Bratton / Timoney;
Zero Tolerance, European Experience


Arthur A. Jones, J.D., Dr.jur.
Robin Wiseman, J.D., Dr.h.c.

International Human Rights Law and Policy
email to:

September 19, 2002

To:the Mayor of Los Angeles James K. Hahn
..........Chief of Staff Timothy McOsker
..........Deputy Mayor Roberta Yang


Bratton/Timoney; Zero Tolerance, European Experience

We have been assembling a general consensus of international perceptions of the media-heralded "zero tolerance" policing theory, its patent incompatibility with Community Policing methods and precepts, and the flawed scholarship with which William Bratton and John Timoney presented their results on European speaking tours.

We hope this contributes to your evidentiary base in the LAPD Chief selection process.

1. EUROPOL: The top international policing organization for the European Union, EUROPOL, has been employing Community Policing techniques -including community resources in human intelligence-in the war on terrorism, and with very good results. We have commented on this in other papers. On April 18, 2002, the Deputy Director of Europol, Dr. Willy Bruggeman, "…pointed out the distinction between community policing and zero-tolerance policing and expressed the view that the latter can only function for a certain duration and in certain neighborhoods. The ideal situation is to have good community policing while opting for zero-based policing in case of need." (1)

2. Bundesministerium für Inneres (German Ministry of Public Safety), published a position paper in early 1998 after a visit by William Bratton, in which they "regretted" the popularity which Bratton and Timoney had enjoyed in their presentations. The BMI conducted its own research, and concluded that zero-tolerance policing "chases the complex realities of crime-prevention into the shadows, and renders impossible any comprehensive concept including citizenry or interagency action." (2)

3. Bundeskriminalamt (German Federal Police, cf. FBI): Awarded grants in 1995 to several German states and municipalities, in close cooperation with major universities, to develop a comprehensive strategy for community policing, and to measure "best practices" in other countries. In that context, the City of Heidelberg studied William Bratton's track record and utterances. They concluded, in mid-2000, that Zero Tolerance is "…merely a method of suppressive policing that gained temporary worldwide attention. It was a mistake to sell the idea as the most effective means of reducing crime in metropolitan areas." In the same report, the BKA added its own findings, i.e., that even in the US, the real crime rate reductions of the 1990s was achieved, not through zero tolerance policing methods, but rather by steady build-up of neighborhood partnerships and community policing. (3)

4. LSVD (Powerful German civil rights national association), conducted its own research in 1997-99, after the Bratton visits. They cited numerous reliable reports by prominent German crime prevention experts, all of whom suspected the zero tolerance pitch. They compared New York and Philadelphia results with other US cities, and found that all were reducing crime roughly at the same rate, but attributed the single most important common factor to be Community Policing. At the time, CP was quietly operating in much of New York, even while the heavily strengthened patrol deployment (about 1 officer for every 200 residents, roughly double the strength of LAPD) was arresting homeless, mentally ill and addicts. The LSVD also found that "zero tolerance is an extremely rigid leadership style that can only be maintained for short periods of time. It leads to conflicts and hot tempers in communities, and guarantees no long-term results. To adapt its methods to German policing work would pose extreme problems. The whole school of thought must therefore be rejected." (4)

5. France: Zero Tolerance theory was heard, considered, and rejected by nearly all French criminologists and top police officials. After reviewing the Kelling and Coles book, Fixing Broken Windows, and learning that it was financed by the Manhattan Institute's Centre for civic Initiative, a right-wing extremist think tank, French experts commented that "this [zero tolerance] theory, though it has never been validated, served as a criminological alibi for the reorganisation of police work spurred on by police chief William Bratton." The report added that zero tolerance makes no connections between crime and its causes, but rather penalizes poorly-described "anti-social behaviour" in order to show quick, dramatic results. French reports conclude that zero tolerance, as portrayed and sold by Messrs. Bratton and Timoney, doesn't work. (5)

6. Ireland and Great Britain: William Bratton and John Timoney took the zero tolerance cause to those countries in the late 1990s. They briefly "converted" British Home Secretary Jack Straw and Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern, prompting campaign press conferences endorsing mutually both persons and theories. However, Irish and British officials quietly took their own counsel, performing their usual evaluation and assessment tasks. They subsequently found that, because they adopted zero tolerance instead of community policing in the late 1990s, Great Britain is still suffering from rising violent and property crime rates. Violent crimes are up 16 % in 2001 over the previous year, and 2002 year to date reflects a worsening of the crisis. In August, Prime Minister Tony Blair took emergency measures in ten of Britain's largest cities to turn the methodology to one of community policing. In June, he was accused in the House of Commons of resorting to "superficial tricks" to reduce crime, meaning the replication of Bratton and Timoney's zero tolerance propaganda. It appears that the short reign of zero tolerance in Britain has come to an end. (6)

7. Dixon Study: In an internationally acclaimed, thorough and authoritative study entitled Beyond Zero Tolerance, Law Professor David Dixon, University of New South Wales, Australia, concludes that: "Bratton's book may be full of anodyne prose about the importance of cooperation between the cops and the community, but the idea of cooperation doesn't remotely describe what happened in New York under Bratton… Indeed the police under Bratton were determined not to work with the community" (citing Massing study, 1998:4).

Dixon continues, "John Timoney (a key member of Bratton's inner circle and now chief of police in Philadelphia) 'contemptuously dismissed the idea that the police should enlist neighbourhood residents in fighting crime…"It's the cops' job to fight crime. Community Policing said the cops can't do it alone. They were wrong. Our answer was, "Yes, they can" (citing Massing 1998:7). (7)

8. In the same report, Dixon demonstrates that sinking crime rates in New York and Philadelphia resulted not from zero tolerance, but from other reasons (8); that zero tolerance polarizes races, prompting even its chief advocate, James Q. Wilson, to admit that the moral costs are stupendous (9); that zero tolerance destroys community relations (10); that people should not believe zero tolerance folks when they claim that it is in conformity with community policing: it's not (11); and that zero tolerance "misuses the term 'community' and re-defines it to exclude huge segments of the population: It is a class-ridden, racist vision. (12)

9. US: John Jay College of Criminal Justice (CUNY): In an article published in December 2001, the College announced a National Institute of Justice study which found that trust amongst neighbors plays a far greater role in the suppression of crime than does zero tolerance in addressing external signs of disorder. (13)

10. Illusion of Order: The False Promise of Broken Windows Policing, is a recent book that debunks the self-serving mythology of zero tolerance policing, and its chief advocates, Messrs. Bratton and Timoney, in a thoroughly researched and convincing manner. The book is highly recommended. (14)

Time today does not permit submitting a longer list of challenges to the philosophy shared by William Bratton and John Timoney. An enormous and growing body of evidence, however, is available, and we will forward you an abstract of the New York City evidence and studies on zero tolerance policing and the exceedingly high toll it took on city coffers and communities, social planning and human rights. We will make every effort to make it available to you in three to four days.

Our own contacts among police forces and governments (ministries of justice) throughout Europe also inform us that Bratton and Timoney and their theory of policing is universally considered obsolescent, ineffective, and at best a temporary palliative that causes long-lasting damage to police relations in minority communities. No European police forces still follow the once-fashionable zero tolerance bandwagon.

We would hope that the evidence would be weighed heavily in your processes, in the interests of community policing, of minority communities, and on behalf of the rank and file officers and their direct welfare interests in the selection of the next LAPD Chief.

Hoping to have been of service, we remain,

With best regards,

Arthur A. Jones, J.D., Dr.jur. Robin Wiseman, J.D., Dr.h.c.


1. CEPS (Europol) Web Notes, May 2002, 1000 Place du Congrés, Brussels.
2. "Öffentliche Sicherheit" (Public Safety), magazine of the German Federal Ministry of Public Safety, Nr.1, 1998, Prävention: Community Policing.
3. Pilotprojekt "Kommunale Kriminalprävention" of the Federal Police Agency (BKA), the City of Heidelberg, University of Heidelberg, and the State of Baden-Württemberg, "Kriminalitätsatlas", 2001.
4. Gemeinde-nahe-Polizeitätigkeit, LSVD Position Paper, October 2000, citing BKA reports and Bässmann u. Vogt Research Report, Wiesbaden 1999, p.23.
5. Loïc Wacquant, "US Exports Zero Tolerance", Le Monde Diplomatique, April 2000, pages 1, 10-11.
6. See BBC News, August 7, 2002; August 16, 2002; September 2, 2002; Index Online News Analysis, Bruce Shapiro, quoting from "One Violent Crime", Harper Collins, 2001.
7. David Dixon, Beyond Zero Tolerance, Australian Institute of Criminology, Canberra, 23 March 1999, at p. 13 et seq.
8. Ibid., pp. 5,6.
9. Ibid., p. 8.
10. Ibid., p. 9.
11. Ibid., p. 12.
12. Ibid., p., 14.
13. "Funding Cut for a Police 'Secret Weapon'", in Law Enforcement News, CUNY, Vol. XXVII, No. 567-568, December 31, 2001.
14. Illusion of Order: The False Promise of Broken Windows Policing, by Bernard Harcourt, Harvard University Press, 2001.


--- Arthur A. Jones and Robin Wiseman are international human rights lawyers with legal educations in the United States and Europe. They are consultants and authors on international policing, social policy and human rights, and regular contributors to the forum here at LA Community Policing.

For additional information or a complete list of references, contact:

Dr. Arthur Jones