Zero-Tolerance Policing: Definition & History

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  • 0:01 Zero-Tolerance…
  • 0:52 History of Zero Tolerance
  • 1:35 Support and Opposition…
  • 2:20 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Joseph Jones
In this lesson, zero-tolerance policing will be defined, an example will be given, and pros and cons will be discussed. There will be a short quiz at the end.

Zero-Tolerance Policing Defined

You wake up on the first day of a new month and realize that your vehicle registration expired last month. Driving to the department of motor vehicle to purchase a new registration, you are stopped by police. You explain to the police officer that you are in the process of obtaining your new registration, and he issues you a citation saying that he doesn't have any discretion because you are in violation of the law. What you have just experience is called zero-tolerance policing.

Zero-tolerance policing can be defined as a strict non-discretionary law enforcement approach that is thought to be tough on crime. Under this approach, the police enforce every facet of the law. This also means that they pay closer attention to minor offenses and those considered quality of life offenses, such as public drinking, vandalism, graffiti, begging, and vagrancy.

History of Zero-Tolerance

The expression zero-tolerance can be traced back to the Safe and Clean Neighborhood Act, which was approved in New Jersey in 1973. It became popular in 1982 when criminologists James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling published their broken windows theory of crime. Under that theory, the idea that minor physical and social disorder, if left unattended, would cause more serious crime to occur.

Zero-tolerance policing was publicly implemented in 1994 by New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and his police commissioner William Bratton based on the broken windows theory, and it seemed to have instant success. Upon its implementation, the crime rate in New York City dropped by 30-50%.

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