Chuck Rosenberg, head of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, said Wednesday that he agrees with FBI Director James Comey that police officers are reluctant to aggressively enforce laws in the post-Ferguson era of capturing police activity on smartphones and YouTube.
“I think there’s something to it,” Rosenberg said during a press briefing on drug statistics at DEA headquarters in Arlington. “I think he’s spot on. I’ve heard the same thing.”
The comments offer more support for the theory that, faced with increased scrutiny, the nation’s police officers are pulling back. That theory has been advanced by Comey, but disputed by President Obama, former attorney general Eric Holder and the National Fraternal Order of Police — all of whom have said it is offensive to suggest that police officers aren’t doing their jobs.
Like Comey, Rosenberg cautioned that it’s too early to prove that the “Ferguson effect” is at work in spikes in crime and homicides seen in some U.S. cities. But the DEA administrator said he’s heard from many in law enforcement who think the chilling effect is real, and he called for more study of the issue.
Rosenberg allowed that while he’s “not entirely sure what’s going on” with the sporadic increases in crime seen in some places, he believes “we should talk about it.”
The debate over whether police officers are pulling back on the job — and whether that is contributing to an increase in violent crime — was rekindled last month after Comey gave two speeches in Chicago endorsing the theory, citing a “chill wind blowing through law enforcement.”
“That wind is surely changing behavior,” Comey said in a speech to the International Association of Chiefs of Police. “We need to figure out what’s happening and deal with it now. I refuse to wait. . . . These aren’t data points — these are lives.”
Rosenberg, who before joining the DEA served as Comey’s FBI chief of staff and senior counselor, said sheriffs and police chiefs across the nation discussed the Ferguson effect with him even before Comey’s high-profile speeches. “Cops are more reluctant to engage in certain instances. They think that effect is real, and it worries them,” Rosenberg said.
But, he said, he doesn’t think such an effect is playing out among DEA agents, in part because federal drug agents are not the typical first responders — the police who “handle domestic assaults at 3 in the morning.”
He also pointed out that federal law enforcement officers do not wear body cameras and most do not have cameras in their vehicles. Rosenberg said he didn’t think DEA agents should be equipped with body cameras “because the nature of our work is different.”
“My gut reaction is no, we shouldn’t” wear cameras, Rosenberg said. “But I’m willing to listen to the other side on that.”
Rosenberg said he believed the Ferguson effect could cause police to become reluctant to engage with criminals because of “the concern, rightly or wrongly, that you become the next viral video.”
Wesley Lowery contributed to this report.