Arthur A. Jones, J.D., Dr.jur.
Robin Wiseman, J.D., Dr.h.c.
International Human Rights Law and Policy
email to: Arthur@lacp.org
September 28, 2002
of Los Angeles James K. Hahn
of Staff Tim McOsker
Chief Roberta Yang
We are submitting the following brief memo containing some data
on zero tolerance policing and its consequences in the hopes that
you and your staff will consider researching it further and verifying
our conclusions in the short time remaining before your announcement
of a new LAPD Chief. We have already sent excerpts from our research
regarding the widespread European rejection of Mr. Bratton's and
Mr. Timoney's persuasive presentations on that same subject.
We request that you permit us to help your efforts in obtaining
an objective and detailed picture, and will be glad to provide sources
and more detailed evidence.
Bratton and Zero Tolerance Policing:
Less Hype, More Evidence
recent days, Angelenos have heard a lot about the personalities
and public images of the three finalists for Chief of LAPD. But
we should be disturbed about what we haven't heard. So far, there
has been no public discussion at all of the long-running controversy
surrounding the zero tolerance policing philosophy practiced
by candidates William Bratton and John Timoney.
Zero tolerance policing, as applied by Mr. Bratton in New York from
1994 through 1996, is simply concentrated crime suppression that
focuses large numbers of patrol officers on stops, searches and
arrests of persons suspected of committing or contemplating "quality
of life" misdemeanors such as panhandling, drinking alcohol in public,
loitering, riding subways without paying, drug possession, prostitution,
graffiti spraying, vandalism and school truancy. The theory is that
petty misbehavior, if left unchecked or unpunished, inevitably leads
to serious and violent felonies. Criminologists and top police officials
throughout the country agree that there is no empirical evidence
to support that premise.
Zero tolerance reduces policing to a roving paramilitary pressure
force. It is the law enforcement equivalent of saturation or carpet
bombing in a military operation. It entails great human and financial
costs, and sweeps up many innocent victims. Also, experts agree
that a huge budget and concentration of troops is necessary to reduce
crime in a zero tolerance campaign.
It cost a bundle in New York City. Between 1992 and 1998, the policing
budget nearly doubled to just under nine billion dollars per year.
The combined total of police force personnel in that city increased
by over 9,000, and now stands at nearly 50,000. Los Angeles, with
roughly one-half the population of New York City, will have an authorized
officer strength, when it returns to full recruitment, of 10,100
sworn officers. Obviously, we have no plans to double or triple
that number of officers in the foreseeable future. We cannot afford
zero tolerance enforcement.
The second wave of money drain comes with the costs of placing and
keeping arrestees behind bars. Michael Jacobson, former New York
City Commissioner of Corrections, noted that saturation arrests
caused New York to increase its budget from $150 million per year
to $800 million by 1997 to house inmates. Their numbers increased
from 6,000 to 21,000 during the zero tolerance epidemic. Over one-third
were merely drug addicts.
Where did the money come from? According to Commissioner Jacobson,
public health and education services had to foot the bill for jailing
The third wave of expenses took the form of court judgments and
settlements of the enormous number of claims against NYPD for police
brutality. Complaints rose by 41% in Bratton's first year as Commissioner,
and by over 50% in the second year. Monetary damage settlements
went from $ 13 million to over $ 26 million per year as a consequence
of zero tolerance policing. A landmark study by the human rights
organization Amnesty International found that, during the two years
under Bratton, the number of persons shot to death by police officers
doubled. Similarly, the number of persons who died in police custody
went from an average of 13 per year to 23 deaths in 1994, and 27
But the fourth wave of exorbitant expenses arising from zero tolerance
lies in its social costs. It makes for restive populations in lower-income
and especially minority neighborhoods. It turns them into powder
kegs, to be ignited by one or another instance of police abuse,
whether real or perceived. It insults rank and file police officers
by reducing them to suppression automatons, and robs them of the
opportunity to be of real and lasting service to the community.
Under zero tolerance, officers become an occupying force instead
of problem-solving partners.
Contrary to claims by William Bratton and John Timoney, zero tolerance
has little in common with real community policing. Even its former
advocates, like James Q. Wilson, creator of the "broken windows"
policing theory, admit that the moral costs of zero tolerance are
Many top police officials and criminologists have concluded that
it destroys community relations; misuses the term "community"; excludes
huge segments of the population from community developmental processes;
and is a class-ridden, racist vision of strict public order without
any medium or long-term plan or design. Since Bratton's departure,
New York City has returned to real community policing. Crime rates
are still declining, just as they were before his appointment as
Commissioner in 1994.
These arguments may not resonate in affluent neighborhoods, or find
favor with rich property developers, but they could find expression
in the next municipal elections. We cannot afford zero tolerance
policing or its practitioners.
The foregoing material may appear in amended form in the print media
in the coming several days, and we thought it advisable to give
you advance access to the contents. Once again, as advocates of
Community Policing and human rights, we urge you to review the contents
and let us know what further research or data you would like to
We remain at your disposal to assist in any way possible.
With best regards,
Arthur A. Jones, J.D., Dr.jur.
Robin Wiseman, J.D., Dr.h.c.
--- 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.
additional information or a complete list of references, contact: