Police Discretion

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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. 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...
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