The Chicago Police, Police Wrongdoing, and the Ferguson Effect

I regularly read Powerline and I like a lot of what they write, but this post by Paul Mirengoff is really problematic.  He writes that “after the release of the video showing Laquan McDonald being shot and killed by the police . . . arrests have declined and gun violence has spiked.”  He calls this the Ferguson effect, suggesting that it is the result of “reducing police interaction with the public.”  Let me discuss some of the problems with this post.

First, it is outrageous to compare this to Ferguson.  In Ferguson, officer Darren Wilson was shown to have acted properly.  In Chicago, officer Jason Van Dyke’s killing of Laquan McDonald was a vicious murder, shown on video.  The police department and the Mayor’s office covered up the video as long as possible and appear to have engaged in other wrongdoing such as eliminating security footage from a nearby Burger King.  I could go on, but see my earlier posts.  Moreover, there is strong evidence that the Chicago police department is rife with corruption, as 80 percent of squad car video cams have been disabled by the police officers.  “Chicago Police Department officers stashed microphones in their squad car glove boxes. They pulled out batteries. Microphone antennas got busted or went missing. And sometimes, dashcam systems didn’t have any microphones at all.”

As Randy Balko states, “This isn’t a few bad apples. It’s 80 percent. Why haven’t these officers been prosecuted?”

Second, it is too convenient to quickly conclude that the reduction in Chicago police enforcement is due to police policy to be less proactive or some other justified cause.  The evidence of the disabling of the video cams suggests otherwise, as does the very article Mirengoff relies upon, which states:

In Chicago, there is little concrete evidence of an organized police slowdown. But in both public statements and private conversations, former and current Chicago police officers, crime analysts and journalists have described a climate of low morale and hesitation among officers that has led to fewer arrests. The president of the police union told NPR last month that “no one wants to be on that next video,” and [police department spokesman] Guglielmi echoed that language: “No police officer wants to be the next viral video,” he said.

There are a number of ways of viewing this account.  The one that is most critical of the police is in my view the most likely.  Here the police are engaged in an under the radar mini slow down in an attempt to bolster their position (and also play it safe in the meantime).  See what happens when you try to constrain us?

There are various reasons to believe this is what is going on.  First is the widespread misconduct by the Chicago police.  Second is that such slow downs are a common tactic of police unions.  Third is that such a reaction is also consistent with police behavior.  The police, who are used to being in authority, do not like to being resisted.  It is my observation that most of the police misconduct occurs when the citizen resists a police order.  It would not be surprising if the police react badly to a perceived mistreatment from the political system as well.

If such a mini slow down is what is occurring, then that is outrageous.  There are serious police violations in Chicago, and the police should not be able to use their authority to prevent its reform or to cover it up.

An alternative explanation is that virtually all police officers are doing a good job, but are discouraged because they are improperly second guessed when they make errors.  I don’t think this fits Chicago, but it may be the explanation in other places.  But even if true, it hardly absolves the police.  Even if the police are sometimes treated unfairly, that is not an adequate excuse for failing to do their jobs.  Being a police officer is a tough job, but that is the job they signed up for.

None of this is to defend activists like Black Lives Matter, whose behavior is problematic in lots of ways and who appear indiscriminate in their criticisms of the police.  Nor is it to ignore Rahm Emanuel, whose behavior in Chicago has been awful and as always politically driven.  But the wrongdoing of these groups and individuals does not excuse the Chicago police.  Certainly many police officers are doing a good job and perhaps other police departments are being treat unfairly.  But Mirengoff is off base in ignoring the wrongdoing in Chicago.