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Police Discretion Essay

1473 words - 6 pages

“Discretion is the perfection of reason, and a guide to us, in all the duties of life” (Jean de La Bruyère, n.d), this quote epitomises the use of discretion in life moreover in policing. Police discretion is a constant consideration within the law enforcement. Many people are of the view that police discretion is both an essential part of policing as well as a constant source of issues. There has been a constant quandary between enforcing the law to the latter. Police officers are faced with a vast array of situations each day which they must deal with, in which no two circumstances they encounter are the same. Moreover officers are frequently placed in the position of formulating decisions ...view middle of the document...

Discretion is the capacity officers possess to make a choice among a number of possible courses of actions such as issuing. In theory, an officer considers the totality of circumstances before determining whether or not legal action should be taken against an individual. Along with what kind and degree that action will be taken (Walker & Katz, 2005). For instance issuing a warning or actually arresting individual. Discretion also gives police the ability to take alternative action with some minor matters such as public disorder offences. When circumstances surrounding offences are taken into account, discretion can and should be considered in many of these cases. Before explanations are proposed for why discretion is necessary for efficient and effective policing, factors that influence police discretion must be identified.
According to Lyman (2010) the application of discretion is influenced by many different factors: the law, department policy, individual characteristics of the suspect, and characteristics of the alleged offense. Police discretion with regard to the application of criminal law has been categorized into invocation discretion and non-invocation discretion (Lyman, 2010). Invocation discretion refers to situations where officers invoke the law, and issue a citation or makes an arrest as well as and not limited to issuing road traffic ticket, summons and warrants. Non-invocation discretion covers circumstances where the officer could employ the law, but elects not to do so (Lyman, 2010).
Official police department policies such as: standard operating procedure and use of force continuum exert quite a powerful influence over police discretion. These written guidelines that stipulate what officers can and cannot do concerning accountability actions among other things. Exercising discretion in the handling of critical incidents for example; high-speed pursuits and use of deadly force, has to be documented and have some form of written policy so that police officers can be held accountable if they are not followed. It is a kind of control over individual officer discretion, so that their judgment is restricted in certain circumstances. Another factor that influences discretion is the characteristics of the suspect. The demeanour, style of dress and grooming may influence police discretion. Poorly groomed suspects can expect less respectful treatment. Some officers treat men and woman differently. Very rarely will an officer arrest a woman.
Police discretion is also influenced by the situation and offender variables that encompass the circumstances of the situation in which the officers are involved in. The seriousness of the crime, prior criminal record, strength of the evidence, victim preference, relationship between the victim and suspect, demeanour of the suspect, characteristics of the victim, race, ethnicity and gender of the suspect, behaviour, visibility of the event i.e. media or witnesses, neighbourhood characteristics,...

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