Zero Tolerance:price of Cutting Crime; Analysis

The Mail on Sunday (London, England), February 27, 2000 | Go to article overview

Zero Tolerance:price of Cutting Crime; Analysis


Byline: BRUCE ANDERSON

THE news that the four New York police officers in the Amadou Diallo case were acquitted reminded me of a recent conversation with a New Hampshire state senator.

'You Limeys have become hopelessly decadent,' he said. 'A couple of years back, I was having dinner in Soho. Suddenly, the place was full of cops. I asked what was happening. "A guy just stabbed one of our men. He's up on the roof.

We're about to go after him".

'I said, "Hold on a moment. You guys aren't armed. I am. I've got a revolver on me, and I'm pretty good with it - used to be a deputy sheriff. So let me go and deal with the man with the knife. I'll give him every opportunity to surrender. But if he refuses, down he goes".

'But they said no, though some of the young ones seemed tempted.

Unarmed cops chasing felons with lethal weapons: what a ridiculous way to police a big city.' I am still not absolutely sure whether to believe my friend. If he was carrying a pistol, it is surprising that he did not end the evening sharing a cell with the knifeman.

But whether or not the story is literally true, it does illustrate the profound cultural gap between the States and Britain when it comes to law and order. Few British readers will feel any sympathy with the senator's response. Most will regard it as just another manifestation of the Wild West attitudes which still poison American civic life - especially, it seems, in the New York Police Department. How could four policemen fire 41 shots at an unarmed man, and how could any jury acquit them?

But before we British - and especially Londoners - indulge our feelings of superiority, it is worth examining the problem in more depth. One factor is clear. The jury decided the occasional excess was a price worth paying for the success of Mayor Rudy Giuliani's tough approach to crime. For there is one crucial difference between London and New York. In London, serious crime is increasing at an alarming rate. But in New York, there has been a dramatic reduction.

Only six years ago, most New Yorkers believed that their city had lost its war against crime. In Manhattan, the rich lived in guarded skyscraper apartment buildings; after dark, they left them only to climb into chauffeured

limousines. …

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