Via The Wall Street Journal:
Attention surrounding police shootings of black men have increased officers’ reluctance to use force and stop suspicious people, while heightening tensions between black people and police, according to a broad survey of police officers released Wednesday.
The study of nearly 8,000 officers across the country, conducted by Pew Research Center and the National Police Research Platform between May and August, also shows a deep gulf between the attitudes of police and the general public over racial equality and officer-involved shootings.
“These incidents, the protests that followed and the national debate have clearly had consequences in the way that police officers view their jobs and conduct their jobs on the streets,” said Rich Morin, a senior editor at Pew Research.
The results of the survey didn’t surprise law-enforcement officials—but there are differing views on changes in police behavior when it comes to enforcement.
In the survey, 76% of officers said they are now more reluctant to use force even when they believe it is appropriate, and 72% said they are less willing to stop and question people who seem suspicious.
This police pullback has been described by some analysts and police officials as the “the Ferguson effect”—a reference to the St. Louis, Mo., suburb where a white police officer killed Michael Brown, an unarmed black 18-year-old, in 2014, sparking widespread protests.
The theory holds that scrutiny of police post-Ferguson have led to crime increases in some cities such as Chicago and Baltimore because officers are shying away from confrontation, which emboldens criminals.
William Johnson, executive director of the National Association of Police Organizations, which represents about 240,000 law-enforcement officers, said the Pew results show the Ferguson effect is more than just anecdotal.
“I think it should be a cause of concern for the public if officers don’t feel that the political leadership is going to back them up, they’re not going to enforce the law,” he said.
But the Ferguson effect theory isn’t backed up in other cities such as New York, where crime has dropped, even as police have pulled back on aggressive stop-and-frisk tactics.
Chris Burbank, a former Salt Lake City police chief, said that officers being more thoughtful about using force and stopping people will help improve strained police-community relations.
“If there is some scrutiny going on, if there is some extra consideration before an officer takes action then I am in favor of that,” said Mr. Burbank, who is now at the Center for Policing Equity, a law enforcement think tank. “It pulls us back from that line and ultimately makes use of force more reasonable, makes us more articulate about what we are doing, and makes our decisions more deliberate.”