Is the Twin Cities' violent crime spike due to the 'Ferguson effect'?

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Can the recent spike of violent crime in the Twin Cities be attributed to problems nationally?

That's the debate this week, after FBI Director James Comey has said the surge in crime in certain cities across the U.S. could be partly caused by what's been described as the "Ferguson effect."

According to CNN, Comey gave credence to the idea that because of the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, last year and the subsequent uproar that followed over police conduct, as well as the proliferation of handheld recording devices, officers are increasingly reluctant to preemptively tackle known criminals for fear of subsequent fallout.

"In today's YouTube world, are officers reluctant to get out of their cars and do the work that controls violent crime? Are officers answering 911 calls but avoiding the informal contact that keeps bad guys from standing around, especially with guns?" he said on Friday.

"I don't know whether this explains it entirely, but I do have a strong sense that some part of the explanation is a chill wind blowing through American law enforcement over the last year. And that wind is surely changing behavior."

So could this be behind the surge in violent incidents in the Twin Cities, which has spiked in particular over the past few weeks following a spate of homicides?

Members of police officers' unions suggest it could be, with Lt. Bob Kroll of the Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis telling KSTP: "When you think that officers aren't stopping suspicious persons like they used to or taking as many guns off the street, more guns are out there.

"You can only assume that the cops are going to be second-guessing themselves, thinking: 'Should I engage? Should I do this, or should I not?" he added. "They see people getting in trouble for everything they do. They're second-guessed. They're damned if they do, damned if they don't these days."

White House disagrees with the theory

But while the FBI director and the police union have suggested there's a link between Ferguson and violent crime across the country, the White House disagrees – citing anecdotal evidence from police leaders across the country.

"The evidence we have seen so far doesn’t support the contention that law enforcement officials are shirking their responsibilities," press secretary Josh Earnest said, according to the New York Times. "In fact, you hear law enforcement leaders across the country indicating that that’s not what’s taking place."

According to The Guardian, Earnest added law enforcement leaders are reporting that officers are "dedicated public servants, who on a daily basis are putting their lives on the line to serve and protect the communities that they’re assigned to."

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