Discretion is defined to be an individual’s capabilities and freedom to make responsible preferences and judgments. People working in all fields require making decisions in every day life; however, some need to be more proficient at it. Police officers usually fine themselves in chaotic and critical situations, where their decision can change the entire scenario. The most appropriate decision within the legal boundaries must be made, varying from situation to situation.
Discretion is broadly characterized as five different subjects – discretion by judgment (sense of bending rules in legally appropriate ways to fit the situation), discretion as choice (to show courage and give personal contribution to form decisions as the authority in that situation), discretion by discernment (to be diplomatic, tolerant, considerate and cautious and not very generous while making decisions), discretion as liberty (to not be restricted by the law and stretch boundaries of freedom as long as it is acceptable) and lastly discretion as license (basically the permission to act there and then in whichever way thought to be appropriate without the permission of the superiors).
There are some police officers who abuse their right of discretion; they believe that they are unaccountable and since they are the authority at the point of chaos, they can do as they will. Having the right of discretion does not mean that an officer can make whatever decisions that they will; they are restricted by professional, society, legal and ethical norms (Sullivan, 1972). The officers these days have just the right capacity of discretion. The only major areas that they use discretion in are domestic violence, drunk driving, mental illness, hate crime, use of force and even vice crime.
These are the areas where the personal opinion and judgment of the police officers matters while arresting or giving punishments. In the rest of the important and critical areas such as rape, murder, dacoits and robberies; they have to abide by the law whether they personally approve of it or not. Only easy and fields of everyday crime are left up to the intellect of these officers. Since, there are only some areas where officers are given the right to exercise discretion, it is easy to conclude that the officers are neither given too much or too less of power. Giving them the right to decide is rational because they have been selected as officers and have been given good enough training, which gives them the sense of making correct decisions.
These officers make up the entire police force, thus, their opinion should also matter – however, to only some extent. The problems that these police officers face while enforcing laws and giving verdicts is that there are hardly any fields involved in the police forces that are uncontroversial; usually, everybody has a different stance on things. Also, there is a problem is public confidence – the public is too unpredictable to please (Walker, 1993). They desire accountability but nothing seems to satisfy them; also, they wish for strict enforcement in only those areas that they are not related to, that is, they want leverage for themselves but not others.
This controversial and unpredictable attitude makes it difficult for the police offers to come up with the right solution that will make everybody happy. I have witnessed one such event myself where differing opinions lead to confusion. A mentally disabled boy of around seventeen became a source of disturbance to other boys playing cricket. One of them was violent and hit the mentally disabled boy out of frustration, who hit the boy back causing him to bleed. Surprisingly, a police car was passing from there at that instant and stopped to check the situation. Everybody demanded that the mentally disabled boy should be punished for his act as he often becomes a cause of nuisance in the neighborhood.
The police officer was by nature sympathetic and was of the opinion that the mentally ill boy should be let go of as he is underprivileged and does not possess the ability of making sensible decisions. Here, in this chaotic situation, even when the public was against the officer’s decision, he used his power of discretion and made an appropriate decision according to his judgment instantly. This shows that the right of discretion is extremely important for an officer to deal with everyday situations. Although, if you look closely, it was not a situation where major or critical decisions need to be made; thus, the police officer without any doubts and fear abided by his opinion – this shows limitation of power of discretion to only some areas.