The Politicisation of Law-Enforcement

The politicisation of law-enforcement, with eye-catching measures, is a response to the media-fed public concern about crime.

Politicians compete to try to be seen as tough on crime.  For example, a BBC report Donald Trump attacks Sadiq Khan over London violence, described 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).

Policies are continually changing as politicians try (usually unsuccessfully) to find a magic solution.  Serious studies of organisational problems tend to be ignored in favour of attempts to immediately grab favourable headlines with tough-sounding legislation:

●  As reported by The Guardian in November 2019, 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 example of the politicisation of law enforcement 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.

●  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: it attempts to impose several unenforceable conditions on people to stop them from joining gangs. 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 page is intended to form part of Edition 4 of the Patterns of Power series of books.  An archived copy of it is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition04/5252a.htm.