying there was little evidence supporting “the contention that law enforcement officials are somehow shirking their responsibility,” and police leaders had said this wasn’t the case.
But former New York police Commissioner Ray Kelly commended Comey “for telling it like it is.”
“Officers are not engaging in proactive policing, not engaging in the levels they engaged in the recent past,” Kelly told CNN.
It’s about awareness, Comey says
Comey told reporters Wednesday he was raising the issue again because he felt “it hasn’t been talked about on the national level a whole lot. I’m sure people don’t fully appreciate what’s going on.
“As I’ve said, there’s been lots of local conversations and reporting. Chicago’s had a ton of it. Chicago has generated some national attention, but I don’t think there’s been a whole lot of reporting looking at what’s going on, and why does Dallas see a dramatic spike, but Houston doesn’t? It’s a complicated, hard issue, but the stakes couldn’t be higher. A whole lot of people are dying, and I don’t want to drive around it.”
While he said the viral video effect “could well be at the heart of this or could well be an important factor in this,” he worried that the response could be “marginal pullbacks by lots and lots of police officers that is changing some cities.”
Asked if anything in this week’s briefings on the quarterly numbers had bolstered his belief that this was the reality in certain cities, Comey said he’s heard it from those who briefed him and in private conversations with police leaders.
“I don’t know if it’s true or not, that folks are less likely to tell police when they see things. There’s a perception that police are less likely to do the marginal additional policing that suppresses crime, the getting out of your car at 2 in the morning and saying to a group of guys, ‘What are you doing here?’ “
CNN’s Pamela Brown, Evan Perez, Shimon Prokupecz and Wesley Bruer contributed to this report.