The police. Twenty-four hours a day, three hundred sixty-five days a year, this division of our government has a mandate to enforce the criminal law and preserve public peace. Understood in this mandate is an obligation to police everyday life matters that originate in the daily lives and activities of citizens within their community. Police interact in some form with the average citizen more often than any other government official. In society today the police play a key role in maintaining a civil society. This role assumes a substantial amount of power and authority over the general public. With power comes corruption and/or misuse of power. The question that is presented is, how and why do the police exceed the parameters of their power and authority?
This is an issue that is predominant in urban settings, but not exclusive to these settings. This is an important issue because it effects all people. The police is a government service to all people, but all people do not feel they are being serviced. Not everyone is satisfied with the conduct of the police. Why do people feel that police are crossing boundaries that they should not be? This will be observed from four different aspects in which police are capable of exceeding the parameters of their power and authority: police and use of discretionary enforcement, "Police justice", police harassment, and the unwarranted use of police authority.
Police are allowed to and must use personal discretion in their determination of law enforcement. Unlike a judge or lawyer a police officer can not gather information and take time to make a prognosis to make a decision affecting the fate of a person. He must make a quick decision based on his discretion to determine the fate of a person.. "...a quick decision is required to protect the interests of the public and to satisfy requirements of operating efficiency" (Reiss, p.130) Now we are telling officer to not enforce the law, but to determine the law.
A policeman's discretionary decision may then be evaluated by others both inside and outside of the department. This is the cause for a further complication in the processes because in order to avoid criticism the police officer then might use his own sense of justice. This "police justice" is basically having the officer conduct his own trial. This usually satisfies probable cause but also has the officer concluding a suspect's guilt and a arrest that he determines justifiable. That also leads to the fact that citizens who behave antagonistically towards an officer are more likely to be arrested than those who are civil or very differential. Donald J. Black reported in "Police control of Juveniles", American sociological Review February 1970, that when Complaints are present 72 percent of adults who behave antagonistically toward the police are arrested in the field while only 45 percent who are civil and 40 percent who are differential toward the police are arrested. This is an obvious misuse of discretion. When a police officer treats a citizen antagonistically there is not much the citizen can do, but when it is the citizen acting antagonistically it more than likely will be a determination of guilt.
When a police officers judgment is constantly questioned and his sense of justice is not validated he may lose his commitment to the system. Police are often alienated in the criminal justice system, in a sense there status is demeaned by the decisions of lawyers and judges. They are treated as less of a professional. To see a person who in the officer's discretion was guilty be released time after time, it is difficult for the officer to keep his commitment to the system. "Where moral commitment is lost, subcultural practices take over. One such practice that exacerbates the relationship of the police with the public is harassment" (Reiss, p.138) Therefore police create their own subcultural...