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Comparing Community Policing With The Zero Tolerance Policy Criminology Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Criminology
Wordcount: 2130 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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This essay will examine the difference between these two styles of policing and try and ascertain which is “better” for the community.

“Community policing is an oxymoron, for if the police could serve the whole community there would be little point in having a police force at all”. [1] Community policing will have the meaning ascribed to it by the Home Office where it is seen as a key and permanent element of reforms to make the police service more citizen focused. The aim is to build a more responsive, locally accountable and citizen-focused police service through a programme to transform policing at a local level to meet the needs of communities. [2] Police authorities are obligated under legislation to consult with communities [3] and to obtain the views of local people about policing . [4] Local authorities are required to set up overview and scrutiny committees to consider crime and disorder matters. [5] Basically community policing involves the police forming partnerships with local authorities, the probation services and schools in a multi agency approach aiming to fight crime at the source of the problem. In March 2010 the government reiterated its focus on tackling crime at its source through its initiatives with local schools identifying potential problems and consulting with and informing schools on the best way to tackle crime among the young. This style of policing is very much consensus based and relies on the goodwill among the agencies involved in the community and the police. Community policing involves the police in using their discretion and has been seen as being too soft on some minor crime. Although there has been an increase in the number of police as a response to community policing this does not always lead to a reduction in crime but often makes the community feel safer by a high visible police presence.

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Officers viewed discretion as an important part of community policing. A firearms officer was outside a school monitoring traffic and flagged down a middle aged man who was not wearing a seat belt. He managed to resist the temptation “to alienate the police service further by scoring 5 easy points” and after some advice, he let the man proceed on his way. A few months later the firearms officer found himself in an unoccupied house where a gun had been found in very suspicious circumstances. The same man as in the seat belt incident approached him and provided invaluable information which saved many hours of police investigation. The officer maintained that the man assisted him because he had dealt with him leniently in the seat belt incident and the officer wondered if the man would have been so amenable had he not used his discretion in the earlier incident. The officer said that police should be left to use their common sense on the streets. [6] 

The notion of zero tolerance policing was inspired by the apparent success of the approach taken in New York and a variation of it-confident policing-was pursued by DCI Mallon in Hartlepool as well as others within the United Kingdom. The notion of zero tolerance policing is based upon the “broken window theory” [7] and the conviction that the best way to tackle serious crime is to tackle disorder in which policies such as the community safety order, parental responsibility order, composite offence and final warning all have a role to play. The result may be that healthy urban futures are established but not necessarily all inhabitants will benefit. Crime, disorder, anti-social behaviour and nuisance may all be particularly unpleasant, but it is not clear if placing such a strong emphasis upon criminalisation and enforcement is the best way of tackling the problems contributing to and created by those behaviours. It leaves very little space for more constructive actions and, even where it is possible to do so, they take place on terms which strengthen the criminalisation of the discourse of social policy so that the measures end up being more about containment and control within the community. [8] 

In 1996 the London Metropolitan Police carried out a zero tolerance initiative in partnership with the Transport Police, City of London Police and local borough councils. This initiative involved active confrontational measures to deal with homeless beggars, drug dealers, prostitutes and pimps who were congregating at St Pancras Railway Station. The result of the action was the temporary displacement of the undesirables to adjoining neighbourhoods until the control measures were withdrawn. The benefits included over 400 arrests of drug dealers and a raising of the quality of life for people in the area. [9] A recent Home Office Study of policing styles noted that Cleveland Police responsible for Middlesbrough remain convinced that zero tolerance is compatible with community policing in a problem orientated policing form. Cleveland police viewed it as a “short term prelude to the implementation of longer term measures in high crime areas where fear of, and intimidation by a minority of residents is having a detrimental effect”. [10] The statutory enforcement powers for zero tolerance are contained within the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 with its emphasis on taking back control over unruly neighbourhoods and so it is not unreasonable that the Home Office would give the initiative a qualified endorsement although it chooses to term it “order maintenance”. [11] 

Zero tolerance style of policing is popular with a majority of the public who see the police as being tough on crime. In July 2003 an ICM Poll for the think-tank Reform questioned public support for zero tolerance comprising a highly visible policing on the streets bearing down heavily on anti social behaviour and vandalism. Eight three percent thought that this would be a good idea, with over fifty percent thinking it would be a very good idea. [12] Zero tolerance does have the negative repercussions of souring police community relations and can antagonise racial tensions in neighbourhoods and so it requires careful use.

Zero tolerance style of policing appears to be in conflict with the philosophy and practice of community policing which depends upon strong support from the public and discretion from police officers, proactive policing, problem solving and an intimate knowledge of the neighbourhood in which the police are operating, acquiring intelligence and building trust. It would appear that the two concepts are not mutually exclusive and there is a need for both within certain communities.

A police system based on consensus and working in and with the community seems the better option for the community as a whole. This method allows the community to be involved in the law enforcement process and encourages the community to be involved in its own safety by the informal policing of its own neighbourhood, collecting intelligence on suspected trouble makers to assist the police. Community policing allows the community to be a partner with the police in crime reduction and as such is more receptive to police initiatives; it is seen as policing from the bottom up.

Zero tolerance should be used selectively in reducing certain types of deviant behaviour such as anti social behaviour and also for knife and gun carrying, but its success should be restricted to selected areas. It should be limited to a short sharp approach and it should also be seen as a short term policy rather than overall police policy. It has been shown that a tactic of the targeting of repeat offenders and victims, a high level police visibility in some crime hot spots, and problem orientated strategies and police initiatives have worked. Zero tolerance style of policing can impact on human rights and liberties but it is popular with most members of the law abiding community and politicians as it demonstrates that the state is seen to be tough on crime. It is arguable that this policy adopts a social exclusion rather than inclusion policy approach towards community safety.

Whatever is the better option for the community can depend on whether you look at the community as a whole or a particular section. If one block of flats is being terrorised by anti social behaviour and zero tolerant tactics are adopted to deal with it, it will not be considered beneficial to the whole community if the perpetrators are merely dispersed to a neighbouring block within the same community.

What is best for the whole community is the reduction of crime in the first place, so that the causes are addressed (community policing) rather than the symptons treated (zero tolerance) resulting in a better quality of life for all.

It would appear that there is a place for a zero tolerance approach within the softly softly approach taken by community policing, particularly if the community is kept informed of the police approach so that it is included in adopting the policy. However community policing is the bedrock, addressing issues of crime prevention as well as detection at the source, addressing early anti social behaviour detection within schools, and this is better for the community as a whole as its success will reduce the need for the oppressive zero tolerance approach.


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