In this paper, I will be writing about Police Discretion. I will start by defining Police Discretion then briefly discuss the use in domestic disturbances, minor misdemeanors, and traffic enforcement. I will also discuss the application of police discretion, the provisions it uses and how it is currently practiced. At the end of these brief descriptions, I will then present the myth that exists in regards to police discretion. And finally, I will end this paper with my personal opinion as well as a brief conclusion.
First, I will define Police Discretion. Police discretion is the power or authority that is given to a police officer to act officially in a manner that appears to be just and proper under the presented circumstances. In a domestic disturbance, the police officer has to use his discretion based upon the situation before him. The officer needs to make a decision that will make both parties involved be content with the resolution. This discretion that a police officer uses at the time of a domestic disturbance is the most difficult because his decisions ends up affecting either parties to a situation for the better or for the worse. In such situation, the officer can either mediate a peaceful agreement, can suggest counseling or if this doesn’t work he can also make an arrest of the person that is not willing to come to a peaceful resolution to the problem.
At the time a police officer encounters a minor misdemeanor, he can also make use of his discretion. A minor misdemeanor that a police officer could encounter can be that of a minor assault, public intoxication, disorderly conduct or even trespassing. The action taken by a police officer in such cases all depends on his discretion at the time, just as it is done on a domestic disturbance case. The officer has the option of making an arrest or making a report and is all based on his discretion used at the time the situation arises. The other area that a police officer encounters the use of his discretion is when enforcing
traffic laws. A police officer uses his discretion at the time of traffic violations by either issuing a citation, giving the person a verbal warning or even making an arrest. An arrest takes place when the police officer’s discretion was completely overwhelmed by an action that seemed completely wrong. At many times, an officer can also choose to ignore an act or violation as if it did not occur at all.
I will now briefly discuss the application, the provisions and the current practices involved in police discretion. The application of this use by a police officer creates enormous criticism. This is because the police officer uses his discretion in many situations and takes actions based on his own decision. This is a good practice but at many times, many people feel they have been discriminated against. Such discrimination can occur with females, an ethnic group or people who are less fortunate than others. The imbalance when applying these actions can cause community relations problems. When many people become concerned, reforms then take place and sometimes lead to federal investigations. The provisions that take place when using police discretion is based on responding to an incident by an officer as well as the police manager that makes provisions at the start of a shift and states which assignments need the most attention at a certain time. At the present time, the practice that is being made by many police agencies is to pretend that full enforcement occurs, while at the same time that this is stated many make us of their discretion authority. The control of discretion has become an issue of concern since neither party gives a realistic approach in policing.
In police discretion there is a myth that exists. This myth is the time when a police officer is asked if full enforcement is practiced on a regular basis and the officer responds by stating the following: “all we do is considered policy.” Many police departments will
not be open and admit that they use police discretion. The reasons why this myth exists is solely because of legal issues involved, the police organizations that might be involved and the image that will be portrayed in regards to authority to the rest of the community.
In my personal opinion, I think that the use of police discretion is very effective when enforcing laws. Sometimes when there is an emergency, it can look like a violation of some sort, but not until all the information is acquired by the officer is when he makes his decision based upon the facts in the situation. Police discretion is controversial, but the power granted to police officers makes the system and job more efficient. As long as police discretion is used adequately, it will be a proper form of enforcing the law.
Dantzker, M. (2003) (3rd ed). Understanding Today’s Police. New Jersey: Prentice Hall