President Obama and his FBI director are sparring over whether the so-called “Ferguson Effect” is real, complicating the president’s push to loosen the nation’s sentencing laws.

The dispute could threaten the growing bipartisan momentum behind a criminal justice reform effort that Obama sees as a top second-term priority.

The question of whether police are reluctant to enforce the law because they are afraid of being videotaped has become the subject of fierce debate, as experts struggle to explain an uptick in violent crime in some U.S. cities.
FBI Director James Comey, a Republican, amplified the argument twice over the past week, suggesting anti-police sentiment fueled by the killings of unarmed black men in places such as Ferguson, Mo., has resulted in a crime spike.

“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,” Comey said in an October 23 speech at the University of Chicago Law School.

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