Australian Institute of Criminology

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Zero tolerance policing

Media Release

04 February 1999

Policing is one of the most important activities in establishing community cohesion and trust. To establish this community trust, is a comprehensive, aggressive no-holds-barred approach to law enforcement, where even petty crimes are treated with severity, an effective solution to Australia's crime problems?

In New York, arrests for minor offences appear to have discouraged the carrying of firearms, which in turn reduced overall crime by more than 35 per cent and homicides by almost 75 percent.

However, as an Australian Institute of Criminology report counters, policing is a very complex task and strict enforcement of petty crime should be seen as one element in the strategic framework of law enforcement.

Released today, the Trends and Issues Paper, Zero Tolerance Policing, states that though the policy is seen by many as a quick fix, it is not a panacea and should not be used as a blanket approach to crime reduction.

"Crime is a complex problem with many causes and no simple solution. We should be wary of one size fits all policies", said Australian Institute of Criminology Director, Dr Adam Graycar today.

"Indiscriminate strict law enforcement may break down the relationship of trust between the police and public that is so essential to effective law enforcement.

"Zero tolerance should be used in conjunction with crime analysis based on accurate and timely intelligence to target hot spots which require special attention. For example, in Indianapolis, substantial increases in traffic enforcement in a high robbery area were followed by a significant reduction in robbery. Police are aware of the need to work smart to limit the hurt caused by crime", Dr Graycar said.

As with all crime reduction approaches, zero tolerance should be accompanied by careful monitoring and evaluation to ensure it is appropriate and benefits are not overshadowed by unintended negative consequences.

The role of the Australian Institute of Criminology is to contribute objective information and analysis to the crime debate. Its National Symposium on Crime in Australia during 22-23 March in Canberra will discuss zero tolerance policing and many other issues.