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Heather Mac Donald Fires Back at an Attempt to Debunk Ferguson Effect

Why don't you just call the cops?  That's what sociologists Matthew Desmond and Andrew V. Papachristos wonder aloud in this NY Times piece in which they attempt to debunk the "Ferguson effect."  Desmond and Papachristos contend that the national crime wave is a result of a drop-off in crime reporting rather than a drop-off in proactive policing.  They suggest that people are simply not calling the cops due to loss of faith following several controversial police shootings, and faith lost makes citizens "more apt to take the law into their own hands."

Not quite.  While the authors offer a interesting theory, Heather Mac Donald offers the facts.  Ultimately, "the data supporting the Ferguson effect are stronger than the evidence offered by Mr. Desmond and Mr. Papachristos to discredit it."  Read her rebuttal letter here.


The premise of the NYT's piece -- that the upsurge in violent crime is the result of people "taking the law into their own hands -- is preposterous. It amounts to saying that criminality is DEFENSIVE. Even by NYT standards, this is tripe. We've had a nine percent increase in forcible rape because of "defense?"

I'm curious how one could control for crime rates independent of 911 calls - surely many crimes are reported through such calls themselves. Nor is it clear why their causal effect would reduce 911 calls but not other crime reporting - if you don't trust the cops enough to call them, why would you trust them enough to go and file a report in person?

To the extent that their effect reduces crime reporting, it's also going to reduce the crime rate as measured (which is mostly just the sum of reported crimes) - which is the opposite direction of the Ferguson effect. So if crime rates still rise - even though reporting is down - that would be evidence for, not against, the Ferguson effect.


The "Ferguson effect" really ought to be called the "Kris Kime problem" because that was an early manifestation of it.

Just like the phenomenon of getting more of what is incented, you get less of what has negative consequences. Aggressive policing brings negative consequences, so there will be less of it. How this isn't obvious to any observer is stunning.

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