Defund the police? Former Harvard Professor says it could cost thousands of black lives.


Dr, Roland G. Fryer.

At age 30, Harvard University Professor Roland G. Fryer was the youngest African-American professor to receive tenure from Harvard. Recently, the 43-year old economics professor has claimed that defunding the police could cause thousands of deaths. According to student newspaper called The College Fix, Professor Fryer recently published a working research paper called Policing the Police: The Impact of “Pattern-or-Practice” Investigations on Crime. It claims that widely publicized investigations of American police forces could cost thousands of black lives. His data-driven study compares Pattern or Practice investigations, which are used by federal and state governments to correct unconstitutional police activity, including excessive force and racial bias. The US Department of Justice says, “A Pattern or Practice means that the defendant has a policy of discriminating, even if the policy is not always followed.”

Fryer’s findings, which will be hugely unpopular in liberal institutions across the country, state that Pattern or Practice investigations, on average, lead to a statistically significant reduction in homicides and total crime. With one big caveat. Five caveats, actually: Baltimore, Chicago, Cincinnati, Riverside, and Ferguson. In each of those cities, there was a use of deadly force that went viral with more than two million views each. In those cases, there was a marked increase in both homicide and total crime. In popular jargon, it has been called The Ferguson Effect. In the moe measured language of the report, it says, “The cumulative amount of crime that we estimate due to Pattern-or-Practice investigations in the two years after the announcement for this sample is 21.10 (5.54) per 100,000 for homicides and 1191.77 (429.50) per 100,000 for total felony crime. Put plainly, the causal effect of the investigations in these five cities – triggered mainly by the deaths of Freddie Gray, Laquan McDonald, Timothy Thomas, Tyisha Miller and Michael Brown at the hands of police – has resulted in 893 more homicides than would have been expected with no investigation and more than 33,472 additional felony crimes, relative to synthetic control cities.”

Putting these numbers in context, Professor Fryer continues that, “Our estimates suggest that investigating police departments after viral incidents of police violence is responsible for approximately 450 excess homicides per year. This is 2x the loss of life in the line of duty for the US Military in a year, 12.6x the annual loss of life due to school shootings, and 3x the loss of life due to lynchings between 1882 and 1901 – the most gruesome years.”

The root cause of this dramatic spike crime is unclear, but Fryer says it could be caused by a substantial decrease in proactive police activity. For example, in Chicago, police unbelievably shot Laquan McDonald sixteen times in fifteen seconds while he was jaywalking. After the investigation, police-civilian interactions in Chicago dropped by 90 percent in following month, and shootings went up by 80%. Interestingly, I wrote on this subject at the time it happened. Another Chicago example: In 2016, after the Macdonald killing, a female police officer was being severely beaten by a man she was trying to arrest. The man, who tested positive for PCP, threw her on the ground, and punched her several times.  She suffered a concussion, bone chips to her shoulder, a neck injury, and had bits of concrete pulled from her face. In spite of this, the officer refused to draw her weapon and shoot because she didn’t want her family or the department to have to go through the scrutiny the next day on the national news.

Does Fryer advocate censoring all videos and suspending all investigations into wrongful police actions? Obviously not. His paper makes a number of suggestions, including better financial incentive for data collection to developing new nonlethal technologies. But it ends on a note that is far more blunt, and describes the Ferguson Effect more objectively than the typical research paper:

“The social objective is to eliminate bias without causing police to retreat from activities that suppress crime, and save lives. A troubling possibility is that the types of police activities that keep crime rates low are inherently unconstitutional and hence we face a tradeoff between allowing uncomfortable amounts of police bias and reducing crime in the very communities which are most impacted by that bias. One way forward is to design a set of incentives such that we increase the penalties of unconstitutional policing and, simultaneously, lower the probability of being wrongfully accused when controversial interactions occur. In this sense, we might keep the expected price of policing constant for officers. There is no free lunch. If the price of policing increases, officers are rational to retreat. And, retreating disproportionately costs black lives.”

A little extra background about Professor Fryer: in 2016, he published a controversial paper called: An Empirical Analysis of Racial Differences in Police Use of Force. His research found that police use force 50% more frequently in encounters with Blacks and Hispanics, but show no such pattern with the use of lethal force.  A while later, an employee in Fryer’s Education Innovation Lab filed a Title IX complaint against Fryer, claiming he had committed “egregious” acts of verbal sexual harassment. Fryer denies these allegations, but in 2019, Harvard placed him on administrative leave for two years. Payback for his un-PC 2016 paper?  That’s up to others to decide.

University of Texas at Arlington Photograph Collection / CC BY (





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