Is There a “Ferguson Effect” on Crime?

New Publication: The Sentencing Project

From: Marc Mauer, The Sentencing Project

I’m writing to share with you a new analysis from The Sentencing Project that finds little support for a so-called “Ferguson effect” on crime in St. Louis, Missouri. The “Ferguson effect” describes a conjecture by some commentators that rising crime rates in some urban areas in recent months are the result of widespread protests against police misconduct and calls for reform. Those demonstrations spread across the nation in response to a stream of highly publicized killings of unarmed black men and boys by police, starting with the death of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri last August.

Since Ferguson is part of the St. Louis greater metropolitan area, one could expect that if such an effect exists anywhere, it would be in St. Louis. To determine whether such an effect exists, criminologist Richard Rosenfeld analyzed trend data on homicides, violent crimes, and property crime in St. Louis in recent years.

The report, Was There a “Ferguson Effect” on Crime in St. Louis?, finds that the homicide count in St. Louis was higher in 2014 than in 2013 for most of the year, but the gap between the two years began to increase two months before the events in Ferguson. “We can conclude with reasonable certainty that the events in Ferguson were not responsible for the steep rise in homicide in St. Louis,” the report states.

A four-month increase in crime is not a crime wave, and while the homicide rate in St. Louis rose in 2014, overall it has declined significantly since the 1990s. This report underscores the importance of policies based on rational analysis of crime trends that appreciate the complexity of factors that produce crime.


Marc Mauer