Zero Tolerance Policing Essays

Zero Tolerance Policing Essay

2046 WordsDec 7th, 20059 Pages

Crime rates and particularly the rates of violent and gun related crimes are rising in most rich countries. Targets for blame include higher drug use, higher inequality and greater availability of weapons. While Liberal politics tends to favor rehabilitation and structural improvement to combat crime the right wing has always seen criminality as a rational choice that can be combated by deterrence. Zero Tolerance policing aims to stop serious crime by clamping down on the minor crimes like graffiti that the practitioners believe lead to further crimes and using custodial sentences for first offences. It includes set responses to particular crimes by the police although the courts maintain some discretion. Zero Tolerance is not necessarily…show more content…

By cutting off the dealer on the ground we can best target the businesses of big suppliers (Dennis, page 36).
• Zero tolerance also allows for a sound rehabilitative role. A custodial sentence, particularly for juveniles, takes them out of the atmosphere (often surrounded by drug use and living in poverty and or abusive homes) that encourages criminality. Rehabilitation through the prison system is not just a possibility but a central tenet of all penal codes. Education and discipline are both vital to our prisons. The large number of police on the ground also allows for a supervisory role in the community after the prisoner is released to reduce reoffending (Dennis, page 37)
• Zero Tolerance improves the standard of policing. It reduces corruption and racist treatment because the individual officers are not given the scope to decide their actions on a case by case basis. Their response is set and therefore cannot be changed by a personal whim. It also reduces the kind of gung-ho policing that is increasingly common. It takes officers out of their cars and places them back into the community where they have contact with individuals. Chases and shootouts actually become less common under zero tolerance (Dennis, page 37)
• Zero Tolerance is vital to regenerate urban environments. There is no point building in inner cities if we don't protect these resources from graffiti and vandalism. Zero tolerance reduces the amount of dead ground used for drug

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THE main parties mimic one another's policies on many topics—but on none so closely as policing. Labour's manifesto trumpets its “zero-tolerance” approach to petty crime and low-level disorder. The first item on the Tories' list of law-and-order promises is a pledge to support chief constables who crack down on graffiti, vandalism and drunkenness. Even the Liberal Democrats, normally the sole dissenters, would go along with the zero-tolerance approach to crime-fighting as long as the police approve. But in many cases, the police do not. Despite the agreement among politicians, the police themselves are far from unanimous in praise of zero tolerance.

The strategy derives from an influential essay entitled “Broken Windows” by James Wilson and George Kelling, two American academics. They argue that a disregard for petty infractions, such as graffiti, drunkenness, or the breaking of windows, encourages further crime by signalling a degree of public disinterest and neglect. So tackling minor offences, in their view, would not only increase the quality of life but also help reduce more serious crime. Using a zero-tolerance strategy during his term as police commissioner of New York city, William Bratton reduced crime by 37% in three years. British politicians, inspired by this success, are calling for similar tactics.

In fact, zero tolerance has already been tested in Britain, with some success. In London, a police survey found that 81% of residents felt safer thanks to the Metropolitan Police's “Operation Zero Tolerance”, which targeted petty crime around King's Cross station. In Hartlepool, Ray Mallon, a deputy chief inspector with the Cleveland police, managed to cut crime by 27% between 1994 and 1996, in part through more aggressive policing of minor infringements. The Tories cite Hartlepool as an example of the policing style they wish to introduce more widely, while Jack Straw, Labour's home-affairs spokesman, has praised the King's Cross initiative.


But most police officers are not so enthusiastic. The Police Federation says the wholesale adoption of zero tolerance across Britain would require extra manpower, and sees nothing new in the strategy anyway. The Association of Chief Police Officers agrees, pointing out that Mr Bratton got 7,000 new recruits to pursue zero tolerance when New York city already had twice as many police per head as Britain.

Even if the extra resources were available, Charles Pollard, the chief constable of Thames Valley, believes that “zero tolerance is certainly not the panacea that some people suggest it is.” It works well for a time, he argues, in densely populated areas with relatively high policing levels and large amounts of petty crime. But returns will diminish once minor infringements are brought under control. And in areas where the population is too dispersed for effective foot patrol, or the crime rate is already relatively low, zero tolerance is likely to have little effect.

Worse still, in areas of high racial tension, the introduction of a zero-tolerance policy might leave the local population feeling victimised. Mr Pollard, for example, blames the riots in Brixton in 1981 on the heavy-handed tactics of the police. The Audit Commission, in a review of police patrol procedure, upholds his objections: “The public and politicians need to understand that foot patrol [the backbone of zero tolerance] is not a panacea for all policing problems.”

Even in those areas where a crackdown on petty crime might improve matters, it depends, in the sceptics' view, on non-confrontational tactics. Mr Kelling himself says discretion is the essence of good policing. So Mr Pollard emphasizes a community-based approach, which concentrates on building public trust, gathering intelligence and co-ordinating the efforts of social workers, volunteers and local council officials to prevent crime. Mr Pollard describes a 1996 operation by his officers in Marlow, Buckinghamshire, which reduced burglary and theft by 30% over six months at a cost of £917, just by talking to publicans and tradesmen and leafleting residents. Simple measures like printing hotline numbers on beer mats, as Thames Valley police did, might help reduce crime as much as extra bobbies on the beat.

To their credit, all the major parties support such schemes, on the assumption that they are perfectly compatible with zero tolerance. But proponents of zero tolerance insist that its success depends precisely on its uncompromising approach, which may in turn cost the police much-needed public support. In Mr Mallon's words, effective policing demands “attitude, attitude, attitude”. That kind of rhetoric may please politicians on the campaign trail, but it is unlikely to win the police much co-operation or support on the street.

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