Is ‘Ferguson effect’ behind jump in big-city violence?

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Chicago isn’t alone among big cities seeing a surge in gun violence this year.

New York, Los Angeles, Houston, Baltimore and St. Louis are also cities that have experienced an uptick in bloodshed compared to the same period of 2014.

At the same time, Chicago, New York and other large cities have seen a continued decline so far this year in overall crime —including property crimes like burglaries.

Through mid-June, the number of murders was up 11 percent in New York and up 18 percent in Chicago. Shootings rose 20 percent in Chicago, but overall crime fell 7 percent.

In Los Angeles, the number of shooting victims rose 20 percent through mid-June, but the number of murders was down.

The surge in New York’s gun violence was reportedly one of the factors in Mayor Bill de Blasio’s decision last week to hire 1,400 new sworn officers.

Addressing the spike in gun violence during an appearance last week on WTTW-Channel 11, Mayor Rahm Emanuel said politicians he spoke with at a mayors’ conference last weekend in San Francisco were all talking about the rising murder toll.

“There is no doubt — post-New York, post-Cleveland, post-Ferguson, post-Baltimore — there is an issue in police departments as it relates to going from what I would refer to as pro-active policing to a more reactive, and it’s had an impact on gun violence in the respective cities,” Emanuel said.

Police Supt. Garry McCarthy said chiefs were talking about the “Ferguson effect” at a conference of the Major Cities Chiefs Association earlier this month.

“Everybody has a sense —and sometimes you can’t put your finger on it to prove it empirically —that there is a little bit less proactive policing going on, and officers are less likely to get out of their cars based upon being concerned about things like civil liability and whether or not their actions are going to be criticized in a fashion that ends up getting them in severe trouble,” said McCarthy, who’s a vice president of the police chiefs group.

But McCarthy said he thinks an influx of guns is the biggest factor driving the spike in shootings in Chicago.

“This year, we have a 27 percent increase in our gun arrests,” he said. “In the first quarter, we were up 60 percent. I believe there are more guns, and I don’t know where they came from or why.”

In the past, the police have found that most guns recovered in crimes in Chicago were first sold in suburban gun shops. Indiana, Mississippi and Wisconsin have also been major source of those guns.

Despite the six-month jump in big-city violence, academics say it’s too early to call it a trend.

Peter Moskos, an assistant professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, said Baltimore is the only big city where he knows for sure that cops have slowed down their policing. He said that’s in reaction to prosecutors’ decision to charge six officers in the death of Freddie Gray, who suffered a spinal cord injury while in police custody and died a week after his arrest in April.

“The Baltimore cops are telling me they are just not going out and frisking suspects any more,” said Moskos, a former Baltimore cop who grew up in Evanston. “I don’t know if outside of Baltimore if [the police] are changing tactics.”

Andrew Papachristos, an associate professor of sociology at Yale University, agreed it’s too early to call the upswing in gun violence a trend.

“But it’s definitely something we should be paying close attention to,” he said.


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