FBI Director James Comey seemingly has his finger on the pulse of American law enforcement and understands what's driving current crime trends. Why, then, does he keep making the unfounded assertion that a sharp increase in homicides nationwide is because of the "Ferguson effect" of viral videos showing law enforcers abusing suspects?
First of all, Comey seems to misunderstand the phrase "Ferguson effect" as it applies to citizens photographing and posting videos of police in action. When unarmed Michael Brown was shot and killed by police Officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Mo. on Aug. 9, 2014, there was no video.
It's precisely the absence of video that caused tensions to explode in Ferguson because investigators had nothing to refute Wilson's version of events. Comey's focus is on the video recordings that emerged afterward, when police were depicted using harsh tactics to quell riots and protests.
In multiple other cases around the country, citizen video has shown officers opening fire on unarmed and, in some cases, retreating individuals who presented no apparent safety threat. Citizen video has demonstrated that, sometimes, officers lie in an attempt to cover up their own wrongdoing. Citizen video has put bad officers across the nation on notice that their badge is not a license to abuse citizens in the communities they serve.
We believe that the vast majority of law enforcers are honest people trying to perform an essential, but exceedingly difficult job. Their work environment is strewn with legal minefields. It truly would be a shame if honest cops are somehow modifying their performance to ensure that they don't wind up looking bad on video, as Comey suggests.
In more cases than not, the requirement of dashcams and body cams helps bolster officers' versions of events when suspects allege abuse. Cameras also provide crucial support evidence when witness accounts differ about what actually happened.
Speaking to reporters in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, Comey linked an alarming nationwide spike in crime rates, murders in particular, to police reluctance to use aggressive tactics for fear of being caught on video.
"Something is happening. A whole lot more people are dying this year than last year, and last year than the year before. And I don't know why for sure," he said. His remarks echoed assertions he made in October that appeared to irk the Obama administration.
What Comey failed to note is that crime and homicide rates coincide with a sharp increase in opioid abuse and heroin addiction, which has prompted renewed street battles among trafficking gangs for control of urban drug markets.
Those killings have nothing to do with whether police actions are being caught on video. Ultimately, we believe cameras provide a safety net, not liability, for law enforcers doing good work.
REPRINTED FROM THE ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH