FBI director links ‘viral videos’ of police to rise in violence

FBI Director James Comey

Recent criticism and scrutiny of police departments and viral videos of officer-involved killings might explain the rise in violent crime in some cities, FBI Director James Comey said Friday.

Comey made the remarks in a speech at the University of Chicago Law School, lending the prestige of the FBI, the nation’s most prominent law enforcement agency, to a theory that is far from settled: that the increased attention on the police has made officers less aggressive and emboldened criminals, according to The New York Times.

The paper added that Comey acknowledged that there is so far no data to back up his assertion and that it may be just one of many factors that are contributing to the rise in crime, like cheaper drugs and an increase in criminals being released from prison.

“I don’t know whether this explains it entirely, but I do have a strong sense that some part of the explanation is a chill wind blowing through American law enforcement over the last year,” Comey said. “And that wind is surely changing behavior … In today’s YouTube world, are officers reluctant to get out of their cars and do the work that controls violent crime?”.

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Comey’s comments come as the nation continues to focus on policing tactics and communities of color nationwide. Since last summer’s protests in Ferguson, Mo., Over the shooting of Michael Brown, several other high-profile cases have called into question police use of force and racial profiling by officers.

President Obama told law enforcement officials at a White House panel Thursday that the Black Lives Matter movement, a social media-driven movement started in Ferguson and borne of a series of police shootings of black people, has highlighted a point too long ignored: “There is a specific problem that is happening in the African-American community that is not happening in other communities, and that is a legitimate issue that we’ve got to address.”.

“The African-American community is not just making this up. It’s not something that’s just being politicized. It’s real,” Obama said. “We as a society, particularly given our history, have to take this seriously.”.

Meanwhile, Comey’s statements echo what some have called the Ferguson effect, the idea that increased criticism of officers has made them police less proactively, leading to increases in crime because officers are not stopping violence from happening but rather waiting to be called once a crime has been committed. The FBI director, however, said there isn’t enough data to prove whether the Ferguson effect is actually happening.

Comey also said killers must be confronted by a strong police presence involving officers who go out at night and deal with men with guns standing on street corners, Reuters reported. “All of us, civilian and law enforcement, white, black, and Latino, have an interest in that kind of policing,” he said. “We need to be careful it doesn’t drift away from us in the age of viral videos, or there will be profound consequences.”.

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The director’s remarks caught officials by surprise at the Justice Department, where his views are not shared at the top levels, The New York Times reported. Holding the police accountable for civil rights violations has been a top priority at the department in recent years, and some senior officials do not believe that scrutiny of police officers has led to an increase in crime, the paper reports.

Comey also told students it’s critical to do more to address a widening gulf between law enforcement and citizens in many communities, particularly black Americans, according to the Associated Press. He said that some of the behavioral change in police officers has been for the good “as we continue to have important discussions about police conduct and de-escalation and the use of deadly force,” the news agency reported.

President Obama on Thursday said that the discussion of criminal justice needs to be broader than police and prosecutors.

“We can’t put the entire onus of the problem on law enforcement,” he said. “I think there’s been a healthy debate about police-community relations, and some of the episodes we’ve seen across the country. But we as a society, if we’re not investing in opportunities for poorer kids, and then we expect police and and prosecutors to keep them out of sight and out of mind, that’s a failed strategy.”.

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