Minneapolis Feels The ‘Ferguson Effect’ After Jamar Clark Shooting

Shootings are on the rise in Minneapolis, but arrests are down as cops have become hesitant to involve themselves in non-emergency situations

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May 10, 2016 at 12:12 PM ET

Police officers in Minneapolis are under fire over claims that they’ve fallen victim to the so-called “Ferguson Effect”—a theory that after high-profile, controversial officer-involved shootings the number of arrests go down as crime spikes, all of which has happened in Minneapolis over the past months.

In the case of the Minneapolis Police Department, the phenomenon is being credited to the November shooting of Jamar Clark, an unarmed 24-year-old, by an MPD officer.

There are two theories when it comes to the “Ferguson Effect,” which gets its name from the fallout after the 2014 killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. One is that, after nationwide criticism hits officers charged with police brutality or excessive force, their colleagues learn from their example and use more caution on the job. The other is less positive, holding that cops make fewer arrests as a form of protest to show solidarity with the officer or officers who were involved in the controversial event. According to one Minnesota defense attorney, what’s happening in Minneapolis is the latter.

“It’s a solidarity tantrum,” the attorney told Vocativ, noting that not much has changed in the way police in the city conduct themselves when they do make arrests since Clark’s death. The attorney, who worked in Minneapolis until a few weeks ago, said that in a lot of cases, officers continue to escalate conflicts that don’t need to be escalated by being overly aggressive.

“Some of their behavior makes you wonder if they’re looking to shoot somebody,” he said.

Social media and camera phones have only exacerbated officers’ concerns, several current and former cops have told Vocativ. Minneapolis police officers don’t currently universally use body cameras but will starting in October. But in the smart-phone era, where everyone is carrying a video camera in their pocket, high-profile incidents like the choking death of Eric Garner in Staten Island, or Walter Scott in South Carolina, have propelled the cops involved to infamy once footage contradicting the official version of events surfaces online.

Between January 1 and May 2, 2016, the Minneapolis Police Department made 8,504 arrests, according to data obtained by the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. That’s a drop from 11,879 during the same period last year. Police stops have also slowed considerably—incidents where an officer has stopped, questioned, or frisked someone decreased by 32 percent from last year.

The department’s Fourth Precinct, where the officers who shot Clark were assigned, has seen a 45 percent drop in arrests from last year and a 51 percent drop in stops. Meanwhile, the number of shootings in the city is increasing, including the gang-related shooting of eight people last week.

“[The police are] getting in self-preservation mode, and what that means is you’re just going to emergency calls and being nice to everybody,” Lt. Bob Kroll, president of the union that represents the department’s 850-plus officers, told the paper. Another officer told the paper “Confrontation equals getting indicted, put on the front page or [Police Chief Janee] Harteau will bury you. As far as I’m concerned, we’re done working.”

Clark, 24, was killed in November of last year as he and two officers, Mike Ringgenberg and Dustin Schwarze, got into a scuffle after police were called to intervene in a domestic violence situation between Clark, his girlfriend, and another woman. At some point during the scuffle, Ringgenberg’s gun was knocked to the ground. According to authorities, Clark got a hold of the gun, at which point Schwarze shot him after Ringgenberg told him to open fire. Several witnesses, however, say Clark was shot while handcuffed and on the ground.

“[Schwarze’s] actions were reasonable given both his observations and Ringgenberg’s plea,” Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said in March after his office found no grounds to charge the officers with any crimes.

After the shooting, Black Lives Matter activists began protesting around Minneapolis, ultimately setting up an encampment outside the Fourth Precinct and occupying it for 18 days.