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FBI Director Says Videos, Hashtags Are Worsening The Citizen-Police Divide

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 26/10/2015 Ryan J. Reilly
ATHENA IMAGE © John Minchillo, File/ASSOCIATED PRESS ATHENA IMAGE

CHICAGO -- FBI Director James Comey told a gathering of police chiefs Monday that he believes officers are changing their behavior because they fear being caught in viral videos, and that the rise of crime in some cities may be a result of police officers staying in their vehicles more often due to an overabundance of caution. He described the law enforcement community and the black community as diverging further and further apart with each new controversy.

“Each time somebody interprets [the] hashtag 'BlackLivesMatter' as anti-law enforcement, one line moves away, and each time that someone interprets [the] hashtag 'PoliceLivesMatter' as anti-black, the other line moves away," Comey said at a speech before the International Association of Chiefs of Police. "I actually feel the lines continuing to arch away, and maybe accelerating, incident by incident, video by video, hashtag by hashtag, and that's a terrible place to be."

Comey also echoed controversial comments he'd made in the days leading up to his Monday address, in which he linked an uptick in crime in a handful of cities with heightened public scrutiny of the police. 

"Just as those lines are arching away from each other -- and maybe, just maybe, in some places because those lines are arching away from each other -- we have a crisis of violent crime in some of our major cities in this country," the director said Monday.

Comey also described a "chill wind" that had gone through law enforcement in the wake of viral videos of the police over the past year. Comey's remarks seemed to be an endorsement of the so-called "Ferguson effect," which suggests that excessive scrutiny of law enforcement is to blame for the uptick in crime.

Comey said officers in one major city felt “under siege” because they were being recorded when they exited their vehicles. "They were honest and said they don't feel much like getting out of their cars," Comey said. 

“Of the explanations I have heard, it is the one that makes the most sense to me: Maybe something has changed in policing," he went on. "In today’s YouTube world, are officers reluctant to get out of their cars and do the work that prevents violent crime? Are officers answering 911 calls, but avoiding the informal contact that keeps bad guys with guns from standing around?” 

It wasn't clear Monday whether Comey sees any public policy or law enforcement solution to the issue of cell phone videos -- other than training officers to deal with citizens recording their behavior -- since recording the police is legal. He also said that the scrutiny of police will make policing better, as law enforcement officials discuss de-escalation and the use of force.

Protesters demonstrated for hours outside the IACP on Saturday, and one group even shut down a skywalk leading into the IACP.

Many of the protesters had locked themselves together on a street outside the IACP event in an attempt to shut down traffic. There were 66 arrests overall.

President Barack Obama, who last week defended the Black Lives Matter movement, will speak at the IACP conference on Tuesday.

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