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Former Police Chief Disputes FBI Director's Remarks On The 'YouTube Effect'


President Obama appeared before the International Association of the Chiefs of Police today. He thanked law enforcement for helping to cut America's violent crime rate nearly in half over the last two decades. He also acknowledged an alarming trend.


BARACK OBAMA: It is true that in some cities, including here in my hometown of Chicago, gun violence and homicides have spiked. And in some cases, they've spiked significantly.

SIEGEL: Before President Obama's speech to the police chiefs, we heard from one member of the audience, former New Orleans and Nashville police chief, Ronal Serpas.

Chief Serpas, thanks for joining us.

RONAL SERPAS: Thank you.

SIEGEL: You heard FBI Director Comey yesterday speak of some relationship between the intense scrutiny of the police and rising crime rates. He doesn't say it's the only cause. Is it correct to say that it's one cause of rising crime rates?

SERPAS: Well, I think we must remember that we're experiencing 50-year lows in crime in America, and 2014 was another year of very low numbers of murders. What police chiefs heard the director say is that he looked at a map and he saw spikes in some of our larger cities, and to his way of thinking, a chill wind across the deck of American policing, through the YouTube effect, was causing some officers not to engage the public as aggressively as they may have. And, candidly, more police chiefs than not did not perceive that as a statement that we could agree with.

SIEGEL: You're now a professor at Loyola University in New Orleans. You teach criminal justice there. There was a spike in the murder rate in New Orelans this summer. There have been other increases in New York, Chicago, Dallas, many other cities. If it doesn't have anything to do with this YouTube effect or the Ferguson effect, how do you understand what's happening? What's causing it?

SERPAS: Well, I think it's important to say this. The fact that the YouTube and Ferguson effect is in the consciousness of America is true. The fact that social scientists in St. Louis discovered that there's no Ferguson effect in Ferguson is also true. We have spikes in murders throughout the history of our time. I was a chief for 13 years and experienced more than one spike in a year or two period. And there's always going to be questions asked to people about why did this spike occur. And sometimes we might have good answers, and sometimes we might not have answers that the data will eventually support. The fact that we're having a spike in some cities is probably much more to do with issues that are far broader, far deeper, far more impactful than whether or not there's a YouTube effect.

SIEGEL: But what are those issues? What would you propose as possible causes?

SERPAS: I would think there's little doubt in America that young men involved in, you know, gang member-involved violence tend to feed upon them self from year to year to year. You may see spikes in certain types of murders involving associates, different types of issues like that, but they tend not to last as long. What does last over time is young men who choose a criminal lifestyle, and we just don't know yet if that's what's driving this one-year spike.

SIEGEL: Do you think this is a case where we'd hear the same thing from police chiefs and from cops who are out there, or might there be different perspectives from the patrol car?

SERPAS: I think there's all types of perspectives. And again, I absolutely agree and believe - and I would suggest it would be foolish not to think - that police officers recognize this YouTube issue. But every generation of policing has had to accept another form of monitoring of their behavior, and our profession has stood strong throughout that. Our profession's stood through it in the dashboard days, we stood through it in the advance of social media, five, 10 years ago. And I do not think that police officers miss the opportunity, as a body, to be professional and noble and do the work they know they can do. Are there going to be some who think this YouTube effect would cause them not to do their work? Absolutely, that could be the case. But I don't think it reflects the majority of the police chiefs that I've run into all weekend long, and I don't think it reflects the majority of police officers in this country.

SIEGEL: That's Ronal Serpas, a former police chief in Nashville and New Orleans, and before that, chief of the Washington State Patrol, and now teaching at Loyola University.

Thanks for talking with us.

SERPAS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.