FBI Director James B. Comey told officials Monday that police officers might be hesitant to do their jobs because people are monitoring their behavior more closely. He then proceeded to say he doesn't know for sure that this is true.
Speaking to the annual International Association of Chiefs of Police in Chicago, Comey suggested that a recent spike in violent crime was linked to protests sparked by video recordings of police misconduct. "In today's YouTube world, are officers reluctant to get out of their cars and do the work that controls violent crime?" Comey asked the audience, according to NPR. "Are officers answering 911 calls but avoiding the informal contact that keeps bad guys from standing around, especially with guns?"
He cited a pattern of police departments and communities of color drifting or "arcing apart" from each other, NPR reports. "I actually see an example and demonstration of that arcing through hashtags: the hashtag Black Lives Matter and the hashtag Police Lives Matter," he said. "[And] maybe, just maybe, because those lines are arcing away from each other, we have a crisis of violent crime in some of our major cities in this country, and in those cities in some of our most vulnerable neighborhoods."
Comey then added he has little proof any of this is actually happening — though he does "have a strong sense" it is. "The question is, are these kinds of things changing police behavior around the country?" he said. "The honest answer is: I don't know for sure whether that's the case."
So... what's actually going on? It was the second time in less than a week that Comey had made such statements. The first time was at the University of Chicago Law School on Friday, according to the Washington Post.
The comments also mirror recent claims to a so-called "Ferguson Effect" — the widely dismissed theory that backlash against police violence after unarmed black teenager Michael Brown was killed by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, in August 2014 has created a hostile, even dangerous environment for America's police. Since then, data has come to light showing that 2015 has been the second safest year in U.S. history for police officers.
Over the past week, many have criticized the FBI director's remarks. Amnesty International USA executive director Steven Hawkins told the Washington Post they were "outrageous" and "unsubstantiated." James O. Pasco Jr., executive director of the Fraternal Order of Police, told the Washington Post, "Time and time again, [Comey] generalizes about a segment of the population that he knows nothing about. He has never been a police officer."
Even the federal government isn't having it. The New York Times reports Comey "caught officials by surprise at the Justice Department," to the point that "several ... privately fumed at Mr. Comey's suggestion." White House press secretary Josh Earnest added Monday that evidence "does not support the notion that law enforcement officers around the country are shying away from fulfilling their responsibilities," according to the Guardian.
Here's what is up, though: There has been an increase in the number of police officers charged in fatal shootings this year: twelve, up from an average of five per year between 2005 and 2014 — the highest rate in a decade, according to Reuters. But if it's making police more afraid to do their jobs, the numbers certainly don't reflect it. According to the Guardian, American law enforcement officers have killed 940 people in the past 10 months.