Fox personalities have embellished FBI Director James Comey's stated belief that recent scrutiny of police departments “in today's YouTube world” may have made officers feel “under siege” and may be connected to a rise in violent crime -- a claim the director admitted was unsubstantiated -- to falsely suggest he supported their claims that public attention and the White House are to blame for a “war on cops.”
FBI Director James Comey Links Police Feeling “Under Siege” Following Recent Scrutiny To Increase In Violent Crime
FBI Director Comey: “I Do Have A Strong Sense” That “Viral Video[s]” May Make Police Reluctant To “Do The Work That Controls Violent Crime.” In an October 23 speech, FBI Director James Comey admitted he does not know what is “driving an increase in murder in some cities across all regions of the country,” but claimed he thinks it may be connected to “changing police behavior” due to increased public scrutiny (emphasis added):
What could be driving an increase in murder in some cities across all regions of the country, all at the same time? What explains this map and this calendar? Why is it happening in all of different places, all over and all of a sudden?
I've been part of a lot of thoughtful conversations with law enforcement, elected officials, academics, and community members in recent weeks. I've heard a lot of theories--reasonable theories.
Maybe it's the return of violent offenders after serving jail terms. Maybe it's cheap heroin or synthetic drugs. Maybe after we busted up the large gangs, smaller groups are now fighting for turf. Maybe it's a change in the justice system's approach to bail or charging or sentencing. Maybe something has changed with respect to the availability of guns.
These are all useful suggestions, but to my mind none of them explain both the map and the calendar in disparate cities over the last 10 months.
But I've also heard another explanation, in conversations all over the country. Nobody says it on the record, nobody says it in public, but police and elected officials are quietly saying it to themselves. And they're saying it to me, and I'm going to say it to you. And it is the one explanation that does explain the calendar and the map and that makes the most sense to me.
Maybe something in policing has changed.
In today's YouTube world, are officers reluctant to get out of their cars and do the work that controls violent crime? Are officers answering 911 calls but avoiding the informal contact that keeps bad guys from standing around, especially with guns?
I spoke to officers privately in one big city precinct who described being surrounded by young people with mobile phone cameras held high, taunting them the moment they get out of their cars. They told me, “We feel like we're under siege and we don't feel much like getting out of our cars.”
I've been told about a senior police leader who urged his force to remember that their political leadership has no tolerance for a viral video.
So the suggestion, the question that has been asked of me, is whether these kinds of things are changing police behavior all over the country.
And the answer is, I don't know. I don't know whether this explains it entirely, but I do have a strong sense that some part of the explanation is a chill wind blowing through American law enforcement over the last year. And that wind is surely changing behavior.
Part of that behavior change is to be welcomed, as we continue to have important discussions about police conduct and de-escalation and the use of deadly force.
Those are essential discussions and law enforcement will get better as a result. [FBI.gov, 10/23/15]
White House Points Out The Evidence “Doesn't Support The Contention That Law Enforcement Officials Are Shirking Their Responsibilities” Due To Increased Scrutiny
White House Disagreed With Comey, Saying Evidence “Does Not Support The Contention That Law Enforcement Officials Are Shirking Their Responsibilities.” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest countered Comey's claims during a press briefing, stating, “The evidence we have seen so far doesn't support the contention that law enforcement officials are shirking their responsibilities ... In fact, you hear law enforcement leaders across the country indicating that that's not what's taking place”:
The White House said Monday that it did not agree with the assertion last week by the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, that additional scrutiny of law enforcement in the past year may have made police officers less aggressive, leading to a rise in violent crime in some cities.
“The evidence we have seen so far doesn't support the contention that law enforcement officials are shirking their responsibilities,” the White House press secretary, Josh Earnest, said in response to a question about Mr. Comey at his daily briefing. “In fact, you hear law enforcement leaders across the country indicating that that's not what's taking place.” [The New York Times, 10/26/15]
Fox Personalities Mischaracterize Comey's Comments To Support Their Claim That The White House And Increased Scrutiny Are To Blame For Violence Against Police And Increased Crime
Eric Bolling: “The FBI Came Out And Said That All The Anti-Cops Sentiment Lately Is Increasing The Violence Towards Cops.” On the October 26 edition of Fox News' The Five, co-host Eric Bolling falsely claimed that “The FBI came out and said all the anti-cops sentiment lately is increasing the violence towards cops,” a statement FBI Director Comey did not make:
GREG GUTFELD: [Sheriff David Clarke] calls them [Black Lives Matter] subhuman creeps.
ERIC BOLLING: Sheriff Clarke nails it, and there was a back and forth with Wheeler that -- it's worth watching -- but Sheriff Clarke stayed on it. Couple of quick stats: The FBI came out and said that all the anti-cops sentiment lately is increasing the violence towards cops, so blood on your hands, Quentin Tarantino and the others. And also, of the 800 people who were killed by cops last year, 725 of them had guns. So these -- this isn't just random cop finding a guy, and wanting to shake him down and kill him, they're actually feeling a threat and they're responding to the threat. So know the facts, know your numbers before you go and protest cops. [Fox News, The Five, 10/26/15]
Hasselbeck Cites Findings By FBI Director To Argue That Officers Are “Afraid To Engage” Because Of White House Investigations. On the October 27 edition of Fox & Friends, co-host Elisabeth Hasselbeck claimed that “everyone's asking the director of the FBI to get in there and examine what's going on” behind increases in crime, and concluded officers are “afraid to engage because 20 places across the United States are being investigated right now by the United States, by the White House.” Comey's remarks did not mention White House investigations and were not the result of a formal inquiry:
ELISABETH HASSELBECK: So when you have this increase [in crime] in a time period of 365 days, everyone's asking, “what is happening?” And everyone's asking the director of the FBI to get in there and examine what's going on. And when he does, and what he finds out, is that officers right now are stepping back. They're afraid to engage because 20 places across the United States are being investigated right now by the United States, by the White House. They say, “hey, we're afraid to do our job.” And the White House doesn't want to hear it. They have people being murdered at increased rates and Josh Earnest at the White House wants to just play deaf.
STEVE DOOCY: Well, you know what? This is the second time I believe in -- let me see -- one week where the White House has defended the actions of Black Lives Matter and not the cops. Mr. Comey, when he did make that address on Friday at the University of Chicago law school, where outside the law school, as we just saw, the crime statistics are raging, he said, “Why is this happening?” Well, he said it could be cheaper heroin, guns, turf battles with gangs, and things like that. But what it comes down to is so many people are taunting the police. You know they call the police, they see the police, the police are right there, they just turn on their iPhone, they just wait for them to do something that can go viral. Because when something goes viral then that police officer is absolutely toast in many situations. When something bad has happened, and one of the things they worry about is if the cop winds up -- and the police department -- winds up the object of a Department of Justice investigation. How do you think that's going to turn out?
HASSELBECK: Well the director, James Comey said this in the FBI, “In communities of color especially, young men are dying at a rate that dwarfs what we've seen in recent history.” And why the White House won't hear him on what he's saying here. He's trying to actually save lives.
BRIAN KILMEADE: Right.
HASSELBECK: They don't want to hear it. [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 10/27/15]
Sean Hannity Claimed “It Seems Like A War On Cops,” While Citing FBI Director's Statements On Police Feeling “Under Siege.” On the October 26 edition of Hannity, host Sean Hannity referenced Comey's comment that police “told me we feel like we're under siege and we don't feel much like getting out of our cars” because of possible videotaping, as support for his claim that “it seems like it's open season” on police:
SEAN HANNITY: So, we almost -- it seems like a war on cops. It seems like it's open season on them -- people are now -- the Black Lives Matter movement literally chanting, “pigs in a blanket, fry 'em like bacon.” The Democrats are going to do a forum with this group. What are your thoughts?
RAY KELLY: Well, certainly there's a rhetorical war on cops. There's a lot of verbiage out there. We saw Quentin Tarantino, that was absolutely disgraceful. And clearly, cops feel at greater risk because of it, because of the rhetoric that's floating around. It's a dangerous job to begin with, we don't need that sort of talk out there. Doesn't help anything.
HANNITY: Yeah. Let me put up, in a closed-door speech, FBI Director James Comey actually indicated police are now scared to do their jobs. Here's what he said, he said, you know, “they told me we feel like we're under siege and we don't feel much like getting out of our cars.” You still talk to the rank and file. You are so well respected in new York. Is that what you're hearing?
KELLY: Yes, I think Jim Comey is telling it like it is. Clearly police officers are hesitating. They're not engaging in the way they engaged for the last two decades, quite frankly. That's why crime is down significantly throughout the country. But yeah, police are backing off now, and anybody who denies that I think is just not facing reality. [Fox News, Hannity, 10/26/15]