The term “zero tolerance” has been interpreted and used widely in public debate. In manufacturing, zero tolerance of defects is a quality assurance goal. In dealing with illicit drugs, it is a clear statement of intent, though in policing there can be considerable ambiguity in this term. Some people claim that zero tolerance policing is responsible for the significant decline in crime in the United States, but such an assertion is simplistic in the extreme, as crime reduction (and crime prevention) bring into play many interconnecting strategies.
Strict enforcement of minor offences can be extremely useful in certain settings, but it can also have unintended consequences. The pressures on police are enormous, and good information and analysis, good communication with the community, and continually updated professional skills will serve police and the community well.
Context-specific approaches and evidence-based policing are the building blocks of crime control. Unfortunately, much debate over criminal justice in Australia generates more heat than light. The role of the Australian Institute of Criminology is to provide objective information and analysis to permit public discourse to take place on a higher level, and this paper is a contribution to that debate.