Letter to Mayor Hahn
re: zero tolerance policing


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

International Human Rights Law and Policy
email to:

September 28, 2002

To: Mayor of Los Angeles James K. Hahn
  Chief of Staff Tim McOsker
  Deputy 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.

William Bratton and Zero Tolerance Policing:
Less Hype, More Evidence

In 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 petty miscreants.

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 in 1995.

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 stupendous.

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 obtain.

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.

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

Dr. Arthur Jones

323 / 653-0276