By Allan Lengel
CHICAGO — Reality or hunch?
FBI director James Comey, echoing remarks he made a few days ago at the University of Chicago Law School, said Monday he thinks violent crime is on the rise this year, at least in part, because officers are being increasingly scrutinized and are more reluctant to do their jobs in a world where a misstep can be seen on video around the world.
“Maybe something has changed in policing. In today’s YouTube world, are officers reluctant to get out of their cars and and do the work that controls violent crime?,” Comey asked, delivering a speech before thousands in attendance at the International Association of Police Chiefs in Chicago. “Are officers answering 911 calls, but avoiding the informal contact that keeps bad guys with guns from standing around?
“I spoke to officers in one big city…who described being surrounded by young people with mobile phones, video cameras rolling, as they step out of the car, taunting them, asking what they want and and why they’re there. They described a feeling of being under siege and were honest and said ‘we don’t feel much like getting out of our cars.'”
“I’ve been told about a senior police leader who told his force, our political leadership has zero tolerance for you all being connected to another viral video. The question is are these kinds of things changing police behavior in cities around the country?”
“The honest answer is, I don’t know for sure whether that’s the case, I don’t know for sure whether even it is the case that it explains it entirely. But I do have a a strong sense that some part of what’s going on is likely a chill wind that has blown through law enforcement over the last year. That wind is made up of a whole series of viral videos and the public outcry to follow them. And that wind is surely changing behavior my common sense tells me.”
Comey also expressed the concern that the divide between the black community and law enforcement is getting wider.
“The challenges are complicated, layered, and painful to be honest. I imagine two lines. There’s a line of law enforcement and there’s the line of communities we serve, especially communities of color in the hardest hit neighborhoods in this great country of ours,” Comey said.
“And I actually feel those two lines arching apart. Each incident that involves perceived or actual misconduct by police that’s captured on video and spreads around the world bends this line this way. Each incident that involves an attack on a member of law enforcement bends our line that way. I have seen those lines arching apart in a lot of different ways. I actually see an example..of that arching through hashtags. Through the# blacklivesmatter and the #policelivesmatter.
“Of course each of those hashtags and what they represent adds a voice to an important conversation,” he said. “Each time somebody interprets #blacklivesmater as anti-law enforcement one line moves away. And each time that someone interprets #policelivesmatter as anti-black , another line moves away. I actually feel the lines continuing to arch away, may be accelerating, incident by incident, video by video, hashtag by hashtag, and that’s a terrible place for us to be.
He said the black community and law enforcement need to demand answers. And academics need to hit it hard and examine the issues.