Policy Issues in Criminal Justice in New York

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In the 1990's the New York Police Department implemented zero tolerance policing strategies and recorded crime rates declined. Given the ConDem coalition's stated purpose of policing is to 'cut crime', should ZTP strategies be implemented in England and Wales?

Policing over the years has had a number of different philosophies on how to cut crime, the best way to address this is to establish crime rates in certain communities and apply the most effective policy. There has been a number of approaches throughout the years which will be discussed, and based on the evidence provided decide which is best suited in today's world. Zero tolerance policing uses strict enforcement to maintain law and order, this was first introduced in New York by William Bratton when he was appointed as Police Commissioner in 1994, and described New York as "..a city that has stopped caring.." (Bratton 1997: 3 4).

Bratton came up with a number of strategies to help fight crime, of which he focused on what is known as white collar crimes (minor crimes), preventing more serious crimes from occurring, Skogan (1990) points out this leads to further more serious crimes. Another perspective of zero tolerance policing is being tough on crime. Precinct Commanders along with the police department executives meet monthly to discuss there targets and to establish the places and people at risk, this is known as the Comprehensive Computer Statistics meeting (COMPSTAT). The meeting will include crime mapping and the use of intelligence data. If targets set are not met then it is the Precinct Commanders who is held accountable for policing within that area.

Police patrolling the streets were also given authority to make arrests if they suspected the individual was involved in a criminal offence whether serious or minor and could include just hanging around street corners Mathews and Newman, (1996). They could also stop and search a person they believe is in possession of a weapon or drugs, and this was used widely (Bowling 1996). Crime rates began to decline and the Zero Tolerance Policing was known as the New York miracle. Brereton (1999) argued this was down to a downward trend and economic revival that occurred prior to the implementation of the current zero tolerance policing strategy as crime rates declined in other states that had not implemented such policing, however they may of contributed to the decline rates.

Zero tolerance has also been adopted in the education system in American, due to firearms and violence being an issue. Political bodies have also applied zero tolerance to terrorism and can be seen in the Anti-Terrorism Laws in the US. Smith (2001) believes that Zero Tolerance Policing offers an easy solution to crime and public disorder. The proactive arrest hypothesis (zero tolerance) is based on the theory of broken windows by Kelling and Wilson (1982) they use the metaphor to describe the impact of unchecked disorderly behaviour and minor crime within the community. If a broken window is not repaired, this would presume no one cares and will result in other windows being broken (Dixon 1999). While this form of policing is a deterrent to criminals it also creates a better awareness of police presence within the community and reduces corruption and racism as the police do not have the scope to decide their action, and this form of policing is vital to regenerate urban environments. It can be argued that the police have limited powers in the poorer communities of which it serves.

Zero tolerance policing has also been implemented in some areas of England already, the first being Hartlepool, when DCI Mallon was appointed as Chief of Crime Strategies, and his approach was similar to Brattons. Mallons aims was to recover control and reduce crime (Dennis and Mallon, 1977:66). He also stressed his concerns about nuisance crimes and anti social behaviour, and the need to tackle these. This did not necessarily mean arrest of these crimes. There is evidence that drink, drugs, unemployment and social disadvantage is the cause of most criminal and antisocial behaviour. He placed more emphasis with regards to the use of intelligence-led policing. He stressed that this kind of policing could make a difference and should be encouraged. Mallons approach showed that he was in support of the broken windows theory. He made his opinion heard when the magistrate did not use the penalty option (Dennis and Mallon, 1997).

In Strathclyde in Scotland the police implemented strategies which shared the characteristics of those in New York however the chief constable disagreed. Orr (1997) claimed that fear within the communities was rising, as they were still experiencing minor crime, and turned to the spotlight initiative. This involved a high level of street policing with the local governments approval. The spot light initiative clearly targeted minor crime and disorder which can be see as zero tolerance policing. It must be noted that both these county's crime rates were beginning to reduce before the implementation of such policing came into effect.

This form of policing has been highly criticised, and also being costly, it is seen more as intolerant policing rather than confident policing. There is evidence of police brutality targeting minorities and such policing is classed as a form of social cleansing. However in the short term can reduce crime, but over time there will be risks. Making the community feeling victimised and alienated, as disorder erodes community life.

Moreover, another implication of attributing criminal action to internal causes beyond the control of the perpetrator of the crime is that this response tends to idolise criminals and their actions. When crime is said to be undertaken compulsively, the derived response of inducing community empathy incites significant community and legal controversy. Policy makers fear community responses, since such outcomes are seen as corrosive of community standards. Schools, families and religious institutions which are promoting personality and ethical responsibility and accountability for personal behavior, feel that such a criminological outcome as diminished responsibility undermines the moral fiber of community life and breeds a sense of cynicism about ethical values.

The question is whether zero tolerance should be implemented across Britain remains controversial and this would mean a higher level of police, court and prison resources needed and this will increase expenditure which could be spend somewhere else. We must also take in to account the proposals of the Coalition government on holding public bodies more accountable, and reforming the criminal justice system. Cutbacks are also being made to the police force in the UK. The question is how the government is going to reform the criminal justice system and cut crime when cuts which are being made to the police force and their resources is likely to have a higher crime rate, as the criminals will be able to engage in criminal activities without fear of being caught and sanctioned. According to minister's deployment, it is not the size of the force what matters. The government has also created a National Crime Agency, which they are hoping will fight organised crime.

The Centre of Social Justice is currently conducting an in depth review of policing, establishing the purpose of such and recommending appropriate policy. It is said that zero tolerance policing infringes ones fundamental freedoms and in England we have the Human Rights Act 1998 of which is an Act by Parliament to protect these. If we were to adopt this kind of policing then the United Kingdom will subject to sanctions imposed by the European Court of Human Rights.

The Zero tolerance method is successful in reducing deviant behaviour, but the success of which is limited. Other forms of policing need to be explored and should include targeting repeat offenders. As we can see there is a need for a more strategic policing methods, other than the zero tolerance one, as the presumption of innocence would be lost and this would have an impact upon ones civil liberties, human rights and personal freedoms. It is evident that we need a long term fix rather than a quick fix.