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Police Discretion Essay

1353 words - 5 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 http://faculty.ncwc.edu/toconnor/ 205/205lect09.htm, “The attitude of police administrators was that any deviation from accepted procedures was extralegal and probably a source of corruption. When it was finally exposed, people like the American Friends Service Committee (1971) called for its abolishment, and police administrators sought a clampdown on discretion (administrative rulemaking).” The use of discretion is not necessarily an unpleasant thing as long as it is used properly and it is not being abused. “Adequate mechanisms for control of the exercise of that discretion are also a requisite for more rational decision making. If discretion implies a lack of control – that is, the freedom to choose from among available alternatives completely unfettered by constraints of law or policy – then the idea of controlled discretion may seem to be a self-contradiction” (Gottfredson p.276). Discretion can be used in many different situations. I will be discussing discretion used in dealing with the mentally ill, drunk driving, disorderly conduct, the use of force, and domestic violence. If a police officer uses his/her discretionary power correctly, not only will it help the police officer in their situation, it will help the general community as well.

     http://faculty.ncwc.edu/toconnor/205/205lect09.htm quotes Gaines, Kappeler & Vaughn (Policing in America) who state that there are three causes of discretion: offender variables, situation variables, and system variables. Offender variables deal with such things as: “how sometimes police take complaints from adults more seriously than complaints from juveniles; how there is sometimes racial profiling with the use of force and the arresting of an African Americans; how people who are polite to police officers may get compassion from the officer; and even gender and mental health status affect how police handle many incidents. Police sympathize with and only lecture some offenders.” Situation variables concern: “police give serious (crime) matters more attention than minor (non-crime) matters; the presence of weapons or acts of resistance often result in police overreaction; the type of property involved in a property crime determines police response and investigatory effort; activities initiated by police are followed up more than activities initiated by citizen complaint; visibility of vice is a major factor in vice enforcement (the three Cs of...

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