Chief constable shoots down zero tolerance

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The Independent Online
American-style "zero tolerance" anti-crime initiatives were attacked yesterday by a chief constable as "rhetoric" that could lead to victimisation of ethnic minorities and rioting.

Charles Pollard, Chief Constable of Thames Valley Police, added that "exaggerated claims" were being made about the success of zero tolerance which was in danger of becoming a "quick fix" solution.

His views, which he said were shared by many other police chiefs, come as both John Major and Tony Blair have backed the use of zero tolerance and made it an important part of the law and order sections of their manifestos.

The American system involves deploying large numbers of street patrol police officers to clamp down on all "minor" crime and nuisance - begging and abusive drunks, cyclists riding on the pavement, litter louts - in the belief that many of the more serious offences and offenders will be eliminated.

Support for the scheme is split among the police with some forces, such as the Metropolitan Police, Cleveland and Strathclyde, enthusiastically setting up trials, which have helped reduce crime.

Mr Pollard criticised zero tolerance style of policing in a new book published on Monday, in which he says: "Many people who support zero tolerance favour an aggressive, confrontational style of policing.

"The problem is that sustained policing of this sort ends up targeting minorities within communities. That was the case in Brixton in 1981, and in Los Angeles in the early '90s ... public disorder followed."

He adds in Zero Tolerance, Policing a Free Society, that it is "nonsense" to suggest policing initiatives such as zero tolerance can bring down the crime rate without the help of communities, businesses and local agencies.

"To pretend the police can and should do it all on their own, by making exaggerated claims, is to risk losing their vital support."

Speaking yesterday he added that the approach used up a lot of police resources and therefore was difficult to sustain. He said it was in danger of being used as a "quick fix" policy that had become a "simplistic panacea" to dealing with crime. "It should be one of several tactics, it is not the big answer to our problems," he argued.

Much of the enthusiasm for zero tolerance comes from its apparent successful introduction in New York. The city, once notorious for violence, now ranks 144th on the FBI's comparison of crime in America's 189 largest cities, and its murder total last year fell below 1,000 for the first time in nearly 30 years.

But many criminologists believe factors such as the demographic shift in the American population are responsible for the city's change of fortune.

, with fewer young males, the group most prone to violent crime. The turf wars between rival drug gangs are considered to have stabilised and many gangsters are now behind bars.

Evidence that this is a national trend is shown by the fact that about 125 American cities have seen dramatic falls in murder rates.