Police Discretion

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In performing their duties, police are allowed to use a wide range of discretion. Police discretion “is defined as the power enjoyed by a public officer to make a choice among possible courses of action or inaction”(Green & Kelso, 2010). Using police discretion, officers can decide whether to make an arrest, and make decisions about the amount of force to use during an altercation. Factors that affect these decisions are race/ethnicity, the seriousness of the offense, the suspect’s demeanor, poverty and social marginality, the desires of the complainant, the rule of law and policy issues and organizational norms, and neighborhood characteristics Police discretion can be harmful as some police officers intentionally use their powers of discretion and their authority to perform acts of misconduct (Banks, 2009, p. 30). Officers use discretion in regard to other crimes as well. The most frequent include potential hate crimes, domestic violence, drunk driving, and crimes involving the mentally ill (Scott, n.d.).

Police use of force is a major issue in policing. In many confrontations with the public, it may become necessary for a police officer to administer force to take control of a situation. Oftentimes, this force takes the form of hand-to-hand combat with a suspect (Mangan, n.d.). While there is acceptance of the fact that police are allowed to use force, there is a degree of certainty as to what is regarded as excessive or unnecessary force (Banks, 2009, p. 34). Police discretion allows police officers to use the amount of force they deem necessary to apprehend a suspect. The amount of force to be used by police officers is usually described in police manuals as no greater than necessary and reasonable in a given situation (faulty.ncwc.edu). However, this is not always the case.
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