The Definition of Zero Tolerance Policing
The definition Zero Tolerance Policing is open to more than one interpretation. Some people understand it as a necessary policing tactic that works as an element of a heedfully designed strategy to overcome the crime in a long perspective. However, there are people who consider it an aggressive law enforcement tactic that applies no rules or restrictions in a dispute of innocence; these people have doubts about the appropriateness of policing practices and resources within the scope of zero tolerance policing. Therefore, the definition of Zero Tolerance Policing has been often discussed in public. While the exacting punishment of minor transgressions can be utterly successful under certain conditions, it can also have unexpected reverberations. On the one side, the government officials affirm that zero tolerance policing has resulted in the substantial drop of crimes in the United States. However, on the other side, this assertion is too simplistic; such complicated matter as the crime prevention and reduction depend on a great number of interconnecting factors that influence the social life of communities. Moreover, the public opinion has been increasingly focusing on the negative influence of zero tolerance policing on the school educational capability, particularly on the intelligence opportunities for the children from unprivileged communities such as the African Americans and other racial minorities.
This paper intends to discuss the impact of zero tolerance policing according to the general understanding, as well as its significance within the scope of the law enforcement strategies in schools. This paper intends to consider all the evidence-based documents related to zero tolerance policing within the criminal justice department. The paper concludes that zero tolerance policing indeed has a positive impact on reducing the crimes, but the issue is in the procedures that implement it in life. These procedures have to be developed in the course of careful deliberations with participation of stakeholders such as all kinds of representatives of communities and law enforcement agencies.
Origins of Zero Tolerance Policing
The conception of zero tolerance policing originates from the thoughts of the two U.S. criminologists; in 1982, they published the article “The Broken Windows” in TheAtlantic Monthly magazine. In their considerations, George Kelling and James Wilson argued that an influence of unrestricted and unpunished minor transgressions communicate a message that “no one is in control” (Wilson & Kelling, 1982); therefore, anyone could decide that commitment of more serious crimes could also go unpunished. In other words, every major offense begins with a minor one. Wilson and Kelling described in clear terms the two general subkinds of minor offences of the physical and behavioral kind. They labeled as the physical minor offences such transgressions as littering, graffiti, and mild vandalism like broken windows. As behavioral minor offences, they specified not paying the fare in public transport, public urination, groups’ clownish or foolish behavior, prostitution, and series of others peculiar to urban life public trespasses that were considered offensive in the US of the 1970s. The influence of the broken windows theory led to the toughening of the law enforcement attitude towards the petty crimes, which were considered an action of preventing psychological decay of anyone who had once strayed from the law-abiding directions.
The Wilson and Kelling’s theory of the broken windows was highly influential. It revolutionized the law enforcement’s strategy not only in some states of the United States but also in the United Kingdom, and later in Australia. Since then, the law enforcement policies have been directed at not only eliminating the existing crimes but also preventing the development of a favorable environment for upbringing the new and more dangerous criminal offenders.
Decline of the Crime Rate in New York and ZTP
Zero tolerance policing (ZTP) was named a radical and effective new tactic in war with the criminal activity. Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and Commissioner William Bratton of the New York Police became the most ardent promoters of ZTP. They introduced zero tolerance policing into the New York police and achieved the great results. It was a notorious time when the criminal activity in the New York City reached the scale of epidemic. During 1991 – 1997, owing to enacting of zero tolerance policing in New York, the rate of homicides reduced by more than 50% (Bowling, 1999). It was a result of specially created, focused-oriented, decentralized, self-coordinated units of police with permission to choose the necessary methods and actions in order to prevent crimes. It is suggested that the success of zero tolerance policing in this case was conditioned by the competent enforcement strategy of crime reducing. Moreover, from 1993 to 1997, owing to the same policing strategy, the rate of felony complaints was cut down to 44% (Bratton, 2005).
In the New York City, in general, the crime rates decreased by 35% in all kinds of criminal offences. For instance, the number of homicides in 1992 accounted for 2,000 cases; whereas, in 1998, the rate was about 700 cases. At the same time, Ray Mallon, the United Kingdom Detective Chief Inspector, claimed the decline in violent offences by 27% in the North East England (Marshal, 1999). The figures were so astounding that many criminologists had serious doubts about their verisimilitude. In essence, there were some issues with the reports in the initial phases of implementing ZTP; consequently, some precinct chief officers were fired. However, it is hard to fabricate the data on major crime’s occurrences, especially homicides; therefore, it is officially recognized that the statistics on the crime rate decrease is real. Furthermore, it was noticed that zero tolerance policing not only has a positive effect on the decline in major crimes such as manslaughter, murders, and robberies but also decreased the amount of minor types of street offences.
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Nationwide Trend of Decline in Crime Rate
There are also evidences that the connection of zero tolerance policing and crime rates decrease can be circumstantial. A significant factor that prejudices zero tolerance policing as a successful law enforcing strategy is the observation of other major cities in the US such as San Diego and Chicago. These cities have experienced even bigger declines in crime rates without introducing zero tolerance policing to the work of their police departments. Therefore, the New York success of implementing ZTP coincided with the national trend of crime rates decline. In essence, from 1990 to 1996, throughout the United States, the crime rates dropped significantly “in 160 of 197 cities with a population of 100,000 people and more. In 65 cities, the amount of criminal offences has decreased by approximately 20% and in more 31 cities it declined by more than 30 %” (Grabosky, 1999). In nine of those cities, the crime rate decrease accounted for 40% and even more. For instance, in 1997, the homicide rate went down roughly by 20%, in comparison with 1990, just as the criminal offences of almost every kind including robberies and burglaries did. Despite the growth of population, the total amount of violent crimes has dropped by 14% (Scott, 2004). The criminologists explain this decrease with a diversity of social and economic factors. For instance, Dr. Peter Grabosky suggested the following contributing factors: a prolonged period of economic welfare; a substantial cutback of crack cocaine usage; a stabilized market of cocaine distribution and, as a consequence, the diminishing of gang wars; restriction of usage of firearms, wide-spreading of the police-community collaboration, longer terms of imprisonment, as well as the proliferation of initiatives aimed at prevention of the criminal activities.
Nevertheless, Chicago and San Diego, for example, implemented the police strategies that were a modified version of zero tolerance policing; perhaps, their police were more perfect and civilized as they were relying on the association with communities, yet the primary idea was the broken windows (King, 2008). Moreover, the following factors: restriction of usage of firearms, longer terms of imprisonment, and proliferation of initiatives aimed at prevention of the criminal activities, which Grabosky considered as not-ZTP strategies, actually have something in common with the zero tolerance policies in relation to minor crimes.
Discussion of the Negative Impact of ZTP in Schools
In reaction to the extensively publicized violent incidents that recently occurred in some schools, for example, the massacre in the Columbine High School, the school policies on discipline and protection matter became utterly exacting. The goal of these policies is to ensure the total safety of students and personnel in the school. Majority of these initiatives have one element in common, which is zero tolerance policing. While it is evident and understandable that protecting and safety of the personnel and students is the main priorities of the school administration, there are doubts in the appropriateness and usefulness of the zero tolerance policies in schools. In fact, general public observations, as well as numerous complaints, indicate that the zero tolerance policies have a negative impact on the students’ academic progress and behavior. Regardless that ZTP have been introduced nationwide, only a small number of researchers has studied the influence of zero tolerance policing on the students’ social life, their academic progress, and behavioral outcome (Perry, 2014). The major reason of lacking such studies is in a delicate nature of the discipline practices that are implemented in different schools. In other words, the school administration is extremely reluctant to provide the information that would confirm the negative impact of ZTP on students. Nevertheless, despite the absence of rigorous studies on the subject of ZTP, the statistics of expulsion and suspension demonstrates that the zero tolerance policies do not discourage students from misbehaving (Welsh & Farrington, 2006). For example, in Tennessee, the number of drug related and violent crimes in schools grew considerably in the first three years after introduction of zero tolerance policing. Moreover, the studies demonstrate that bullying is still a widespread phenomenon in many schools throughout the United States. Nearly 20% of the students attending elementary and middle schools acknowledge the bullying of their peers from time to time (Trymaine, 2014). The studies also found out a strong correlation between such penalties related to zero tolerance policy as suspensions, expulsions, and a burst of negative aftereffects. Those who have been suspended once have a high risk of being suspended again or even expelled from school. Furthermore, the studies show that the students that were suspended in high or middle school have considerably fewer chances to graduate timely; conversely, they have more chances to drop out of school. The higher rate of suspension and expulsions in school, the lower are academic achievements and scores in standardized tests.
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Psychological studies show that such punishments as suspensions have a reinforcing influence on the development of mischievous behavior. Such students lose trust in the social system, as well as respect of adults. Psychologists suggest that the disciplinary punishments implemented by schools have to cultivate in students respect for rules rather than indignation. The studies show that when students trust and respect their teachers, their academic performance in school increases accordingly. There is also a possibility that the threat of such severe penalty as suspending and expelling frightens off the students of reporting the bullying if they get to know about it. Another matter of concern is that zero tolerance policing, as well as its implementation, differs greatly from school to school. For instance, in some schools, those defending themselves from bullying are treated in the same way to those initiating the bullying. The decision on whether a certain transgression falls under zero tolerance policing or not is often left to the discretion of the school administration. Consequently, it frequently leads to unnecessary punishment conditioned by the biased attitude of a staff member to an individual or group of individuals. For example, in Florida, a boy of seven years old was expelled from school for having in his backpack a toy gun, which had no resemblance with a real weapon. The recent report of the United States Department of Education shows that 42% of expelled students are from elementary or middle schools (Staples, 2012). A propagated intent of zero tolerance policing is that the students from all social strata are treated equally and justly. Nevertheless, the studies show that incommensurable percentage of students from disadvantaged families, as well as African Americans and Latinos, have been suspended and/or expelled from schools practicing ZTP. By examining the cases of suspensions and expulsions, the researchers found out that the majority of the cases were not related to weapons or violence. It was reported that the main reason of suspensions and expulsions were insubordinations and misbehaving in classrooms. The studies confirmed that in some schools, only in 5% of cases, the weapons and drug offenses were the reasons of students’ suspensions and/or expulsions (Perry, 2014).
Discussions of the Positive Impact of ZTP in Schools
The idea of broken windows is preventing the greater evil by eliminating the minor one. Therefore, implementing the zero tolerance policies in schools seemed to be as a logical step; it was enacted to legitimize the enforcement of suspensions and expulsions as preventive measures of distribution of drugs, weapons, and violence in schools. Critics continue to argue that there is no evidence that zero tolerance policing has a favorable effect the discipline in school. However, zero tolerance policing is proved efficient in securing the schools, especially in areas with high risk of criminal activity and violence. The recent report of the Department of Education of the United States showed that approximately 75% of schools have applied zero tolerance policing to punish such criminal offenses as alcohol, drug, and weapon abuse, as well as their distribution (Sellors, 2014). The primary purpose of zero tolerance policing is to kill two birds with one stone; namely, decrease any possible offensive misconduct and create a safe learning environment for students and teachers. Zero tolerance policing provided the schools with an effective tool of preventing the spread of dangerous behavior by sending a comprehensible message to the students about what actions would not be tolerated. The teachers are the most ardent supporters of zero-tolerance policing because with its introduction, the management of classroom discipline and safety of their workplace was provided. Zero tolerance policing establishes an order by communicating to the students, parents, and teachers that certain transgressions such as drug and alcohol possession and distribution, swearing, fighting, and bullying are not allowed in schools and will be punished. Suspensions are the more frequently applied penalties when it comes to addressing these offenses for the first time. Expulsions are also used, but for very serious or recurrent offenses, especially when it comes to possession or usage of weapon (Boccanfuso & Kuhfeld, 2011). Zero tolerance policing sends a message that despite young age, the students are accountable for their unlawful actions. Moreover, it gives to the teachers the opportunity of establishing and maintaining certain expectations about the classroom discipline and providing a chaos-free environment. The parents feel much more confident and relaxed knowing that the strict and steadfast policies of zero tolerance are enacted, and the chances of unexpected tragic events are minimized. Therefore, the parents and members of communities support more strict disciplinary penalties if they are to ensure the safety of their children (Sasser, 2014).
In essence, the success of zero tolerance policing majorly depends on the proper and fair implementation. In cases when schools are transparent and consistent with outlining and implementing the penalties as consequences of certain transgressions, the students are aware of the outcomes and know exactly what punishments they should expect in case of engaging in an offensive misconduct. The majority of schools have written down the guidelines about the rules and punishments in their handbooks. Those schools that assured the positive interactions between the parents, students, and school personnel, before any incident that required applying of zero tolerance policing happened, received a positive reaction from the parents and members of respective community. Although the students almost always consider suspensions and expulsions an unfair treatment, they have nothing to complain about in the case of just punishment for their unlawful action.
Unfortunately, the schools with changeable and biased attitude towards the offences to be punished under zero tolerance policing not only damage their reputation but also form unfavorable public opinion about the practicality and usefulness of zero tolerance policing. This problem has to be resolved as soon as possible (Cauchon, 1999). However, on the one hand, the deactivation of zero tolerance policing may cause the equalization of minor and major misconducts; consequently, they will be treated the same. On the other hand, if punishments for certain misconducts are clearly outlined, the students will understand the consequences while parents and teachers will feel confident about safety in school. Meanwhile, zero tolerance policing have already contributed a great deal into providing a safe environment in schools by considerably reducing the drug dealings and diminishing the acts of vandalism on the school territories.
To some extent, deliberations on zero tolerance practices resemble a religious debate. ZTP is considered either the panacea to all crime-related problems or rather a risky venture of developing a dictatorial society. Such simplism creates more questions than gives answers. On the one hand, it is essential to recognize that stiff and stringent enforcement of the law will never win a popularity contest in the eyes of the democratic society. On the other hand, the trustful relationships between the communities and police are crucial to efficient law enforcement. The environment, in which the police employ dictatorial tactics, is likely to demolish any existing trust between the public and the police. The studies show that the less respectful attitude the police has towards citizens and detainees in general, the lower percentage of society respects the law. Nevertheless, every citizen has to obey the law no matter whether he/she likes it or not. Zero tolerance policing is put into practice in schools as an effective and proved method to deal with such unlawful activities as weapon usage and distribution, drug abuse and distribution, as well as other kinds of violent offenses. The mission of zero tolerance policing is to protect the students and the teachers from the violent incidents that occurred in the past, as well as provide a safe environment most propitious to learning. As the experience shows, zero tolerance policing proved effective in preventing the crimes and establishing a safe environment. Without hesitations, it is the responsibility of the schools’ administration to make sure that both students and teachers are protected while being at school. While implementing zero tolerance policing, it is also the responsibility of schools’ administration to ensure a just and equal treatment for all students. As it was mentioned above, zero tolerance policing by itself is not the issue; the implementation of those policies does matter.
The application of zero tolerance policing and policies themselves should be heedfully developed; the rules and punishments must be clearly defined. Moreover, a systematic guidance of implementation of zero tolerance policing is to be developed. After the completion, these policies have to be issued and be obligatory to follow. Finally, it is crucial for the school personnel to be aware of those policies and to be obliged to follow them strictly.
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