Free Essays On Police Discretion

Police Discretion Position Paper

Police discretion, up until 1956, was a topic void of conversation and discussion; that is, until an American Bar Foundation study discovered it (O'Connor, 2004). Nobody would ever admit it existed. For some citizens, discretion is a privileged license which gives police officers tremendous amount of liberty. For others, it means officers going against the rules, disobeying superiors, and being less than perfect all the time. When it was finally exposed, people like the American Friends Service Committee (1971) (as cited in O'Connor, 2004), called for its abolishment, and police administrators quickly sought a control on discretion.

The attitude of police administrators was perceived to advocate any deviation from accepted procedures as being extralegal and probably a source of corruption (O'Connor, 2004). Others vehemently opine that the use of discretion is extremely important in the Criminal Justice field. The ability for a police officer to make a choice based on several possible courses of action requires such discretion. Further, the extensive training police officers are introduced to, avail those possible situations that they may encounter throughout their academy training. The problem surfaces when these officers encounter a situation that they never received training on. However, the training received cannot cover every situation that an officer may encounter. Additionally, our laws today do not cover every possible scenario; new laws are constantly being added onto the books, forcing officers to use discretion.

Discretion does not provide an endless supply of green lights to police officers. On the contrary, discretion brings to the surface, each officer's basic foundation of norms, values and beliefs. The human dimension is a platform citizens tend to omit from their cognitive process when dealing with police officers. Police officers are individuals just as citizens are, and as such, make mistakes.

Discretion evolves in certain situations based on the individualistic composition of each officer. Diverse backgrounds and values drive an officer to make ownership decisions. Most importantly; however, discretion is bound by four types of norms: professional norms, community norms, legal norms, and moral norms (O'Connor, 2004). Police officers are bound on one side by the complexity of society, on another, by the enormous legislative law that they must adhere to and carry out. Discipline, foresight, tolerance, empathy, tactfulness, and the ability to analyze people are qualities beyond that of competence, which police officers must possess in order to make smart decisions (Rivera, 2006). Herein enters the igniter of the ongoing debate on whether discretion is a necessity for police officers to formulate and reach decisions, oftentimes, different for a same offense, or simply a covert purpose of maintaining the will of the majority. Either way, misunderstandings, unfortunately, lead to myths.

The mythical aspects of police discretion come into play when police agencies are questioned about whether their officers practice full enforcement of law on a consistent basis (Rivera, 2006). This questioning surely spins the situation into one where the response must be in the negative, for affirming it would mean officers always carry out the same outcome for a like offense; thus, discretion not possible. A paradox? Perhaps. As MacHenry (2003, Solution section, para. 13) aptly phrased it, "Police discretion is considered a necessity by many people because without it, we would all be in jail." Police officers are often asked if they follow written policy in certain situations. Again, this questioning gives fruition to the myth because, although society believes officers follow all policies, and that full enforcement is always used, this is not true in all cases.

Police work encompasses what other professions do not, in that there are few uncontroversial areas within its realm. Professionalism, thus, comes at a cost to police officers because the public seems unwilling to trust them informally; instead, the public seems to want strict, formal accountability mechanisms in place.

Simply put, society at times, desires loose enforcement, at other times, strict enforcement. In as much as society itself is complex, it seems unwilling to comprehend or compromise on the complexity of policing. This unwillingness contributes additional stress to the already stressful environment police officers work in, since a virtual "Catch-22" exists in all discretionary situations. The following sources provide the myth some of its necessary means of survival.

* Domestic Disturbances pit the officer against the dilemma of leaving the victim with the abuser, or arresting the abuser. Are the laws that are proven effective, applicable in this situation? Discretion is used, since both parties are deemed responsible adults; therefore, able to work out their differences. Discretion is not an option if facts exist that abuse occurred.

* Disorderly Conduct broadly asserts what behavior may constitute disorderly. A group of college students drinking and playing loud music within the confines of their fraternity house may be identified as disorderly to a neighbor; however, are the students not allowed to play loud music? Discretion certainly can be used here; a verbal warning to keep their music down to a minimum so not to disturb the neighbors, should suffice.

* Traffic stops lend themselves to wide discretion. A plethora of reasons may surely exist for motorists driving in a manner that may be seen as careless or reckless. However, on the other hand, this area also seems to provide the possibility for profiling or prejudicial behavior on the part of the officer, especially, for example, gender, race, or ethnic makeup. The propensity for abuse may exist in this scenario.

* Use of force narrowly allows discretion in that the officer usually has the upper hand when dealing with an unruly citizen. Understanding that emotions flare in such situations, the ability for the officer to request assistance should allow for minimal discretion.

* Trespassing laws are clearly stated. Signs warning citizens not to enter are all that should be required to keep trespassers away. Discretion is not an option here. The law must be carried out.

* Public intoxication should not allow for discretion for the safety of the intoxicated individual. A possible discretionary action may be if a sober friend is able to drive the individual home at that moment. Medical issues may also be a possibility. Is so, discretion must be implemented.

* Jaywalking offenses require discretionary decisions. Perhaps a citizen's automobile


Police Discretion Essay

1354 Words6 Pages

Police Discretion

Police discretion by definition is the power to make decisions of policy and practice. Police have the choice to enforce certain laws and how they will be enforced. “Some law is always or almost always enforced, some is never or almost never enforced, and some is sometimes enforced and sometimes not” (Davis, p.1). Similarly with discretion is that the law may not cover every situation a police officer encounters, so they must use their discretion wisely. Until 1956, people thought of police discretion as “taboo”. According to 205/205lect09.htm, “The attitude of police administrators was that any deviation from accepted procedures was extralegal and probably a source of corruption.…show more content…

Police tend to become much more bureaucratic when witnesses, an audience, or the media are present” (http://faculty.ncwc .edu/toconnor/205/205lect09.htm). The final cause of discretion is system variables. This cause deals with how “police tend to become lenient when the court and correctional systems are clogged; how police tend to become strict when the city needs revenue; the size and structure of the department controls individual discretion; how communities that have sufficient social service resources, like de-tox and mental health facilities, allow officers to use more non-arrest options; and the way in which officers are summoned plays a role in how they will act when they get there” (

Linda A. Teplin says that “police involvement with mentally ill persons is grounded in two common law principles: (1) The power and responsibility of the police to protect the safety and

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