Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) called a hearing on Tuesday to discuss his view that the Obama administration is waging a “war on police” and that the “Ferguson effect” is causing crime rates to skyrocket.
“If the police are intimidated, if they are scared, if they are not willing to do their jobs, we know the result. The result is the loss of life. The result is rising crime,” Cruz, who chairs a judicial subcommittee, said during the hearing titled “The War on Police: How the Federal Government Undermines State and Local Law Enforcement.”
All of the Democratic senators, Department of Justice officials, and civil rights advocates who testified disputed the hearing’s “unfounded and unscientific” title and denied the existence of the so-called “Ferguson effect.” Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) was the first to challenge the focus of the hearing convened by the Republican presidential candidate.
“While I do think we have an important topic before us today, the title of the hearing — a ‘war on police’ — reflects unfortunately more overheated rhetoric, all too common in Congress when discussing complex policy matters rather than any on the ground reality,” Sen. Coons said.
Sherrilyn Ifill, director of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, felt similarly.
“I regret that the name of this hearing so inaccurately describes the relationship between law enforcement and the communities they serve,” she said. “There is no war on police. What has been called a war is an admittedly painful but necessary national conversation about the police use of excessive, sometimes fatally excessive, use of force against unarmed citizens.”
Criminal justice experts have denied the existence of a “Ferguson effect,” or a slowdown in police activity because of increased scrutiny following police protests in Ferguson, Baltimore, New York, and other U.S. cities. Yet Cruz and other conservatives point to the phenomenon to explain a recent uptick in violent crime, without proof of the correlation.
Representatives from the Department of Justice, including the head of the office that works with local law enforcement agencies, again denied it’s existence during Tuesday’s hearing.
“There really is no data to suggest that there is a Ferguson effect and that somehow that’s linked to any increase in crime in certain cities, because we know that there are some cities where there’s an increase, but we also know there’s some cities where there are decreases,” said Ronald L. Davis, the director of the DOJ’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services and the former police chief of East Palo Alto, California.
To validate the “war on police,” Cruz cited a headline that states that killings of police officers are “on the rise” and said the number of cops killed has “been on a precipitous upswing.” Although 51 officers were killed in 2014, that number is up from a 35-year low in 2013 and is still far below the average of 64 police deaths per year from 1980 to 2014. And 2015 is on pace to have the second lowest number of murdered cops in decades.
Conservatives were encouraged when FBI Director James Comey made comments last month about the recent uptick in violent crime. While he claimed that additional scrutiny of police in the wake of recent protests may have led to an increase in crime, he acknowledged that there is so far no data to back up his assertion.
On Tuesday, Ifill disputed the part of his statement where he “opined” that this might be because of the “Ferguson effect.”
“He never claimed that he had any data to claim that there was a correlation between the uptick in violent crime and the increased scrutiny of police departments,” she said. Cedric Alexander, chief of police in DeKalb County, Georgia, also testified that the term “Ferguson effect” is of “no real significance” and that we don’t know what’s driving the increase in crime in some U.S. cities.
Coons pointed out in the hearing that Democratic senators have offered increased funding for police and other substantial ways in which to help law enforcement improve relations with communities. But Cruz’s hearing was entirely based on a false premise and was not productive, he said.
“This hearing has tolerated a wide range of sloppy, unfounded, and unscientific insults to the law enforcement community,” he said.
Cruz has previously criticized the Black Lives Matter movement for “literally suggesting and embracing and celebrating the murder of police.” He has claimed that the group’s “rabid anti-police language” and the “vilification of law enforcement” under the Obama administration is to blame for crime in U.S. cities.
“It’s amazing to me that black people and their allies affirming that Black Lives Matter is somehow celebrating murder,” activist Johnetta “Netta” Elzie, told ThinkProgress last month.