“Zero Tolerance” Lowers New York Crime Rate
New York was once the murder capital of the world. But its urban canyons are no longer the killing fields that earned the city its unenviable title.. The annual death toll, which soared to a record high of 2,245 in 1990, dropped to 760 in 1997. The last time the murder rate was as low as that was 30 years previously in 1967, the year of peace and love and the flowering of hippiedom.
With the decrease in killing has come a marked reduction in enthusiasm for other crime, such as burglaries, robberies and shootings. The old saying, crime doesn’t pay, has taken on new life, thanks to hard-line policing introduced by Mayor Rudolph Giuliani in 1994. Its success has been such that Giuliani, elected five years ago on a law and order platform, confidently says his city can now be seen as a leader in crime fighting. Such a claim would once have been unimaginable, but the zero-tolerance policing policy introduced by Giuliani and the two men be appointed to run the city’s police force,former commissioner William Bratton and former deputy commissioner John Timoney, has turned the mean streets into clean streets.
New York’s policing is based on a 1983 paper called “Broken Windows”, written by American academics James Wison and George Kelling, which suggested a clamp-down on low-level crime as a way of lowering all crime. If a broken window in an apartment block was not fixed, it was a sign that no one cared. Soon more windows would be broken and a sense of lawlessness engendered, encouraging others to commit more crime. Cleaning up minor crime on the streets was like fixing broken windows, it sad, and the flow-on effect would curb more serious crime.
New Yorkers voted for a special tax to raise about $US1 billion (Rmb8.2 billion) to fight crime and another 7,000 officers were added to the force. The responsibility for ways of fighting crime devolved from a centralized bureaucracy to precinct commanders, and police used computers to track and target crime trends more easily.
This resulted in a much harder attitude against all crime, “zero tolerance” being the policy of not allowing or tolerating even the smallest crimes. These included aggressive begging, minor drug dealing, taggers, turnstile jumpers in the subways and all forms of anti-social behaviour on the streets. Timoney uses trunstile jumpers as an illustration of the broken windows theory at work. Poloce found that 22 percent of turnstile jumpers were wanted for other crimes or were liable for arrest because they carried guns. “We arrested one man simply for jumping a $ 1 turnstile and found that he was a drug dealer carrying cocaine and $50,000 in his pockets,” says Timoney.
New York’s transformation attracted global attention and cost Bratton and Timoney their jobs. They were both sacked by Giuliani, who felt they were stealing his glory. Timoney has since acted as a consultant to police throughou7t the world, preaching the benefits of zero-tolerance policing.
Ironically, Bratton, the former Boston beat cop who rose to head New York’s finest, evidently doesn’t like the term zero-tolerance because he thinks it implies a lack of tolerance for any deviation from social norms. Critics of New York policing say that intolerance is exactly what zero-tolerance policing encourages. They point out that urban crime has fallen right across the United States in the past five years not just in New York, and even in states where zero-tolerance policing is not practiced, while the country’s jail population has dramatically increased. Because of this, criminologists say the real reasons for swings in crime rates are much more complex and not really understood. Shifts in the nature of America’s population ages and character have reduced the number of young men (age 18-24) most likely to be involved in crime. Crime is also reduced when many more criminals are in jail.
Criminologist Greg Newbold says that crime rates spiral up and down in unexplained cycles and there are no easy solutions to reducing crime. Tougher sentences and more police mean an increasing drain on tax payers there is no certainty that they will continue to lower crime levels. Criminals will learn to live with those methods and find ways around them.
Charles Pollard, the chief constable of Thames Valley in Britain, calls zero-tolerance policing a short-term cure that works well in urban areas with large amounts of petty crime. Once petty crime is brought under control, he told the Economist, sharp drops in crime will diminish. Observers say the drop in New York crime had to come with the introduction of almost any new tough police policy, because the crime rate was so high.
Police Association president Greg O’Connor agrees. “You can talk all the theories you like but, at the end of the day, what will stop criminals from committing crime is the belief that they will be caught. When only 18 percent of burglaries are being solved, and most of them don’t believe they will be caught, burglary becomes something of a risk-free occupation.”
However, criminologist Newbold argues that zero-tolerance policing is a dangerous fad that risks creating an arrogant police force because it gives police extraordinary powers. Accusations that New York police harassed minorities were heightened last year when two shite New York policemen were charged with the beating and ***ual torture of Haitian immigrant Abner Louima, and two other white officers were charged with assaulting him in a police car. One policeman allegedly told Louima, “It’s Giuliani time.”
But police president O’Connor says that the broken windows approach doesn’t necessarily lead to police harassment. He calls zero-tolerance policing a “win-win solution”. Other factors must be considered for long-term solutions, “but, if you don’t catch criminals, you can’t rehabilitate them. All the initiatives have to work but you have to ask, ‘Will they impact on crime?’ and you have to bargain from a position of strength. If you’re talking to kids who don’t think they are going to get caught and who think the police are a joke, then forget it.”
Highlighting New York’s success provides a subtle message to police and the communities themselves that crime can be stopped.