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Police Discretion

Categories: DiscretionPolice

Police Discretion Should Be Enhanced Police discretion can be defined as can be examined in many ways. A police officer’s belief system consists of his or her beliefs, attitudes, values, and other subjective outlooks. Regardless of any factors, there is always room for improvement and police officer’s discretion should be enhanced. All police officer’s use discretion in every situation they encounter. Officers realize they are constantly in the public eye and every move they make is watched by someone.

Now with today’s technology, police officer’s are subjected to being recorded by mobile devices of all types during traffic stops and many other types of encounters. Officers who have made mistakes in the past can vouch that they should have used better discretion in their decision-making. A review of definitions of police discretion notes that there is no legal definition of the term, but the most widely quoted definition is that of Kenneth Culp Davis: “A public officer has discretion whenever the effective limits on his power leave him free to make a choice among possible courses of action or inaction.

Culp also stated that, “The police are among the most important policymakers of our entire society. And they make far more discretionary determinations in individual cases that any other class of administrators; I know of no close second. ” (Sanders) James Q. Wilson and other scholar’s opinions differ from Davis and Remington. Wilson were aware of the possible abuse by police but understood the certainty of discretion and the innate opportunities for problem solving it offered police and agencies.

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Wilson wrote in 1968, “The patrolman, in the discharge of his most important duties, exercises discretion necessarily, owing in part to his role in the management of conflict and in part to his role in the suppression of crime. ” The issue was to get rid of unnecessary discretion and enhance and shape discretion. (Wilson) Police officers can be synthesized into five types of police officers: the professional, the top cop, the clean beat crime fighter, the problem solver, and the avoider. Other factors related to police attitudes can include human nature, role orientation, legal restrictions, and clientele.

Some police officers focus on processes, others on outcomes. Their attitudes also vary regarding selective enforcement, organizational context, job satisfaction, supervision, their peers, promotions, and coercion. Most of the policing innovations been tried in an effort to address rising crime along with an and police budgets have in common an increased level of individual police discretion and the encouragement of leadership and decision-making at all levels, particularly in the field. These approaches include team policing, the use of civilians for some positions, and crime prevention programs requiring community involvement.

In effect, police are increasingly being allowed to approach true professionalism. Although Police have long considered themselves to be professionals, they have lacked two crucial elements: adequate training and freedom of discretion. (Pratt) They have been trained to make few decisions on their own and are trained to perform in accordance with prescribed standards to ensure they treat everyone the same. When officers, regardless of their motivations, fail to do what they should; “discretion” is no excuse. (Metzgar) In a research study by Criminologist, George L.

Kelling, he took a special interest in Police Discretion and how it was used in the enforcement of the law. Kelling was interested in why some officer’s arrest suspects in certain situations while other officer’s may not arrest. It was Kelling’s belief that giving officer’s the okay to use their own discretion it also gives an officer the responsibility to make the right decision. (Metzgar) During the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, Frank Remington, Herman Goldstein and others advanced the notion that police departments are comparable administrative agencies whose omplex work is characterized by considerable use of discretion. Remington and Goldstein advocated for the development of guidelines that helped shape police discretion. They basically helped to shape the formation of the importance of discretion as law enforcement has progressed through the years. Management can provide policy manuals, rules and regulations to no end but it is almost impossible to be with an officer to explain or help an officer make a decision in a seconds. (Ohlin) That is why it is important to teach the officer’s to think about things before hey act upon them, make the decision and then talk about it with other officer’s or a supervisor. In 1965, Frank Remington wrote, “The police should play a major role in fashioning and implementing a proper law enforcement policy for their community. ” Remington drew and analogy between the Federal Trade Commission, an administrative agency with the accountability to develop enforcement policy, and local police departments, which have similar responsibilities. (Ohlin) For decades the United States Supreme Court has issued decisions to limit police discretion is a central part of police methods.

Courts have repeatedly ruled that police officers have both training and experience not common to others, based on which they should use increasingly wide discretion. Therefore, police supervisors should encourage the increased use of discretion, which is crucial to police effectiveness. (Ohlin) In a study that took place in Boulder County, Colorado, a study of police discretion examined the perceived appropriate response to a variety of petty offenses depicted in the vignettes among the police officers of varying ranks in 8 police agencies, 11 probation officers, 21 prosecuting and 52 defense attorneys, 16 judges, and 1183 citizens.

The respondents we asked to specify the appropriate reaction from among options ranging from take no action to arrest intake to jail. (Reiner) In most cases, differences among groups and within groups were minor. The differences were largely among the options of, take no action, obtain warrants, or refer to a social service agency. Secondly, they chose to issue a summons and arrest. And in not one case did significant portion of any group surveyed choose the option of take no action while another chose the option of summons or jail. In general, police responses reflected the desires of citizens in their communities.

Court personnel were more likely to differ from police, being more lenient in some cases and more punitive in others. (Reiner) One example is at the Gaston County Courthouse the Court Personnel tend to use “warnings” more than arrest due to the constant control to keep order in the courtroom. Although arrests may happen in the courtroom at times, more times than none the arrestee falls under the, “contempt of court” rule. There are many studies done on police discretion and most of them have the opinion that discretion should be enhanced. Officers are often being onfronted with the decisions as to whether to make an arrest on the complaint of a person and figure out who is in the best judgment of the investigating officer as a non-credible witness. Officers are responsible for making a judgment if there is enough probable cause or not. Without experience or knowledge of the law, a police officer would not be able to make any decision of discretion. A discussion of the impact of training on the use of police discretion recommends formal training derived from the experiences of effective veteran officers.

Another article considers the value of empirical studies of the consequences of various police uses of discretion for three distinctive conceptual models of police decision-making. (Klinger) Past and current police administrators have shaped police work through the development of command and control, recruitment, training, supervision, rules and regulations, rewards and punishment, specialization, and other tactical training. It is especially important for officer’s to have mandated training every year and other non-mandatory training as well. Most officers are encouraged to participate in as much training at the state level as possible. Wilson) As a supervisor for approximately eight patrol officers, a lot of weight falls on my shoulders. I am ultimately responsible for each of those “split second” decisions that each individual officer makes. As a department we have our own set of policy and procedures but it is up to the officer to understand them and utilize them. It is always the goal of a good supervisor to have good policy in place and help officers to understand the policy. As a veteran officer and supervisor I do my best to maintain a relationship with my officers with an open door policy.

It is impossible as a supervisor for me to be present at every call for service. Therefore if an officer has a problem with making a decision then they will call a supervisor to assist them. I talk with the officer about what the call for service involves and ask the officer what decisions can be made. This tactic helps the officer to think for himself rather than depend on me for an answer. With this tactic it will help the officer with the confidence to make his own decisions and rely less on a supervisor unless needed. It begins linking the best solution and weighing out the best tactical decision to the solution as well.

Our jobs are all about officer safety and public safety. All of these things are a part of discretion, because it is easier to call a supervisor with experience to help make the decision than to make the wrong one. It is easier to address a mistake before the decision is made than to address the mistake after an arrest. During any event that an officer requests assistance it is an opportunity for me as a supervisor to educate the officer on the correct method or procedure. At times it is after the officer has made a decision using inappropriate discretion that the officer is forced to fix the problem or face a complaint.

These opportunities also assist me as a supervisor to educate the officer to interrupt future discretionary issues. These opportunities also allow me to talk to the officers about their professionalism and safe practices in a way that shows their current experience levels, their wisdom and values that go sometimes unacknowledged in police work. Understanding the officer’s knowledge of current policy and procedure and expectations is an important part of supervision. Officer’s who have problems following the rules is often noted through complaints from the public and through officer evaluation.

An officer who is often reprimanded is the officer who avoids responsibility and breaks the rules. Through these factors it is easier to identify behaviors that can sometimes be corrected before it is too late. If the officer is problematic then this is a way to weed out the bad officer’s that should not have the authority to enforce the laws. I have experienced even veteran officer’s at times who think they know everything there is to know about police work. I have heard the statements made such as, “It was my decision to not arrest him. I find these attitudes fall under the lines of complacency and laziness within officers. They do not realize the importance of their decision making. This is where education also comes into play even with veteran officers. If education is not put into place then the younger officers will follow the lead of the complacent veteran officers. In most police calls that officers respond to the decision making process does not even fall under the lines of discretion. Most calls for service fall under the guidelines of a North Carolina General Statute where the officer “shall” arrest and the officer has no choice.

Other calls are responding to assist homeless people, intoxicated individual passed out near the street causing a public nuisance, juvenile issues, traffic accidents and many others. Officers have the right to turn a blind eye to the situation but mostly they have to respond with the appropriate action that is necessary. The officer may not want to take the appropriate action but they know they must make the right choice or weigh the consequences. As police officer’s we are faced with being held accountability for every decision that we make.

This helps to encourage the officer into making the right decisions because if they don’t then the officer can face disciplinary action within the department, civil liability and sometimes criminal. The public relies on officers to make the right decisions and maintain order and peace. If society aims to use regulation to make the police accountable to the citizens they serve, society’s rules must not only channel accountability, but must create enhanced discretion. As a department and society we trust every officer to carry a deadly weapon and to protect and serve his or her community.

We must also trust them to use their own discretion to take care of any problems they encounter. We must always remember that police officer’s are the first responders and are faced with making split-second decisions. They are the one who are trained in law enforcement to make the best decisions possible. Police officer’s are the ones who risk their lives to protect ours and we must trust them and their discretion. In any field of work there is always room for improvement. Police officer’s have a different type of accountability than most employers have.

Police officer’s are the peace keepers and the public relies on the police to make the right decisions no matter what the situation. In police work there is always room for further education and improvement, this will only better the quality of discretion. Discretion is limited. Officers and departments cannot do certain things. Officers may use discretion in whatever way they deem necessary as long as it falls under the guidelines of their policy and procedures. There will always be limits in discretion and through policy and procedure there are hopes that officers will make the right decisions.

Police policy and procedure is always going to be in place so the better the officer’s knowledge of the rules and regulations although repetitive it will always are one of the most important parts of police work. In “Broken Windows,” one of the authors concludes that “social psychologists and police officer’s tend to agree that if a window in a building is broken and is left unrepaired; all the rest of the windows will soon be broken. ” (Metzgar) This statement alone is very profound. We cannot continue to fall back on how we do our jobs and our effectiveness.

We can use this statement as an example of helping younger officers and even some veterans understand the importance of making the right decisions in police work. As officers if our discretion is not improved and enhanced then we have no guidelines to remain consistent in our work. The decisions we make affect everyone. There is always room for improvement no matter what job you are doing. It is all about giving your best and doing the best job you can do to keep the public safe and your department proud. Works Cited Klinger, D. A. “Bringing Crime Back In: Toward a Better Understanding of Police. Journal of Research in Crime and Deliquency 33. 3 (1996): 333-336 Carl R Metzgar. “Broken Windows. ” Professional Safety 49. 12 (2004): 19. Pratt, C. E. “Police Discretion. ” Law & Order 40. 3 (1992): 99. Ohlin, L. E. “Discretion in Criminal Justice: The Tension Between Individualization and Uniformity. ” New Directions in Crime and Deliquency (1993): 3-82. Reiner, R. “Policing, Volume II – Controlling the Controllers: Police Discretion and Accountability. ” National Criminal Justice Reference Service II (1996): 6-12. Sanders, F. “Justice Studies for Police and Criminals. ” (1992): 1-6. Walker, S. Taming the System: The Control of Discretion in Criminal Justice 1950-1990. ” (1993): 207. Walker, S. & Katz, C. M. , The History of American Police: The Police in America: An Introduction, Fourth Edition. Boston: McGraw Hill (2002): 22-56 Worde, R. E. “Police Officer’s Belief Systems: A Framework for Analysis. ” American Journal of Police 14. 1 (1995): 49-81. Klinger, David A. 1997. Negotiating order in patrol work: An ecological theory of police response to deviance. Criminology 35(2): 277-306. Wilson, James Q. , Varieties of Police Behavior, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, (1968): 278.

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Police Discretion. (2020, Jun 02). Retrieved from

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