Zero Tolerance Policing: Bane or Boon?
The term “zero tolerance policing” is one that defies the development and establishment of an accurate definition. In the policing field, many evidence-founded practices have increased in momentum as various agencies and jurisdictions’ policies and procedures have expanded towards a change to the philosophy of “what works”. The “zero tolerance” policing approach is founded on the methodology of the “broken windows theory” of criminologists James Wilson and George Kelling. The two contended for the position that the prevalence of small crimes and social disturbance will open the possibilities for more serious criminal activities, as cited in the work of Graboksy (1999) (King, 2014, p. 2).
In the context of “drunk driving” laws, political understanding holds that if consumption of alcohol by youths will be regarded as an illegal act, then driving with a high blood alcohol content (BAC) level should also be treated in the same way. This is not the position that associates factors based on perception alone; scientific research supports the fact.
In the data if the Fatal Analysis Reporting System, Zador (1991) disclosed the fact that for BAC levels within .05 to .09, drivers within the age group of 16-20 years old were seen to be 21 more prone to be involved in a fatal car crash compared to drivers in the 25 year old range with similar BAC levels. In the study of Hingson et al (1991, 1994), the group released a study of the impacts of zero tolerance laws in jurisdictions that were in the initial set to adopt this type of legislation.
The results of the study stated that by lowering the BAC standard for youth drivers significantly decreased the incidents of night time vehicle accidents by at least 10 percent. In the recommendations of the group, it is stated by having all stated enacted zero tolerance laws, more than 300 lives will be saved on an annual basis (Voas, Lange, and Tippetts, 1998, p. 1).
However, the seeming blanket effectiveness of zero tolerance laws is not unanimous one. In the study of the crime rates in New York, there was no concrete proof that the adoption of zero tolerance laws in the city as well as other urban areas in the United States during the 1990s had any impact on the decrease of capital crimes across the country. In addition, states that did not use the approach also experienced decreases in crime rates.
Millions have been taken into custody under the zero tolerance policy for extremely small infractions, such as possession of negligible amounts of marijuana. This “arrest first” policy has resulted in courts and jails bursting at the seams, filled with first time violators who do not belong in a jail, and the trauma that these incidents have wrought on the lives of people cannot be easily calculated. In New York, 50,000 individuals, or one arrest in every 10 minutes, were taken into police custody for possession of small amounts of marijuana.
The city government is downplaying the significance of the findings, noting that majority of these cases are dismissed and the records are sealed for a year should the person stay away from any conflict with the law for that period. Though it is illegal to disregard applicants for jobs owing to arrests and sentencing, many employers usually do not consider an applicant when these are cited with criminal records, regardless of the crime (Staples, 2012, p. 1).
Here, zero tolerance policing can be viewed in two manners. One, it can be a solution for the rising crime rates in the United States, or two, these policies can help in ushering a totalitarian regime. The stringent application and implementation of the laws is fraught with potentials for mistakes. What must be accomplished is the development and strengthening of the trust that the police and the community in order to have a good relationship with each other (King, 2014, p. 11).
King, E. (2014). “Zero tolerance policing”. Retrieved 29 March 2014 from <http://www.sarasota.usf.edu/academics/cas/capstone/2009-2010/criminology/king-zerotolerancepolicing.pdf>
Staples, B. (2012, April 28). “The human cost of ‘zero tolerance’. The New York Times Sunday Observer
Voas, R.B., Lange, J.E., Tippetts, A.S (1998). “Enforcement of Zero Tolerance Law California: A missed opportunity?” Association for the Advancement of Automotive Medicine Volume 42 pp. 369-383