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40 Law & Hum. Behav. 1 (2016)

handle is hein.journals/lwhmbv40 and id is 1 raw text is: Law and Human Behavior
2016. Vol. 40. No. 1. 1-10

© 2015 American Psychological Association
0147-7307/16/$12.00  http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/lhb0000164

The Alleged Ferguson Effect and Police Willingness to Engage in
Community Partnership

Scott E. Wolfe
University of South Carolina

Justin Nix
University of Louisville

In response to increasing violent crime rates in several U.S. cities over the past year, some have pointed
the finger of blame at de-policing, a result of the so-called Ferguson Effect. Although the Ferguson
Effect on crime rates remains an open question, there may also be a Ferguson Effect on other aspects of
police officers' jobs, such as willingness to partner with community members. This study used data from
a cross-sectional survey of 567 deputies at an agency in the southeastern U.S. to accomplish 2 objectives:
(a) to determine whether the Ferguson Effect is associated with de-policing in the form of decreased
willingness to engage in community partnership, and (b) to determine whether such an effect persists
upon accounting for perceived organizational justice and self-legitimacy. Ordinary least squares (OLS)
regression equations revealed that the Ferguson Effect (as operationalized by reduced motivation
stemming from recent negative publicity) was associated with less willingness to engage in community
partnership (b = -.10; 95% CI = -.16, -.05). However, upon accounting for organizational justice and
self-legitimacy, the Ferguson Effect was rendered insignificant (b = .01; 95% CI = -.05, .07). The
findings suggest that officers who have confidence in their authority or perceive their agency as fair are
more willing to partner with the community to solve problems, regardless of the effects of negative
Keywords: community partnership, Ferguson Effect, organizational justice, self-legitimacy

After an unprecedented decline in crime experienced in the
U.S. over the past 25 years or so, alarm bells warning of an
impending crime wave have started (Mac Donald, 2015; Mar-
tinez, 2015; Sutton, 2015). Such a trend appears to materialize
from time to time. Recall in the mid-1990s when DiIulio (1995)
predicted a crime epidemic fueled by an uprising cohort of
teenage superpredators. Although such proselytization gained
widespread media and political attention, the predictions failed
to materialize and DiIulio himself later acknowledged his false
forecast. This time around, however, an apparent violent crime
increase in several major U.S. cities has led some to point the
finger of blame at the so-called Ferguson Effect in refer-
ence to the deadly police shooting of Michael Brown in Fergu-
son, MO that triggered public protest and negative international
media attention. The Ferguson incident was followed by a string
of highly publicized police-involved deaths of unarmed African
Americans in cities such as Baltimore (MD) and North Charles-
ton (SC). These events have placed police and community race
relations at the center of public policy debates once again
perhaps to a greater degree than what was seen in the early
1990s after the Rodney King beating (Weitzer, 2015). The
This article was published Online First October 12, 2015.
Scott E. Wolfe, Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice, Uni-
versity of South Carolina; Justin Nix, Department of Criminal Justice,
University of Louisville.
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Scott E.
Wolfe, Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice, University of
South Carolina, Columbia, SC 29208. E-mail: swolfe@mailbox.sc.edu

Ferguson Effect hypothesis suggests that officers are conscious
of the negative publicity surrounding their profession, under-
stand that their actions could be recorded by the public at any
given time, and become less willing to do their job as a way to
avoid being accused of racial profiling or excessive force. In
turn, this de-policing leads to increases in crime.
At this point, however, the Ferguson Effect has only been
supported by anecdotal evidence and guesswork. Although the
Ferguson Effect on crime rates is an empirical question await-
ing research scrutiny, early indicators suggest that observing
such a relationship is unlikely (Rosenfeld, 2015; Zimring,
2015). Indeed, such a Ferguson Effect on violent crime rates
would be quite large if de-policing has become so widespread
that officers are less likely to enforce laws concerning murder,
rape, robbery, and the like. Importantly, however, lack of
empirical evidence to date regarding the Ferguson Effect on
crime rates does not necessarily imply that the phenomenon is
not real. Rather, if de-policing has occurred post-Ferguson it
may manifest in areas of police work not directly observable in
indicators such as the violent crime rate. For example, working
with the community to address local problems is an integral
component of policing. However, the relentless negative cov-
erage of incidents such as Ferguson in news outlets and on
social media presents a social climate whereby the legitimacy of
law enforcement (i.e., regardless of the jurisdiction of the
incident) is being challenged. It is likely that such a situation
may make it difficult for some officers to be motivated to work
in law enforcement and, as a consequence, be less willing to
engage in community partnership. Evidence of such a Ferguson

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