FBI Director James B. Comey
JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images

FBI Director James B. Comey thinks the “Ferguson effect” is impeding law-enforcement efforts. He says that closer scrutiny of police officers makes them less aggressive and that this probably contributes to an increase in violent crime, according to the New York Times.

Comey, speaking Friday at the University of Chicago Law School, lends credence to the theory that criminals feel bolder because police are under a spotlight. In the aftermath of highly publicized cases of police brutality, law-enforcement officials fear that a video of a bad encounter with someone suspected of committing a crime could go viral and trigger a backlash against the police.

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“I don’t know whether that explains it entirely, but I do have a strong sense that some part of the explanation is a chill wind that has blown through American law enforcement over the last year,” he said.

Still, Comey acknowledged a lack of hard data to support that theory and conceded that the “Ferguson effect” could be just one among a number of factors causing a rise in violent crime.

Justice Department officials were surprised by Comey’s remarks, the New York Times reports, saying that top leadership at the department does not share the FBI director’s views. According to the Times, “several officials privately fumed at Mr. Comey’s suggestions.” But they did not publicly comment.

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The department has been promoting police accountability for civil rights violations and investigating racial disparities in law enforcement. It released a scathing report (pdf) this year that found that the police and courts in Ferguson, Mo., unfairly targeted black people to bolster municipal revenue with fines levied against them.  

Read more at the New York Times