FBI director claims that videoing police is causing crime uptick

Fiercely missing the point is part of the job description

The director of the FBI, James Comey, has again claimed that citizens' use of mobile phones to record the police is causing an increase in crime, despite previous direct criticism over the claim from President Obama.

According to Comey, the recent spate of videos recorded by ordinary citizens that have shown the police acting with disproportionate violence are causing the police force to act more tentatively and that in turn is leading to an increase in the crime rate.

Back in October, Comey spoke about a "chill wind" against more aggressive policing and pointed to something he called the "Ferguson effect," named after the shooting of an unarmed black man by a police officer that sparked a civil rights movement.

Since that time there have been numerous examples of deadly and seemingly unjustified violence captured by mobile phones that have been released publicly and led to protests and investigations into police officers' conduct in the cases of Sandra Bland, Samuel DuBose, Jonathan Ferrell, Eric Garner, Freddie Gray, Eric Harris, Tamir Rice, Walter Scott, and others.

The seemingly tone-deaf response from the head of federal law enforcement to graphic images of police officers shooting unarmed civilians was seen as a reflection of a strongly defensive position taken by police after widespread criticism of their actions.

Cherry picking

But after Comey failed to present any statistical evidence of his claim, he was publicly criticized by President Obama, among others. At a meeting of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, also in October, the president said: "We do have to stick with the facts. What we can't do is cherry-pick data or use anecdotal evidence to drive policy or to feed political agendas."

The rate of murders in cities across America have been going up this year, raising questions over why. At the same time, Congress is looking at sentencing reform and how to change the world-beating number of US citizens held in prison. The police shootings also became a hot political point during the early stages of the Republicans presidential campaign when candidates sought to outdo one another as defenders of law and order and critics of the president.

Six months after his initial comments, however, Comey has again insisted that the Ferguson effect is real, telling reporters this week that he had spoken to police officials and they felt that the "viral video effect" was causing officers to be more careful in confronting suspects and that that "could well be at the heart" of the current jump in violent crime.

From the gut

Again, amazingly, Comey admitted that he had no statistical proof to back up his claims but that he had seen new stats on rising crime rates, singling out in particular Las Vegas and Chicago.

While Comey stepped away from his own term - the Ferguson effect - to explain the jump, he did say "something is happening; a whole lot more people are dying this year than last year" and then added that "lots and lots of police officers" were avoiding aggressive interactions with members of the public because of the "viral videos".

While Comey has chosen to reignite the debate at this time is unclear, especially when he is simply reiterating the same argument as last time which saw him heavily criticized. Comey also made no suggestion for how the issue of video tapings could be resolved if indeed it was a factor in an increasing crime rate.

In the meantime, the initial reactions from others were not positive. Police union representative were unimpressed with the implication that they were not doing their jobs out of fear. And Black Lives Matter activists have continued to point out that the videos that have become widely shared show police actions that have often resulted in criminal prosecution. ®

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