'Order Maintenance' Versus 'Zero-Tolerance'

William H. Sousa, Rutgers University

The NYPD 'order-maintenance' stragegy, which draws on the 'broken windows' hypothesis, involves police enforcement of minor offenses as a method of preventing more serious criminal activity from occurring. Proponents of 'order-maintenance' claim that the strategy has played a key role in crime reduction in New York City. Critics of the strrategy, however, claim that 'order-maintenance' policing has led to a policy where minor offenses are zealously enforced regardless of the circumstances or consequences surrounding the offense -- a 'zero-tolerance' approach that essentially removes officer discretion from decision-making scenarios and effectively criminalizes marginally inappropriate behavior. Despire this charge, few have examined the extent to which 'order-maintenance' policing, as performed by NYPD, involves the 'zero-tolerance,' full-enforcement approach that critics claim. Drawing on observational data from police ride-alongs, this paper challenges critics' assumptions and argues that it is erroneous to use the termds 'order-maintenance' and 'zero-tolerance' interchangeably when describing policing in New York City.

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Updated 05/20/2006