DEA Chief Backs FBI Director on Whether 'Ferguson Effect' May Be Real

The head of the Drug Enforcement Administration said today the so-called “Ferguson effect” may be real, becoming the second top federal law enforcement official in as many weeks to suggest growing police “trepidation” could be behind a recent spike of violence in some American cities.

DEA Administrator Chuck Rosenberg said he’s been told by police chiefs across the country that -- with cops now under intense scrutiny and videos of their interactions often posted online -- officers are concerned “rightly or wrongly that [they] become the next viral video.”

Speaking to a group of reporters today in Washington, Rosenberg was echoing comments made last week by FBI Director James Comey, who told a gathering of international police chiefs in Chicago that “some part of what’s going on is likely a chill wind that's blown through law enforcement over the last year."

The White House, particularly President Obama, has seemed reluctant to go that far. But today, Rosenberg repeatedly called Comey’s remarks “spot on.”

“I rely on the chiefs and the sheriffs who are saying that they have seen or heard behavioral changes among the men and women of their forces,” Rosenberg told reporters. “The manifestation of it may be a reluctance to engage” with suspected criminals.

Police and other law enforcement officials have increasingly been under the national microscope -- and in some cases the targets of potential threats -- ever since a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, killed unarmed teenager Michael Brown last year. The controversial slaying prompted protests across the country.

In speaking of the “Ferguson effect” today, Rosenberg emphasized “a lot” of what he’s hearing “is anecdotal right now.” And, in further echoing Comey’s recent remarks, Rosenberg said there needs to be a national dialogue about what’s truly behind the spike in violence in some U.S. cities.

Rosenberg said gang-based competition in drug markets and the widespread availability of guns are also playing a part in it.

“There are some places where homicides are up and shootings are down. And then there are other places where both are up, and other places where both are down,” Rosenberg said. “We’re not entirely sure what’s going on, and we ought to talk about it and try to figure it out.”

Comey met with President Obama in the Oval Office on Thursday to discuss the matter. Rosenberg was a top aide to Comey at the FBI before joining DEA in May.