Police keen on 'zero tolerance'

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Police in Oslo invited New York’s former chief of police to town last week to hear how the policy of “zero tolerance ” brought down the metropolis’ high crime rate. They’re keen on trying the policy in Norway, but skeptical politicians and local criminologists may stand in the way.

Michael Scagnelli thinks Oslo could bring down its own rising crime rate by cracking down on all types of crime, not least petty theft.

As he walked from Oslo’s central train station and past Vaterland, areas known for open drug-dealing, he told newspaper Aftenposten that “you could clean this up.” In New York, he said, police shadowed all sorts of criminals, especially aggressive beggars and pickpockets, on the theory that minor crimes and criminals can become major crimes and criminals.

Begging is legal in Norway, as was prostitution until recently, and Oslo police have tried hounding the drug users who congregate around the train station and attract pushers. Local police also have rounded up dozens of hash sellers who wander along the Aker River looking for customers.Their resources are tight, though, and there hasn’t been support for a major effort at what the Norwegians call “null toleranse.” Police Director Ingelin Killengreen is open to the idea and thinks the policy can be among the “most important weapons” for fighting crime.

“The police success in New York City provides good documentation for that,” Killengreen told Aftenposten . She welcomed Scagnelli’s description of how the New York police went to work.

Others reject the “zero tolerance” policy, worrying that police will become too hard-handed and subject too many people to a form of surveillance. Arild Knudsen of a group advocating “humane” narcotics policies says New York is no model for Oslo.

Still others advocate more resources for social programs to deter people from a life of crime. Inga Marte Thorkildsen of the Socialist Left party also advocates social preventative programs and rejects Scagnelli’s view that the police should only be charged with cracking down on crime.

“It’s where the police cooperate with other social agencies that we get the best results that last,” she claimed.