Zero Tolerance Policing – Research Paper



Zero tolerance policing is a vague term which is referred differently by different scholars. To some, zero tolerance is a strategy of policing which entails persistent maintenance of order and aggressive enforcement of law, over even minor incivilities and crimes. To others it refers to aggressive, comprehensive law enforcement without holds barred. It is also used to denote a policing technique that exists as part of carefully designed approaches package to fight the problems of crimes of a particular region.

The zero tolerance policing idea is founded on the notions created by two United States criminologists known as George Kelling and James Q. Wilson who printed a seminal article in 1982 titled “Broken Windows” in the magazine of the Atlantic Monthly. The two argued that unrestrained petty crime ambience develops the impression that “there is no one in control” and therefore, more severe crimes can be done with impunity. This implied that unchecked incivility and disorder in a given region send an inherent invitation to more destructive criminals. The two identified behavioral and physical indicators as the two general disorder manifestations. Physical indicators referred to things that include general despair, litter, and graffiti. Behavioral manifestations on the other hand comprised of prostitutes street solicitation, groups loutish behaviors, fare dodging on public transportation, and public urination among others attributions of urban life which fund to be offensive by most people in 1970s in the United States. The broken windows theory implications were that harsh physical decay remediation and petty crimes enforcement would stop the development of an atmosphere favorable to more severe criminal offending. The article was highly influential and has made a great contribution to policing modifications in a number of the United Kingdom and the United States Jurisdictions.

Zero Tolerance Policing Implementation

Based on the broken window theory, the environment that the new policing techniques have obtained the highest attention is in the New York City. New York City has s experienced a considerable decrease in the rates of crime since in the beginning of 1990s. The police in the city employed temporally and geographically selective responding policy with all criminals charges including very trivial offenses. During this exercise, it was established that a number of minor offenders had a more serious criminal bustle history. Therefore, according to Grabosky (1999) there arrest banned them from being involved in other serious crimes in the future. The risk for minor offences arrest also seemed to have discouraged firearms carrying an aspect that in turn contributed to considerable decrease in the rates of robbery and homicide in the city. Therefore, according to Grabosky (1999), there was a general decline in the rate of crimes in the city by over 35 percent and a decline in the rate of homicide cases by 73 percent. The zero tolerance policing have also received significant results in crime reductions in regions that include the United Kingdom, as well as in other overseas regions (Grabosky, 1999). In 1990s, the UK recorded a decrease in the rate of crimes by 20% in a span of 18 months. There was also a decrease in the rate of crimes by 22% in a period of three months in 1997 after a great dedication of police department in employing the broken window theory in some parts of the UK. A similar outcome was also reported in Hartlepool where the rate of crime declined by 38 percent in span of 28 months. Therefore, the broken window policy has demonstrated a significant change in the rate of crimes in a number of regions where it has been fully embraced.

Zero Tolerance Policing Complexities

As a matter of fact, zero tolerance policing technique puts more importance on short-term viable solution. In this regard, it has been frequently characterized as a unique quick fix to multifaceted problems.  However, theoretically, this unique model of policing does not handle the underlying crime causes. It fails to regard the extensive variables spectrum that influences cognitive behavior of a human being. According to Kablukova (2014), without an extensive demographics ranging and community founded policing focus, the zero tolerance policing use will neither be acceptable nor effectual. In this regard, the zero tolerance policing strategy utility appears to be extra visible when its values are diffused and when it is determined as a peculiar technique of law enforcement instead of a major framework of policing.

Zero tolerance policing is perceived in its mutual exclusive and simplistic terms either as the answer to all crime problems in a nation or as a dangerous move towards a dictatorial society. This oversimplification according to King (2010) sheds less light than heat. It is essential to acknowledge that strict indiscriminate law enforcement has its own risks. An association of trust between the public and the police is important to effectual enforcement of law. After all this is the spirit of community policing. A phenomenon in which police appear as something similar to occupying army is probable to destroy any trust might have existed and constrain the trust formation in the future. Heavy-handled enforcement of law can destroy the police legitimacy, making their work hard if not unbearable. According to Grabosky (1999), the upcoming evidence proposes that when police are less respectful toward citizens and suspects, the fewer individuals will be generally inclined to observe the law. Although police must not be considered legitimate so as to get the public cooperation but legitimate institution of police fosters adherence to the law. Zero tolerance policing style tends to be authoritative and action based. However, aggressive enforcement techniques result to serious confrontation between community and police. This form of policing has been connected constantly to the force abuse, civil rights infringements allegations and rise in police brutality. In Griffith (1999), views minor offences and persistence of disorder shows that the community is not willing to assist the police and that this felony is regarded as an acknowledged social norm

A good police work deal relies on the individual officer interpersonal skills. Reliance on force instead of diplomacy might lead these proficiencies to waste. At the level of an individual, the arrest employment in the response to trivial offending might elicit a defiant reaction from the arrestee, creating reoffending that may not otherwise happened. In any occurrence, arrest can be expensive. Time used in restraining a petty offender, and the following court attendance, are regarded as time lost by a police officer as off street time. Aggressive policing ironically might thus lower presence of police in the streets. In addition, zero tolerance policing is not consistent with the police discretion exercise. Reasonable and firm discretion exercise is essential with regard to effectiveness and efficiency in policing. Zero tolerance policing might also contain other unintended outcomes. For instance in Australia where there is over-representation of native Australians in the judicial System or in the US where there is overrepresentation of whites in the judicial system, the strict enforcement policies would yield in an even higher level of over-representation of this group resulting to hard political consequences.

More concern regarding zero tolerance is its long-term effects for all individuals restrained for minor crimes irrespective of their race. Record of an arrest might make it hard to get employment in the future, specifically in a tight market of labor where chances for unskilled labor are very constrained. A good example is a case reported by New York Time (2012), where single mother aged 26 was arrested and laid in court for being in the possession of a small amount of Marijuana. Although the court released her and ordered to be free of accusation in case she will remain out of trouble in a period of 1 year, the woman lost her job as waitress in a hotel she was working in. Due to this minor legal problem, the lady was subjected to more life problems which could even initiate her being involved in even major crimes in an attempt to survive.

Zero Tolerance Policing Critics

Despite of its great achievement in New York City and other parts of the United Kingdom, zero tolerance policing is not without a number of critics. There are a number of negative outcomes associated with zero tolerance policing. This includes aggressive policing which is associated with police heavy-handedness accusations. In addition, it is claimed that there is no clear evidence that zero policing is the only means that resulted to the fall of crimes even in the reported regions. This is because according to BBC News, (1998), crime has also reduced in regions where zero tolerance policing has never been employed.  It is also claimed that there could be other reasons for reduction in crimes even in New York.  It has also been claimed that zero tolerance policing has unknown long-term impacts. Although it has been found to be effective in densely populated regions where the rate of petty crimes is high, it does not show any effect in dispersed populated region where the rate of crimes is low (BBC News, 1998).

The zero tolerance policing have also been accused of overloading the judicial system in the US. According New York Times (2012), a huge number of individuals have been arrested under the minor violations police that include being in possession of minute piece of bhang. This has resulted to overloading the courts will a lot of first time minor crimes cases with offenders who do not belong to the court. This according to New York Times (2012) wreaked havoc with life of people, where most young people who are commonly involved in such minor crimes are followed by the shadow of the crime due to the developed error-ridden criminal documentation. Moreover, arrests associated with this policy have also been associated with a number of errors. Based on the analysis performed by the Legal Action Center that help1500 individuals with criminal records every year, it has been established that about half of rap sheets for their clients contain errors. Defense lawyers also confirm that the police and the court fail to inform the state about dismissals as well as other results that are favorable to the defendant in most cases.

The policy is also said to bring a sense of victimization in regions where there is a high rate of racial tension. Critics in the US claim that based on the evaluated data, 87% of all zero tolerance policing arrests are Hispanic or Blacks. This data according to the critics proposes that police are deliberately bullying minority citizens in the country for arrest which push a number of them to a very society margins permanently (New York Times, 2012). According to Kablukova (2014), police focus their patrols in a specific region and presume that every young individual they see in the region is a probable or potential criminal. In this regard, they would carry out intensive search and make more arrest. In this regard, a huge number of young men in one neighborhood will contain police criminal records. Consequently, this gives statistical justifications for constant hyper-aggressive tactics of police in the region. For instance, according to New York City Civil Liberties Union analysis, 85% of 2012 stops involved Hispanics and Black Americans who are just half of the entire population in the region. Although the main aim was to seize illegal weapons minorities only 2% of those minority stopped were found with illegal weapons On the contrary among the 15% stops made on whites 4% were found to be in possession of the illegal weapons. This is a clear indication of how the broken window policy has been used to victimize individuals of minority tribes in most states of America due to the above described notion. The stereotyping continues and thus, most minorities are found in compromising situation even when their crimes are very minor to trouble the court (Robinson, 2015).

According to Griffith (1999), the Kelling and Wilson article contains implications that are far past policies associated to prosecution and arrest. In King (2010) views, not all not all physical disorder indicia are criminal conduct product. General disrepair and dilapidated buildings might be outcome of negligence other than vandalism. In this regard, irrespective if the cause, police might not be able to restore or repair damaged property. Individuals in the local authorities for instance housing commissions, councils, and residents in the neighborhood might be in a better position to fix broken pieces o to remove graffiti. Thus, the partnerships between the community institutions and police might be of equal significance to offenders arrest in developing a climate favorable to control of crimes. Essential chances are also there for the citizens to make their contribution to reduction of crimes by repairing neighborhood decay signs. This raises the extensive question regarding strategic policing. According to Kablukova (2014), careful evaluation of crime issues and their different components will allow identification of the most suitable tools for this task. In some instances, these will entail police intervention as the only solution, probably for a moderately aggressive nature. In other cases, this may be best attained by mobilizing other private and governmental agencies, or by creating some kind of partnership with these agencies to handle the underlying crime problem causes. For instance in situations that include possession of knives, alcohol or drugs in schools, reinforcement of schools policy may be  a better solution than arrest since most of these kids are forced by circumstance such as being victims of bullying to carry defense weapons. Thus, the application of this policy should be carefully traded even in the society while mostly handling young people.

The continuous control criminalization and tightening of minority groups possibly develops a particular space and culture that encourages development of criminal activities. According to Griffith (1999), zero tolerance strategy of policing might in the real sense augment public disorder and produce delinquency. For instance, some areas in America have got high rate of poverty and unemployment and are generally branded as excluded or isolated from the rest of the community. Individual who lives in these regions are influenced directly by negative physical setting and are labeled automatically as suspicious. This as a result serves as a particular vicious cycle in which the enforcement based policing directed over disadvantaged group in the society might possibly augment violence and act as the foundation of social exclusion. Criminogenic effect of arrest might also evoke repeated aggression.

In addition, the basic focus on minor incivilities augments the chances of being tangled in criminal prosecution or imprisonment. Based on the critiques view, zero tolerance policing model of policing fails to overpower criminality and increases inevitably the discretionary powers that are accessible to police through the zero tolerance policy augments the number of charges and arrests significantly. For instance the total number of arrests between 1994 and 1998 in New York City rose by 12 percent, where by the number of arrested minors increased by 27 percent. In addition, zero tolerance policing style contributes significantly to the prison population expansion. However, this is also blamed on implementation of strict policies of sentencing instead of action based policing. On the contrary, it can as well be argued that strict supervision or scrutiny of offenders as well as imprisonment of those involved in new crimes possibly eradicate dangerous persons from the community and thus promoting the safety of the public. According to Kablukova (2014), statistical evidence indicates that persons feel more secure when the number of police in their surrounding is high. Nevertheless, it can still be argued that intensive police intervention generates force image of safer surrounding and instead of solving the real problem, they displaces the problem.

Zero tolerance policing technique has currently gained high practicability. However, it is still highly critiqued for its propensity to show disorder into less controlled alternative places. Police intervention in this case should contain an influential and strong effect on crime in the beset regions. Although the phenomenon of crime displacement contains considerable implications for a number of problem-based policing projects, the major issue lies in the sense that displacement as such this takes place automatically in the policing effort aftermath. Never the less, the process of decision making of an offender is molded by different circumstances which include target, place and time. Thus, it is hard to say if aggressive control and enforcement directly influences the displacement occurrence. In this regard, the crime deflection might be typified as a simple time and space re-organization where by, a possible offender gets into contact with a possible victim. Even where the displacement takes place, it might be due to specific situations which inevitably push offenders to get hold of available chances. Actually, research results demonstrate that crime dislocation is not an inevitable result of problem-oriented and space-based policing. It has been proposed that the crime control diffusion benefit is a more usual result because benefits might go beyond addressed activity or location (Grabosky, 1999).


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