'Ferguson effect'? You won't find it in Ferguson, says police psychologist

What's happening in Ferguson, says police psychologist Jameca Falconer, is updated training with more focus on community policing.

Richard Tsong-Taatarii/Star Tribune via AP
In St. Paul, Minn., Black Lives Matters protesters blocked traffic to an NFL football game between the Minnesota Vikings and the Detroit Lions on Sept. 20.

So far this week, FBI director, the White House, and now the former attorney general have all weighed in on the existence of the “Ferguson effect.” The controversial theory posits that, due to increased scrutiny after a series of high-profile deaths and the everpresence of iPhones, police officers are wary of doing their jobs, thus emboldening criminals.

FBI Director James Comey says the chilling effect on cops is real; the White House and former Attorney General Eric Holder do not.

While America waits for updated national crime statistics to support or disprove the theory, in Ferguson, Mo., police psychologist Jameca Falconer, for one, says she doesn’t see its effect in the town that gave it its name.

To begin, Dr. Falconer says the ‘Ferguson effect’ is absent in Ferguson, Mo..

“It’s not backed in data,” she says in an interview. “There’s no correlation with the rates of crime in St. Louis County and the shooting of Michael Brown.”

Nor has there been a call in Ferguson for less proactive policing.

What is going on, says Falconer, is updated training at the local police academy.

“I was in the [Police] Academy a few weeks ago doing training for the cadets,” she says, “and one of the things we talked to them about was more community policing.”

“They’ve been trained on racial discrimination, as well as on implicit and explicit bias. One of the things officers are trying to do is become more aware of their own bias, before they enter into situations with citizens or community members.”

Implicit and explicit bias has always been a factor in policing, she notes, but it hasn’t been discussed until now. Falconer explains, “We all – not just police, but everyone on the planet – have biases that we may or may not be aware of. And if you’re not aware of them, you are also not aware that you’re acting on those biases. So I think it has to be a component of training because they have to become aware of any and every bias that they have, so they can be aware of that when they are working with the community.”

Falconer says they are actively pushing this training in St. Louis City and County, in the academy and for those that are already on the force.

“It has to happen nation-wide,” she says, “and hopefully we can do some things in the St. Louis area that can start a trend for police around the country.”

The goal is to couple community policing with proactive policing.

“If departments practice more of a community policing model, officers will be familiar with most people in their community,” who in turn would be “less likely to commit crimes when they know someone they respect is around.”

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