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Zero tolerance policing and new york quality essay

Many commentators trace zero tolerance policing to the style of policing implemented by New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and his first police commissioner, William Bratton, in 1994. Their strategy was based on the broken-windows theory first articulated by James Q.

Zero tolerance policing and new york quality essay

Wilson and George L. Kelling in an Atlantic Monthly article in 1982—namely, the idea that minor physical and social disorder, if left unattended, would cause more serious crime in a neighborhood.

As soon as Bratton took over as police commissioner in early 1994, he began implementing a policy aimed at creating public order by aggressively enforcing laws against quality-of-life offenses, such as public drunkenness, loitering, vandalism, littering, public urination, panhandling, turnstile jumping, prostitution, and other minor misdemeanor offenses.

In Police Strategy No. Reclaiming the Public Spaces of New York, Giuliani and Bratton explained the premises of the quality-of life initiative: More than ten years ago, James Q.

  1. The cops nabbed ten or twenty jumpers at a time. The total number of citizen complaints filed annually with the Civilian Complaint Review Board CCRB increased more than 60 percent between 1992 and 1996, and Mark Green--the elected New York City public advocate--has charged that the police torture of Abner Louima in a precinct station house in the Borough of Brooklyn in the summer of 1997 was part of a larger "pattern of police abuse, brutality, and misconduct" in New York City that the Giuliani administration has failed to address Green 1997.
  2. The restructuring of police services in San Diego has involved a geographic consolidation of 68 existing patrol sectors and a reconfiguration of their boundaries to correspond to 99 distinct neighborhoods defined by community residents. He reports that African Americans who make up 29 percent of the city's population filed 53 percent of all complaints in 1996 Siegel and Perry 1997, p.
  3. The proportion of "general patrol incidents"--that is, civilian complaints associated simply with routine police contacts involving no suspicion of criminal activity, no hot pursuit, no arrest or summons --among all complaints increased from 29 percent for the last year of the Dinkins administration to 58 percent under Mayor Giuliani. Changes in the characteristics of drug markets or of participants in them may have contributed to the decline in violent crime rates over recent years.
  4. Moreover, he charged, even those few capable of winning significant results were never given the necessary authority to follow through under the NYPD's system of centralized decision making.
  5. In his 1996 The New Yorker article, "The Tipping-Point," Gladwell defines this public health expression as "the point at which an ordinary and stable phenomenon--a low-level flu outbreak--can turn into a public health crisis" p.

According to the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services, in 1993, the year before Giuliani and Bratton began implementing broken-windows policing, total adult misdemeanor arrests stood at 129,404. At the same time, the NYPD implemented an aggressive stop-and-frisk policy. Between 1997 and 1998, for instance, the Street Crime Unit—with approximately 435 officers at the time—stopped and frisked about 45,000 people.

The quality-of-life initiative was one of a number of policing strategies that Bratton implemented during his two years as police commissioner. Other strategies targeted gun possession, school violence, drug dealing, domestic violence, auto theft, and police corruption. In addition, Bratton also increased the power of precinct commanders and instituted biweekly meetings, known as Crime Control Strategy Meetings or COMPSTAT for computer-statistics meetingswhere the top administrators would grill precinct commanders on crime in their beat Kelling and Coles 1996, 146.

The quality-of life initiative was soon called by many zero tolerance policing because of the surge in arrests for minor offenses, and the approach to policing that focuses on enforcing minor violations has been come to be known as zero tolerance.

This is particularly true in Europe, especially in the United Kingdom and France, as well as in Australia and New Zealand, where the broken-windows approach is generally zero tolerance policing and new york quality essay to as zero tolerance policing. In France, for instance, most criminologists and politicians refer to zero tolerance as the approach initiated in New York City and a number of topics have been authored under that very title.

Because of its close association to New York City and the broken-windows theory, this style of policing is more accurately called broken-windows policing. The use of the rubric zero tolerance policing to describe broken-windows policing is, however, a matter of some contention. As a result, significant battle lines have been drawn around these terms. The cops nabbed ten or twenty jumpers at a time. This is not an exercise of police discretion.

  • But police brutality in New York City is a multi-dimensional phenomenon that refers not only to the hyperviolent response of white male police officers as in these cases, but to an entire set of practices that target homeless people, vendors, and sexual minorities;
  • The 1998 New York City Mayor's Management Report lists many concrete improvements in the quality of life in New York City, which Mayor Rudy Giuliani believes have been won directly through the New York Police Department's targeted approach to crime control--now held up by many observers as the epitome of "zero-tolerance" policing;
  • It was about sweeps—about constantly checking and rechecking the squeegee corners and arresting all violators Bratton 1998, 213-14;
  • This is because the deterrent effects of such a strategy are weak at best, whereas its damaging effects--disruption of family ties, stigmatizing barriers to labor market participation, increased levels of alienation and distrust--may prove criminogenic in themselves.

It is zero tolerance. It was about sweeps—about constantly checking and rechecking the squeegee corners and arresting all violators Bratton 1998, 213-14. Bratton and Giuliani understood, from the beginning, the close relationship between order-maintenance, sweeps, and catching criminals Bratton 1998, 154.

Another semantic dispute has surrounded whether zero tolerance policing can be considered a form of community policing.

Zero Tolerance

Community policing, at its most general level, stands for the idea that police officers can prevent crimes by integrating themselves into the community and solving community problems, rather than by merely responding to emergency calls. It seeks to share with the public the tasks of problem identification, problem solving, and crime control—and it is a means of developing greater communication between the police and the community.

Some understand community policing to be a type of order maintenance, where police officers maintain neighborhood order by aggressively arresting low-level offenders. Others understand community policing as a style of community integration where the beat cop specifically withholds enforcement as a way to build community contacts.


For instance, in Chicago, some police officers on the beat reportedly tolerate disorder in order to ingratiate themselves with the community Skogan 1997; Eig 1996.

The variations on the theme of community policing are numerous. This may explain why community policing has swept police departments in the United States and abroad during the past twenty years. The truth, however, is that the popularity and success of community policing is attributable, in large part, to the vagueness of the definition, to the recent seven-year national decline in crime, and to the fact that the term community policing is far better for public relations than terms such as aggressive misdemeanor arrests, stop and frisk, or mass building searches.

It is important, then, to distinguish carefully between the specific types of community policing that are being discussed. Zero tolerance policing may, to some, qualify as a form of community policing, but is certainly different from other expressions of that policing approach.