Changes in Enforcement of Low-Level and Felony Offenses Post-Ferguson: An Analysis of Arrests in St. Louis, Missouri

As a result of several highly publicized incidents of police killing unarmed Black suspects, many contend that American police are in the midst of a crisis. Police have faced high levels of public scrutiny that some argue has stifled police activities and led to spikes in violent crime. This phenomenon—coined in the aftermath of the police killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri—has become widely known as the Ferguson Effect. This study uses seven years of data and time series analysis to assess whether the events in Ferguson were associated with a reduction in arrests for felonies and low-level offenses in the nearby City of St. Louis, Missouri. We find that there was an initial reduction in low-level arrests of Whites and Blacks in the wake of Ferguson. Enforcement of misdemeanors and ordinance violations then increased and returned to expected levels, but only for Blacks. Post-Ferguson, felony arrests initially dropped for Blacks, but not Whites, and then climbed for both groups. This work adds to the burgeoning literature on police responses in the wake of a high-profile shooting.