COLUMBIA, SC — Republican candidates have largely embraced the myth of the “Ferguson effect,” which theorizes that police are more hesitant to do their jobs after high-profile police protests in Ferguson and other cities, driving up crime rates. But Democratic candidate and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley also seemed to entertain the idea at a criminal justice forum on Saturday.
O’Malley spoke at length about his record of criminal justice reform at the forum, arguing that his policies as mayor of Baltimore and governor of Maryland drove down crime and decreased incarceration rates. But when asked about the “Ferguson effect” — a theory that has been discredited by the Department of Justice — O’Malley justified the idea that police morale affects the crime rate.
“Police morale, police motivation can be affected in many, many ways,” he said.
“There are many things that can affect how the human beings who are police officers work and what they do,” he continued. “I think we want to get to a point after this really heartbreaking year of anger and eruptions, we want to get to a point where little boys and girls, black and white, feel that joining the police department is actually a noble and life-giving service.”
Attorney General Loretta Lynch said last week that there is no data to support the Ferguson effect, a theory that has been promoted by conservatives and Republican presidential candidates to explain the recent uptick in violent crime. “While certainly there might be anecdotal evidence there, as all have noted, there’s no data to support it,” Lynch said in an appearance before the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday.
Similarly, DOJ leaders testified that there is no credibility to the theory during a hearing on the “war on police” called by GOP candidate and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.
“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,” 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, said during that hearing.
Conservatives were encouraged when FBI Director James Comey made comments last month about the recent uptick in violent crime and its connection to recent protests. While he claimed that additional scrutiny of police in the wake of the protests may have led to an increase in crime, he acknowledged that there is so far no data to back up his assertion.
Criminal justice experts have criticized Comey for his speculations. Sherrilyn Ifill, director of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, said before Congress last week that Comey never claimed to have any data to support his claim. And President Obama disputed Comey’s comments, saying we cannot “cherry-pick data or use anecdotal evidence to drive policy or to feed political agendas.”