Discretion is defined as an official action by a criminal justice official based on that individual’s judgment about the best course of action. With many aspects of policing, and a variety of calls they receive, officers must use discretion in all, if not almost all, interactions with potential criminals or the community. There is a proper way to use discretion and an improper. The proper way, also known as positive use of discretion can be present when there is use of good judgment, efficient use of scarce police resources, individualized justice, and sound public policy. Two examples of this positive use would be when an officer decides to unfound a case because there is lack of evidence or when a juvenile in fact violates the law, but it was such a minor offense that an arrest isn’t necessary. Abuse of discretion can also come in many forms. Including when the decision is influence by discrimination, there is a denial of due process, under enforcement of the law, poor personnel management, and an inconsistent policy present. Two examples of abusing police discretion are when racial profiling is used to arrest or make a case, and when there is a set policy within the department but the officers on the street make decisions that are not consistent with this policy. Seeing as there is a positive way to use discretion and ways to abuse discretion, there are factors limiting patrol officer discretion, and also factors influencing discretionary decisions.
The discretion of a patrol officer is not completely unlimited. There are three factors that come into play that limit patrol officer discretion. These factors include legal factors, administrative factors, and organizational culture factors. Within legal factors there are Supreme Court decisions, state court decisions, and state laws that all could limit an officer’s discretion. When an officer’s arrest results in going to trial or building a case, they must worry that a defense attorney could challenge the...
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