Zero Tolerance Policing – An Evaluation

A brief evaluation of Zero Tolerance Policing

Zero Tolerance Policing involves the police strictly clamping down on minor criminal activities such as littering, begging, graffiti and other forms of antisocial behaviour. Clamping down might take the form of on the spot fines, or mandatory jail sentences, as with the ‘three-strikes’ rule in California.

The best known example of Zero Tolerance Policy was its adoption in New York City in 1994. At that time, the city was in the grip of a crack-cocaine epidemic and suffered high levels of antisocial and violent crime. Within a few years of Zero Tolerance, however, crime had dropped from between 30 – 50%.

In the UK Zero Tolerance has been applied in Liverpool, a relatively high-crime rate city. Following its introduction in 2005, overall recorded crime fell by 25.7 per cent in the three years to 2008 with violent crime falling by 38%.

Another application of Zero Tolerance is the ASBO – you can get an ASBO for antisocial rather than criminal behaviour, and go to jail if you breach it, thus ASBOs police minor acts of deviance.

The rationale behind the ASBO stems from the right realist (right wing/ new right/ neoliberal view of the causes of crime – they hold the individual responsible for crime, seeing the individual as making a rational choice to commit crime – if people believe the reward of committing crime outweighs the risk of getting caught and the cost of the punishment, they will commit crime – ZT addresses this by increasing the punishments for minor crimes. This also fits in with Broken Windows Theory – by focussing on minor crimes, this prevents these spiralling into major crimes, and it fits in with the New Right’s view that the state should be ‘tough on crime’

The biggest strength of ZT is that it seems to work – as the figures above demonstrate. It is also relatively cheap to implement and seems to have an immediate effect on crime, unlike the more expensive, long term, social solutions preferred by Left Realists. It also makes the public feel as if something is being done about crime, and gives victims a sense of justice.

However, there are many downsides – Firstly, Zero Tolerance Policing in New York resulted in a lot more people being arrested for possession of marijuana – 25 000 a year by 2012 (one every ten minutes) – some of those people lost their jobs or rental houses as a result. If labelling theory is correct, once labelled as a criminal, these people will find it very hard to get jobs in the future.

Secondly, despite the claims of the right wing governments who implemented them, comparative analysis shows that there are other causes of crime reduction – crime has gone down in cities in the US and the UK without the widespread use of Zero Tolerance techniques – Target Hardening, the increased time people spend online (and thus not on the streets), the declining use of drugs, and even abortion have been suggested as the REAL reasons crime is going down.

Thirdly, Zero Tolerance might be racist in consequence – somewhere in the region of 85% of people dealt with under Zero Tolerance in New York were/ are black or Hispanic.

Fourthly ZT focuses on minor crimes, and street crimes, ignoring the more serious crimes committed by elites, which Marxists see as more harmful. It also does little to address the underlying causes of crime.

Finally, and in conclusion, there is the very real possibility that rather than being about reducing crime, ZT policies are ideological in nature – they allow politicians to claim that they are the ones reducing crime by being ‘tough on crime’, but in reality, crime is going down anyway because of other reasons. Thus maybe ZT has been so widely used because it benefits politicians rather than society as a whole.

Related Posts

Environmental Crime Prevention Strategies 

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Controlling and Reducing Crime – The Role of the Community

Most people manage to get through their whole lives without getting on the ‘wrong side’ of the formal agents of social control (the police, the courts and prison), so it should be no surprise hat many of the perspectives emphasize the role that the community plays in preventing crime and controlling crime.

Consensus Theory and Right Realism

Both Consensus Theory and Right Realism emphasise the importance of informal social control at the level of the community in keeping crime rates low. The following theories all emphasise the importance of the community in controlling crime:

  • Hirschi’s ‘Bonds of Attachment’ theory
  • Charles Murray’s Underclass Theory/ NEETS
  • Wilson and Kelling’s Broken Windows theory

Left Realism

According to left realism, crime is highest in those areas which suffer the highest levels of relative deprivation and marginalisation.

  • Relative deprivation refers to the discontent people feel when they compare their positions to those similarly situated and find that they have less than their peers.

  • Marginalisation is where one is ‘pushed to the edge’ of that society – on the outside of normal society looking in, lacking the resources to fully participate in that society.

According to Left Realists, the conditions of relative deprivation and social exclusion ‘breed crime’, most obviously because criminal means (rather than legitimate means) are often the only way people in such areas can ever hope to achieve material success, while you have relatively little to lose if you get caught.

Left Realists argue that the government should focus on tackling marginalisation and relative deprivation and marginalisation through Community Intervention Projects (aka Social outreach projects).

Community intervention projects involve such things as local councils working with members of local communities to provide improved opportunities for young people ‘at risk of offending’ through providing training opportunities or a more active and engaging education for certain children.

Marxism

According to Marxism, the fact that we have whole communities of the underclass is a structural feature of Late-Capitalism because with technological advances, Capitalism requires an ever smaller workforce. Thus we now have millions of permanently unemployed and underemployed people living in Britain.

Just for emphasis – this is the same as Underclass Theory, but from the Marxist Perspective, members of the underclass are victims of Capitalism creating unemployment through technological obsolescence.

Postmodernism/ Late Modernism

Postmodernists argue that the capacity of local communities to control crime informally, even with the help of state-intervention, is limited because communities today have a high turnover of population – communities tend to be unstable, short-lived and fleeting. Moreover, Postmodernists point out that the concept of ‘community’ is irrelevant to many people’s lives today because society is not made up of ‘communities’, it is made up of ‘networks’ Rather than being integrated into tight-knit communities restricted to one place, we have weaker connections to a higher number of people via virtual networks which spread over large distances.

These networks mean that we become susceptible to a whole range of ‘new crimes’ such as cyber-bullying, trolling, phishing, identity theft, which take place in ‘virtual space’ and there is thus nothing local communities can do to control such crimes. Moreover, members of these virtual networks are also relatively powerless to stop criminals operating through virtual networks. In short, in the postmodern, networked society, communities are powerless to control crime.

Related Posts 

Right Realist Criminology – Includes an introduction to Realism and detailed class notes on Right Realism covering rational choice theory, broken windows theory, Charles Murray’s views on the underclass, situational crime prevention and environmental crime prevention (mainly zero tolerance policing)

Left Realist Criminology – class notes covering relative deprivation, marginalisation, subcultures, early intervention, community based solutions to crime and community policing.

Evaluate the Contribution of Consensus Theory to Our Understanding of Crime and Deviance (30)

An essay plan on Consensus Theory for the A Level Sociology Crime and Deviance Module

Consensus Theory sees crime as a result of social institutions losing control over individuals. This is associated with the Functionalist point of view, first being expounded by Emile Durkheim who argued that when social institutions such as the family, education, and work, lose control over people, they effectively miss out on socialisation and suffer from anomie, a state of normlesseness, which can lead to criminal and deviant behaviour.

This idea was developed by Hirshchi who argued that when an individual’s bonds of attachment to institutions weaken, when, for example, they do not feel as if they belong to institutions, or when they are not involved with institutions, they are more likely to commit crime.

The blame for crime lies with weak institutions and their agents. For example, single parent families and ‘absent dads’ are accused of lacking control over their children, as are unstable families. This theory would also predict that children with a history or truancy and exclusion would be more likely to turn to crime and those who are long term unemployed could also be a problem.

This is also the point of view emphasised by both the present labour government and the conservative opposition. The then home secretary Jack Straw argued that ‘Dads need Lads’ sound bite, and David Cameron’s speeches about the importance of the family and the problems associated with absent fathers. These views are popular with the right wing press, which often reminds their (middle class, nuclear family) readers of the problems faced by lone mothers and the underclass.

Initially, it seams that there is a lot of evidence to support Consensus Theory. For example, the Cambridge Study in Delinquent Development (Faring ton and West 1991). This Study of 411 ‘working class’ males born in 1953 who were studied until their late 30s. The study found that offenders were more likely to come from poorer, single parent families with poor parenting and parents who were themselves offenders. This study suggests that good primary socialisation is essential in preventing crime.

The daily telegraph recently reported that ‘Seventy per cent of young offenders come from lone-parent families; and children from broken homes are 70 per cent more likely to become drug addicts.’

Criminologist Martin Glyn who works closely with young offenders has pointed out that many young offenders suffer from what he calls ‘parent deficit’. He argues that this is the single most important factor in explaining youth offending. He argues that children need both discipline and love, two things that are often both absent with absent parents.

Research commissioned by NASUWT, a teachers’ union, based on reviewing existing literature and in depth studies of two schools in Birmingham and London found that ‘Family breakdown and a lack of father figures could be to blame for pupils joining gangs, Children as young as nine are being drawn into organised crime for protection and to gain a “sense of belonging” because of the lack of positive role models at home.

One take on ‘Consensus Theory’ is Charles Murray’s theory of the underclass. Recent government statistics suggest that there is a relationship between the long term unemployed and youth crime. Those known as NEETS are much more likely to commit crime. In this sense it is a whole group rather than individuals who socialise their children into anti-social values.

There are many Criminologists who argue that Consensus Theory is too simplistic…

For a start, it could be regarded as deterministic. Not all broken families’ children commit crime, and there is no immediate causal link between the two variables.

Other factors often influence whether a child from a broken home to turn to crime. Albert Cohen’s status frustration theory reminds us that the pressure to attain status within a deviant group may lead an individual to get involved in violent crime to gain a reputation. Many recent documentaries on the problem of gang crime suggest there is some truth in this.

In addition to these pull factors, poverty and the area one lives in are both correlated with criminal behaviour.

Also, Merton’s strain theory reminds us that much economic crime is a result of a strain between the success goals of material wealth and the lack of opportunities for many among the lower classes to commit crime. He argued that some crime was a result of effective socialisation into the success goals (so no ‘lack of control’ here) and lack of legitimated opportunities such as high paid jobs to achieve these goals. Many sociologists who have carried out qualitative research with gangs have found evidence to back this theory up such as Sudhir Venkatesh.

Strain theory suggests that it is the fault of the system for encouraging us to want more than we can get, which creates the conditions that makes crime rational. More radical Marxists take there analysis further, arguing that it is the fault of the Capitalist system that breeds selfish individualism, inequality and poverty, all of which can lead to crime. A similar view was offered by Willis who argued that lack of control was less to blame than a system that did not meet the needs of the Lads who he studied.

Much of the evidence cited for CONSENSUS THEORY is quantitative, and even if 70% of criminals come from broken homes, it will still be a minority of families whose children commit crime. If we look at the cases of those who do commit crime in more depth, we realise that many of them face multiple problems such as living in deprived areas and drug and alcohol abuse.

CONSENSUS THEORY is thus problematic because it stereotypes all ‘broken families’ as potentially problematic. It could even be seen as ideological because it blames a minority group for society’s problems, rather than looking at the problems of the system.

It could be that CONSENSUS THEORY is a popular theory because lone parent families and NEETs are a minority and an easy target. In addition, such a simplistic theory is easy for the mass population to understand, as it fits populist discourse. CONSENSUS THEORY is also the kind of theory that can be summarised in ‘sound bite’ media, and wins politicians votes.

In conclusion, while there may be some truth in CONSENSUS THEORY, we need to be careful of adopting lack of social control and weak institutions as the main cause of crime, it is only one factor amongst many, and alone, it provides us with a very limited understanding of the causes of crime.

Key Concepts for A Level Sociology – Crime and Deviance

A list of definitions of some of the key concepts relevant to the A level sociology crime and deviance module.

Anomie

Where modern social systems encourage excessive individualism – as a consequence there is a general lack of agreement around norms and values – some commentators describe anomie as a state of normlessness.

The context Dependency Deviance –

Whether or not an act is deviant depends on the society in which the act takes place, the historical period, and the actors present. The context dependency of deviance emphasises the fact that the same form of behaviour can be considered deviant in one society, but not deviant in another.

Corporate Crime

Crimes committed by or for corporations or businesses which act to further their interests and have a serious physical or economic impact on employees, consumers and the general public. The drive is usually the desire to increase profits.

Crime

The breach of rules or laws for which some governing authority can ultimately prescribe a punishment – depending on the society this might ultimately mean imprisonment or the death penalty.

Crimogenic Capitalism

The Marxist idea that the exploitative capitalist system generates crime. According to Marxists, the self-interested pursuit of profit lies at the heart of the Capitalist system. The means whereby the Capitalist class get rich is by exploiting workers through paying them as little as possible to increase their profits, and they also encourage materialism, to increase demand for the goods they produce. A final way capitalism generates crime is by creating inequality – resulting in a significant number of people at the bottom of society (the underclass) who are effectively unable to consume at a reasonable level.

Dark figure of crime

The amount of unreported, or undiscovered crime. These are the crimes which do not appear in Official Police Statistics.

Deviance

Behaviour that varies from the accepted standard of normal behaviour in society. It implies that an individual is breaking social norms in a negative way.

Dog Eat Dog Society

A phrase associated with Marxist Sociologist David Gordon who said that capitalist societies are ‘dog eat dog societies’ in which each individual company and each individual is encouraged to look out for their own self-interest before the interests of others, before the interests of the community, and before the protection of the environment.

Ideology

A set of cultural beliefs, values, and attitudes that underlie and justify either the status quo or movements to change it. The culture of every social system has an ideology that serves to explain and justify its own existence as a way of life. In Sociology, Marxists use the term the ‘dominant ideology’ to refer to the world-view of the ruling class, which they present to everyone else as normal – their world view passes of inequality and exploitation as normal and natural, thus justifying their existence.

Ideological Functions

The idea that institutions such as schools and the media teach a set of norms and values which work in the interests of the powerful and prevent social change. For example, Marxists say the education system performs ‘ideological functions’ for the Capitalist system and the Bourgeois: they believe that the norms of punctuality and acceptance of authority and hierarchy prepares us for our future exploitation at work, which benefits future employers more than workers.

Labelling (detailed notes)

Labelling is the process of pre-judging/ categorising an individual based on superficial characteristics or stereotypical assumptions. For example when a teacher decides a scruffy looking student is not intelligent.

Moral Entrepreneurs

A moral entrepreneur is an individual, group or formal organization that seeks to influence a group to adopt or maintain a norm. Moral entrepreneurs are those who take the lead in labelling a particular behaviour and spreading or popularizing this label throughout society.

Neutralisation of Opposition

In Marxist theory resistance to capitalism and eventual revolution should come from the working classes once they realise the injustice of the high level of exploitation they face. However, according to Marxist criminologists, the criminal justice system works to get rid of opposition by selectively locking up working class (Rather than middle class) criminals which prevents resistance and revolution. Selective law enforcement does this in three main ways:

  1. By literally incarcerating (‘incapacitating) thousands of people who could potentially be part of a revolutionary movement.
  2. By punishing individuals and making them responsible for their actions, defining these individuals as ‘social failures’ we ignore the failings of the system that lead to the conditions of inequality and poverty that create the conditions which lead to crime.
  3. The imprisonment of many members of the underclass also sweeps out of sight the ‘worst jetsam of Capitalist society’ such that we cannot see it, thus we are less aware of the injustice of inequality in society.

Official Crime Statistics

Official Statistics are numerical information collected by the government and its agencies – the two main types of crime statistics collected by government agencies are Police Recorded Crime, and the Crime Survey of England and Wales. Crime statistics also encompass Prison Statistics, which include information about the numbers and characteristics of prisoners.

Police recorded Crime

All crimes reported to and recorded by the police. Police forces around the country record crime in categories that are outlined in the Home Office counting rules. These include: violence against the person, sexual offences, robber, burglary, theft, handling stolen goods, fraud and forgery, criminal damage, drug offences and ‘other offences’.

Rational Choice Theory 

Believes individuals make rational (logical) decisions about whether or not to commit a crime  the crime rate is affected mainly by three factors –  the available opportunities to commit crime,  the perceived risk of getting caught,  and severity of the punishment the offender believes they will receive if they are caught. According to Rational Choice Theory, the more opportunities to commit crime, the lower the risk of getting caught and the lower the likelihood of punishment, then the higher the crime rate will be.

Relative Deprivation

Lacking sufficient resources to maintain a standard of living or lifestyle which is regarded as normal or average in a given society; or lacking sufficient resources to maintain a living standard which is approved of by society. While it is possible to measure relative deprivation objectively, there is a subjective element to this concept which can make it difficult to measure – an individual can feel relatively deprived even when they are relatively well-off compared to the average, if they have an unrealistic idea about what ‘the average is’. This concept is associated with Left Realism and Jock Young’s Vertigo of Late Modernity especially.

Self-Report Studies

Surveys in which a selected cross section of the population is asked what offences they have committed. A good example of a self-report study is the ‘Youth Lifestyles Survey’ – although the last one was done over a decade ago.

Selective Law Enforcement

Where the police mainly focus on policing working class (and underclass) areas and the justice system mainly focuses on prosecuting working and underclass criminals, while ignoring the crimes of the elite and the middle classes, although both of these classes are just as likely to commit crime as the working classes. A concept associated with Marxist criminologist David Gordon.

Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

Where an individual accepts their label and the the label becomes true in practice.

Social integration

Where people are connected to society through social institutions. The more connections an individual has to social institutions, the more integrated an individual is to society. For example, someone with a job, with a family, and who spends time with others in the community is more integrated than an unemployed single loner.

Social Regulation

reaffirming the boundaries of acceptable behaviour. High levels of social regulation basically mean explicit and clear rules and norms which set out clear social expectations. In Functionalist theory an appropriate amount of social regulation is essential for preventing anomie which leads to high levels of suicide and other forms of deviant and criminal behaviour.

Socially Constructed 

Where something is the product of social processes rather than just being natural. For example, most sociologists agree that crime is socially constructed because people in society decide what crime is law breaking behaviour, and laws are made-up by people and change over time, thus crime varies from society to society. Similarly, we can say that crime statistics are socially constructed because they are the result of a series of social interactions – of people witnessing and reporting crimes and then the police recording them, rather than the stats reflecting the actual real number of crimes in any society.

Society of Saints

A phrase associated with Emile Durkheim which emphasises the inevitability and social necessity of crime. Durkheim argued that even in a ‘society of saints’ populated by perfect individuals deviance would still exist. In such a society there might be no murder or robbery, but there would still be deviance. The general standards of behaviour would be so high that the slightest slip would be regarded as a serious offence. Thus the individual who simply showed bad taste, or was merely impolite, would attract strong disapproval.

Victim Surveys

Ask people whether they have been a victim of crime, typically in the previous 12 months. The most comprehensive victim survey in England and Wales is the ‘Crime Survey of England and Wales’.

Status frustration

A concept developed by Albert Cohen in Delinquent Boys (1956) – he used it to explain working-class male delinquency as being a collective reaction against middle class success – working class boys tried hard in school and failed to gain status, got frustrated, found each other and formed a deviant subculture – status was gained within the subculture by being deviant and going against the rules of the school.

Subculture 

A group which has at least some norms and values which are different to those held in mainstream society, and can thus be regarded as deviant.

The Underclass

A term first coined by American Sociologist Charles Murray (1989) – The underclass’ refers to the long term unemployed who are effectively welfare dependent. They have higher rates of teen pregnancies and single parent households and much higher crime rates. Some statistical analysis suggests that the underclass (approximately 1% of the population) might commit as much as 50% recorded crime in the UK.

White Collar Crime

White-collar crime refers to financially motivated nonviolent crime committed by business and government professionals. Within criminology, it was first defined by sociologist Edwin Sutherland in 1939 as “a crime committed by a person of respectability and high social status in the course of his occupation”.

Zero Tolerance Policing 

Involves the police strictly enforcing every facet of law, including paying particular attention to minor activities such as littering, begging, graffiti and other forms of antisocial behaviour. It actually involves giving the police less freedom to use discretion –the police are obliged to hand out strict penalties for criminal activity.

Actuarial Justice and Risk Management

Feely and Simon (1994) argue that a new ‘technology of power’ is emerging throughout the justice system. It differs from Foucault’s disciplinary power in three main ways:

  • It focuses on groups rather than individuals
  • It is not interested in rehabilitating offenders, but simply in preventing them from offending
  • It uses calculations of risk or ‘actuarial analysis’. This concept comes from the insurance industry which calculates the statistical risk of particular events happening – for example the chances of drivers having an accident.

Feely and Simon argue that this actuarial approach is increasingly used in crime control – airports for example screen passengers before they come to an airport – passengers are awarded points based on gender, age, ethnicity, criminal convictions, and the more points, the more likely you are to be stopped at customs.

Social Sorting and categorical suspicion

David Lyon (2012) argues that the purpose of sorting is to be able to categorise people so they can be treated differently on the basis of risk. This subjects people to ‘categorical suspicion’ – they become suspects simply because they are a particular age or ethnicity (or combination of factors).

In 2010 West-Midlands police sought to introduce a counter-terrorism scheme to surround to mainly Muslim suburbs of Birmingham with about 150 surveillance cameras, some of them covert, thereby placing whole communities under suspicion.

One of the most obvious problems with actuarial risk management strategies of crime control is that it may reinforce the processes of labelling and the self-fulfilling prophecy emphasised by interactionists.

Young Minds – An example of social control through actuarialism?

The text below is taken from the Young Minds’ web site – how would Simon and Feely interpret this advice?

Young People at Risk of Offending – Advice for Parents (Young Minds)

No parent wants their child to become a ‘young offender’. But unfortunately, many young people do end up getting involved with crime or antisocial behaviour. Parents Helpline advisor Claire Usiskin advises parents on how they can help support their child.

The factors that cause young people to offend are often complex. Both parents/carers and the young person may feel blamed and stigmatised, although the factors contributing to the situation are often not their ‘fault’.

Young people who experience the following issues are more at risk of offending:

◾Poor housing or living in a neighbourhood with poor services
◾Financial hardship
◾Difficulties achieving at or attending school
◾Bullying (as a victim or perpetrator)
◾Behavioural problems
◾Hyperactivity or poor impulse control (for example ADHD)
◾Specific learning difficulties (for example dyslexia)
◾Violence or conflict within the family or social environment
◾Drug or alcohol issues within the family or social environment
◾Family or peer group attitudes which condone crime
◾Abuse or trauma in childhood
◾Spending time in local authority care

These ‘risk factors’ tend to add up, so the more of these factors a young person is exposed to, the more likely they are to get involved with crime.

As a parent or carer it can be very difficult to support your child or young person to stay the right side of the law. Peer groups can be very powerful, and teenagers may feel it is more important to stay ‘in with’ their friends than to respect the law.

Even if the child is experiencing some of the risk factors above, parents and carers can do a lot to support their child and try to prevent them breaking the law.

◾ Just one strong, positive child-carer relationship can offset many other problematic issues. Spell out clearly what is and isn’t acceptable, and tell them why this is. If relatives or friends are around, ask them for help in backing you up and giving your child firm but caring messages about keeping to boundaries.

◾ Do your best to get help and support for the child around education and mental health – even if services are not so easy to access, it is worth fighting for the child’s rights. If you think your child has learning difficulties or another condition that has not been diagnosed, ask your GP or school for an assessment.

◾Youth services, mentoring schemes and anti-crime, drug or gang projects are often run by practitioners, including ex-offenders, who have a lot of expertise in engaging with young people and motivating them to change their behaviour.

◾If you are struggling to parent your child and feel things are getting on top of you, ask for some support for yourself via the GP or a local counselling service. It’s not a sign of failure, it shows strength in wanting to be the strongest you can to support your child.

Synoptic Surveillance and Crime Control

Thomas Mathiesen (1997) argues that control through surveillance has developed beyond Foucault’s panopticon model. The panopticon allows the few to monitor the many, but today the media increasingly allow the many to monitor the few. Mathiesen argues that in late modernity, there is a significant increase in surveillance from below, which he calls the ‘synopticon’ – where everybody watches everybody else.

An example of synoptic surveillance is where the public monitor each other, as with video cameras mounted on dash boards or cycle helmets to collect evidence in the event of accidents. This may warn other road users that their behaviour is being monitored and result in them exercising self-discipline. For an example of synoptic surveillance in action see below, and you might also like to check out this Facebook page devoted to people caught doing illegal things on camera.

 

Thompson (2000) argues that powerful groups such as politicians fear that the media’s surveillance of them may uncover damaging information about them, and this acts as a form of social control over their activities.

chris-huhne-vicky-pryce
Chris Huhne (M.P) and partner Vicky Pryce – Caught out by Surveillance Technology and jailed for 8 months in 2013

Discussion Question: Does fear of surveillance and thus fear of getting caught and publicly shamed prevent politicians from doing deviant and criminal acts?

The synopticon suggests that ordinary citizens might have more power to ‘control the controllers’ – as with the example of activists filming the police at protests. However, this bottom-up scrutiny can still be stopped by more classic law enforcement such as the police confiscating cameras from ‘citizen journalists’.

 

Discussion Questions:

Are people more likely to obey the law because of synoptic surveillance?

Does the increase in synoptic surveillance mean elites in particular are more likely to obey the law?

 

Public Space Protection Orders and Criminal Behaviour Orders

ASBOs are one of the best known crime control methods in the UK – the problem is they don’t exist anymore, they’ve been replaced by Public Space Protection Orders and Criminal Behaviour Orders.

Public Space Protection Orders

Public Space Protection Orders – are a geographically defined version of ASBOs that could severely restrict people’s freedoms in urban space

Examples of how they are being used include:

Criminal Behaviour Orders 

The criminal behaviour order (among other things) replaced ASBOs in 2014 – these still require a person to abstain from antisocial behaviour but also stipulate that the person receiving the order undergo some kind course of corrective treatment (such as an anger management course). The order will also specify who is responsible for making the person undergo the correct treatment, and this effectively means that this strategy of crime control overlaps with the more left-realist focus on intervention and community empowerment.

Example (taken from the above web site)

An example given by the Home Office (in “Putting Victims First”) seeks to illustrate how the Criminal Behaviour Order will enable agencies to deal more effectively with anti-social behaviour:

A young person convicted of criminal damage after having broken the window of an elderly person’s house following an ongoing campaign of harassment. Under the current system, they could be prevented from going near their victim’s house, but under the new system, the same order could also require them to make good the damage to the victim’s window and engage with a mentoring programme to address the reasons why they were harassing the victim.

Evaluating Broken Windows Theory

Broken Windows Theory suggests that high levels of physical disorder such as litter, graffiti, vandalism, or people engaged in Anti-Social Behaviour will result in higher crime rates. Broken Windows Theory is one aspect of the Right Realist approach to criminology

The evidence supporting Broken Windows Theory is somewhat mixed

This 2008 ‘£5 Note Theft and Social Disorder Experiment’ offers broad support for the theory…

In this (slightly bizarre sounding) experiment an envelope containing a £5 note was left poking out a letterbox, in such a way that the £5 note was easily visible. The researchers did this first of all with a tidy garden, and later on (similar time of day) with litter in the garden – on the first occasion 13% of people took the envelope, on the second, the percentage doubled to 25% – suggesting that signs of physical disorder such as littering encourage deviant behaviour.

broken windows theory

The experiment was actually a bit more complex – for the full details see the Keizer et al source below – this was also actually one of six experiments designed to test out Wilson and Kelling’s 1996 ‘broken windows theory’.

A second experiment, however, does not support broken windows theory…

Empirical results of the “Moving to Opportunity” program (reviewed in 2006) – a social experiment in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Baltimore and Boston did not support Broken Windows Theory. As part of the program, some 4,600 low-income families living in high-crime public housing communities—characterized by high rates of social disorder—were randomly assigned housing vouchers to move to less disadvantaged and less disorderly communities. Using official arrests and self-report surveys, the crime rates among those who moved and those who did not remained the same.

The problems with evaluating Broken Windows Theory

Wesley Skogan (see source below) identifies several reasons why Broken Windows theory is hard to evaluate – mainly focusing on how hard the theory is to operationalise:

  • Firstly, there are several different ways of defining ‘social disorder’ (litter, vandalism, antisocial behaviour) – so which do you choose?
  • Secondly it is difficult to measure levels of social disorder accurately – how do you actually measure how much disorder what type of littler represents – is one sofa in a garden worth 14 toffee wrappers, or what? And if you’re talking about anti-social behaviour, you can’t necessarily rely on public reports of it because sensitivity levels vary, and it’s just not practical to measure it using observational techniques.

For these reasons, the validity of broken windows theory is always likely to remain contested, and so it’s worth considering the possibility that it’s popularity could be more to do with ideological bias rather than being based any significant body of supporting evidence.

Further Reading

Keizer et al – The Spreading of Disorder – Science Express Report

More details on the Moving to Opportunity study

This chapter by Wesley Skogan identifies a number of reasons why Broken Windows Theory is difficult to evaluate

ASBOs – Arguments For and Against

ASBOs are a form of Zero Tolerance crime control and have been in use in the UK since 1999 – below are a few examples of how they’re used. Read them through and consider the arguments for and against using them in each case…

An ASBO for shop lifting

In 2013 jobless single mother Jade Underwood received a CRASBO banning her from 80 stores because of her serial shoplifting. She also made neighbours’ lives a misery and verbally abused mothers taking children to a nearby school.

CRASBO.jpg

Shopkeepers and neighbours told how the 5ft menace treated shoplifting like a job and blighted their lives. One said she was such a problem that the local branch of Boots in Edgeley, Stockport, stopped putting make-up out on display.

Former neighbour John Duggan, 55, said Underwood had ‘absolutely no shame whatsover’.

‘She used to wear tracksuits and looked just like Vicky Pollard from the TV show [Little Britain],’ he said. ‘She is a little toad, she’s just horrible.

But Underwood posted a defiant message on Facebook, saying: ‘Heyy yah dont bring me down, least am famouse!! Yah all whata leve meh alone.’

An ASBO for Public drunkeness and Abusive Behaviour 

A Rhondda man who was banned from hospitals for two years in a landmark ASBO case in 2012 was placed on a second order, months after the first expired.

In 2012, Geoffrey Russell Thomas, 59, became the first person in Rhondda to be given a banning order from hospitals to curb his unacceptable drunken anti-social behaviour which included continued foul, abusive, threatening and drunken abuse of residents and hospital staff.

thomas

The new ASBO means he will have spent an almost-unbroken four years subject to an order which bans him from attending any hospital anywhere, unless it is in the case of a genuine emergency or pre-arranged appointment.

He is also banned from being drunk in a public place, using abusive or threatening language or behaviour towards any other person.

Paul Mee, head of public health and protection at RCT Council, oversees the Anti Social Behaviour Unit and its work.

He said: “The disproportionate nature of this man’s offending on the wider community, including the men and women who are employed to provide care for others, means we have no choice but to continue dealing with him robustly and effectively.

“Despite a two-year order banning him from doing so, he has continued to drunkenly abuse and threaten many people, including those who were trying to help him.

“He has clearly not learned his lesson and continues to act in an anti-social, drunken, threatening and abusive manner, so we will continue to protect the public and the frontline workers who have to deal with him from this unacceptable behaviour.”

An ASBO for playing loud country music 

From 2010 – A country and western music fan has vowed to keep listening to his favourite songs, despite admitting breaching anti-social behaviour laws.

Partially-deaf Michael O’Rourke, 51, of Peterhead, admitted breaching an anti-social behaviour order (Asbo) after complaints from neighbour. Dolly Parton is among Michael O’Rourke’s favourite artists

O’Rourke commented….

“My neighbours were just being vindictive… If you’re joined onto another house you’ve got to expect a bit of noise.”

He explained: “I play my music every day. Who doesn’t like music? I like country and western, 60s music, Scottish music. I also like some of the up-to-date stuff. Why should I stop listening to my favourite music just because of a few vindictive folk? I’ll never stop playing my vinyl.”

One former neighbour said: “I wasn’t sorry to see him go. He wasn’t the best of neighbours.”

 

An ASBO for Riding your Scooter on the Pavement?

In 2009 a woman criticised police after she was sent a letter about her 12-year-old son riding his push scooter on the pavement.

scooter
The letter told Vicki Richardson that if officers were called because her son, Thomas Read, was riding his scooter again he could be given an asbo.

She wrote to Hucknall Police Station in Nottingham about the letter as her son thought he would get into trouble for going out to play.

A police spokesman said the action was part of their policy to control anti-social behaviour.

For more examples of ‘dubious’ ASBOs check out ‘Statewatch‘.

Why is Crime Falling?

 

According to both Police Recorded Crime and the Crime Survey of England and Wales, there has been a steady decrease in crime in England and Wales since 1995 – that’s over 20 years of crime reduction. 

There are several possible reasons behind this decrease in crime (IF you believe the statistics, of course!)

The Relative Decrease in Property Crime since 1995

Trends in Property Crime - Crime Survey of England and Wales
Trends in Property Crime – Crime Survey of England and Wales

The Office For National Statistics identifies seven existing theories/ pieces of evidence for why property crime has fallen. Read them through and consider how many of them support Rational Choice Theory. 

ONE – The rise in the use of the internet has roughly coincided with falls in crime 

In 1995, use of the internet was not widespread. As it became more popular, it may have helped to occupy young people’s time when they may otherwise have turned to crime. Farrell et al., 2011 suggests the internet also provides more opportunity for online crime – which possibly explains the increase in Fraud in recent years, although this may be down to improvements in detection and recording of this offence.

TWO – Reduced consumption of drugs and alcohol is likely to have resulted in a drop in offending

A 2014 Home Office research paper ‘The heroin epidemic of the 1980s and 1990s and its effect on crime trends – then and now’ supports the notion that the changing levels of opiate and crack-cocaine use have affected acquisitive crime trends in England and Wales, potentially explaining over half of the rise in crime in the 1980s to mid-1990s and between a quarter and a third of the fall in crime since the mid-1990s. (Bunge et al., 2005).

THREE – Significant improvements in forensic and other crime scene investigation techniques and record keeping

Advancements in areas such as fingerprinting and DNA testing may have led to a reduction in crime.perceived risk to offenders may have increased, inducing a deterrent effect (Explaining and sustaining the crime drop: Clarifying the role of opportunity-related theories, Farrell et al., 2010).

FOUR – The increase in abortions

The ONS also site this classic study by Levitt et al – which suggested that the introduction of legalised abortion on a wide number of grounds in the US meant that more children who might have been born into families in poverty or troubled environments and be more prone to get drawn into criminality, would not be born and therefore be unable to commit these crimes (The Impact of Legalized Abortion on Crime, Donohue and Levitt, 2001).

FIVE – Changes (real or perceived) in technology and infrastructure.

This includes an increase in the use of situational crime prevention technieques such as CCTV, which may act as deterrents to committing crime (CCTV has modest impact on crime, Welsh and Farrington, 2008). 

SIX – Longer Prison Sentences

The impacts of longer prison sentences and police activity on reducing crime, particularly property crimes, are likely to act as deterrents (Acquisitive Crime: Imprisonment, Detection and Social Factors, Bandyopadhyay et al., 2012).

SEVEN – Target Hardening

Increased quality of building and vehicle security is also likely to have been a factor in the reduction in property crime. This concept of ‘target-hardening’ which makes targets (that is, anything that an offender would want to steal or damage) more resistant to attack is likely to deter offenders from committing crime (Opportunities, Precipitators and Criminal Decisions: A reply to Wortley’s critique of situational crime prevention, Cornish and Clarke, 2003).

Findings from the CSEW add some evidence which may support this, indicating that alongside the falls in property crime, there were also improvements in household and vehicle security. Since 1995, there have been statistically significant increases in the proportion of households in the 2014/15 CSEW with:

  • Window locks (up 21 percentage points from 68% to 89% of households)
  • Light timers/sensors (up 16 percentage points from 39% to 55% of households)
  • Burglar alarms (up 11 percentage points from 20% to 31% of households)

The ONS also notes that it does not endorse any one of the theories over the others and that many of these theories are contested and subject to continuing discussion and debate.

NB – Just because most of the above theories seem to offer broad support for RTC and RAT theories, doesn’t mean there aren’t other factors that need to be considered when explaining the decrease in property crime.