The Politicisation of Law-Enforcement

Violent crime is a political issue – as illustrated by the BBC report, Donald Trump attacks Sadiq Khan over London violence, on the US President seizing an opportunity to continue his long-running feud with the London mayor (conveniently ignoring the fact that the statistics in New York are more than twice as bad).

The media-fed public concern about crime has led to a political response of ever-increased law enforcement.  Politicians rush to appear to be tough on crime during an election campaign.  As reported by The Guardian in November 2019 for example, Johnson reveals plans to extend police stop-and-search powers, even though “changes in the level of stop and search have, at best, only minimal effects on violent crime”.  

‘Zero tolerance’ Is another popular policy which is not based on firm evidence, but which captures headlines.  An LA Times column, The truth about ‘zero tolerance’: It doesn’t work and always leads to disaster, exposes the failures of this policy on immigration, community policing and schools.

Policies are continually changing as politicians try to find a magic solution to the problem of violent crime.  In an attempt to win political support, the British government introduced the ‘Anti-Social Behaviour Order’ (ASBO) in 1998 as a civil order to constrain people’s behaviour when they “cause harassment, alarm or distress”to others.  The ASBO was quietly dropped, though, when it was found to be ineffective – as described in an LSE blog post: Whatever happened to anti-social behaviour? 

A more recent example, the so-called ‘Gang Injunction’ is no better.  Theodore Dalrymple, in his article Bureaucracy and the Tin-Pot Stasi, pointed out that this “ridiculous charade …neither prevents him [an example case] from committing further crimes nor deters anyone like him from following suit”.



This is a current page, updated since publication of Patterns of Power Edition 3a.  An archived copy of it is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition03/5252a.htm