When he was not busy investigating emails, James Comey, FBI Director, has been speaking out about “The Ferguson Effect” in relation to recent crime increases in cities around the country.  What Comey is referring to has been called depolicing, when police officers withdraw from proactive policing in the aftermath of community disorder as in Ferguson in 2014 and Baltimore in 2015. According to Comey and many other police authorities, such depolicing is a factor in increasing crime.  Comey’s comments have led to a discussion of exactly what is effective policing.

A couple things — First, this phenomena of depolicing in the aftermath of rioting predates Ferguson.  In Los Angeles, after the Rodney King riot in 1992, some LAPD officers began practicing what they referred to “drive and wave” policing, doing little proactive policing and responding only to 911 calls. As police activity decreased, crime escalated. Ten years later, following the riots in Cincinnati, virtually all measures of police activity declined while crime increased. Baltimore is most recent example of this pattern.

For controlling crime, is there an alternative to the aggressive policing characterized by stop and frisk?  Or is “proactive” policing the path to safer communities?  There is now substantial evidence from Cincinnati and other places that suggests police focus on community engagement and problem solving rather than aggressive patrol can lead to better results. The most recent evidence comes from the University of Cincinnati Police Department which implemented a change in policing style following the shooting of Samuel Dubose last year.  A story detailing those changes is here.

The positive outcomes mirror outcomes in the City of Cincinnati whose police department made similar changes ten years earlier. From 2005 to 2014 in Cincinnati, the city recorded a 44% decrease in robbery, a 42% decrease in serious assaults and an over 49% decrease in thefts from autos.  These reductions were NOT due to aggressive policing. During that same period, misdemeanor arrests were down 37%, felony arrests down 40%, citizen complaints down 43%, and police use of force down 57%.

Effective policing requires more than frequent stop and frisk and heavy use of traffic stops. Style of policing needs to be a more prominent part of the discussion on police reform.