Zero tolerance policing originated in New York under Rudolph Guiliani and William Bratton (1994)(Silverman, 1999) as a response to the severe urban decay and extreme street crime experienced at the time. It is derived from Wilson and Kelling's (1982) 'broken windows theory' that the physical decline of a society has a direct effect on crime: Vandalism, begging, prostitution, 'squeegee merchants' all exist without intervention presenting the impression of public disinterest and encouraging more serious crime to flourish.
Zero Tolerance policing (ZTP from now on) removes the police constraints and encourages the intervention of these misdemeanours, represses street crime and anti-social behaviour and sequentially reclaims control of public spaces for respectable members of society (Innes, 1999).
Both Guiliani and Ray Mallon, of The Cleveland Constabulary, have proven the practical abilities of this type of policing in tackling high crime, but not without extensive criticisms, some of which I will discuss and challenge in this essay along with Pollard's (1997) ideas that zero tolerance is merely a short term fix resulting in future tensions between the police and communities. I will then go on to show that the legal application of zero tolerance policing actually serves to increase public perception of officials.
The 'New York Miracle' saw a 75% reduction in 7 major crimes (Henry, 2002)since the application of ZTP, which can be attributed to the introduction of 7000 new men, Compstaat (computer system that calculates high crime areas) (Pollard, 1999), and the decline in crack cocaine use. However, it is important to remember that the employment of technology and man power were essential in operating zero tolerance policing successfully as the force was subsequently depleted (Bratton, 1997), and the decline in crack cocaine use can be seen as a direct effect of a lucrative policy at work (Bowling, 1997).
Guiliani (1997) acknowledges that ZTP is just one of the most important weapons in reducing crime, and not singularly a miracle cure. Alongside these factors other large cities in America saw a similar decline in crime rates under different policing strategies (Pollard, 1997), accrediting the success to other factors. This is not evidence alone to question the credibility of zero tolerance policing, nor should the policies in place in other cities be brought into disrepute. It does not claim to be the only practically workable theory in reducing crime rates, but it does qualify.
It certainly proved to be a quick resolution for New York's soaring crime and silences Dixons (2005)claims that fundamental differences in crime patterns mean it cannot be applied to different societies, as the policy has allowed transfer in a number of European countries and Australia. The English success story was that of Ray Mallon reducing rates by 25% in Middlesbrough in 12 months. Nonetheless, is it just a short term fix? Lengthy application of the policy will sever community/police ties, raise tension and spark disorder, demonstrated by the inner city riots in the 1980's.
(Pollard 1999). The riots experienced by both the US and England cannot be explained away by ZTP, but by the unlawful aggression of officers that implement this policy. Certain individuals will always see this type of policing as an excuse to clean up the streets using whatever force they see fit (Kelling and Coles, 1996), no matter how it is worded. The dramatic increase in public complaints of police brutality in America (Bratton, 1997) directly supports this but Pollard ignores the fact that many of the 7000 new officers "never held a job…. driven a car….
interacted with a minority… were under 21" (1997; 34) and therefore may have been in the job for the wrong reasons and would have been more easily swept up in the brutality. ZTP advocates 'firm but fair' policing and when operated under proper procedures improves public perception of the police as it provides "symbolic significance" (Innes, 1999; 400)to the police as positive actors in the fight against crime (Edwards, 2005). The public are most concerned about falling victim to burglary, car theft or personal attack, even though the likelihood of it is quite low.
Residents of Bankhill, an area that has recently fallen victim to physical demise regard "petty crime" (Walklate, 2007; 60) as the largest problem and are calling out for officials to act. Individuals that live in socially dilapidated areas are faced with low level crimes daily and forced inside for their own safety, but when these misdemeanours are addressed, intolerance to crime is identified resulting in a reduction in fear of more serious offences (Edwards, 2005).
ZTP acts to neutralise crime (Wilson and Boland, 1978) by targeting anti-social behaviour. Both America and England provide evidence of its success as it results in complete changes in lifestyles in populations that were once delinquent and it does not end there(Bowling, 1997). The aggressive nature of the police will always cause dispute in a policy as radical as ZTP; this does not point to a flaw in the policy but a flaw in the individuals employed to implement it.