The term Zero Tolerance has become a familiar feature of the crime control landscape. In recent times it has been deployed regularly by politicians, police managers, policy-makers and the media. Though it has been used in connection with a number of different policy initiatives, Zero Tolerance is most closely associated with policing and, in particular, with a set of policing strategies adopted by the New York Police Department in the 1990s. This article explores the origins of this most potent of crime control symbols, and examines how it has subsequently been developed, deployed and disseminated. It concludes with an examination of how and why policy actors deploy symbolically powerful terms in the context of contemporary crime politics in the USA and UK. © 2007, Sage Publications. All rights reserved.