Police Discretion and Personal Responsibility

Discretion is active decision making for police officers, and can be a decision that means the difference between life and death for both the officer and potential arrestees. Because of the split-second decision making that is required as an officer, discretion is used by officers in the field. While following the standard regulations is a vital part of the job, discretion allows officers to use their own best judgment to make the call in situations that could be potentially life threatening.

In the scenario described, the female officer had given the suspect several chances to stop behaving aggressively (2). Since the man was fleeing, it can be assumed that he was either a fleeing felon (1), or that he was a danger to society in another way. Also, since the suspect was attacking the officer, it can be assumed that he had intent to harm the officer. The FBI policy, however, does state that deadly force can’t be used to stop a suspect from fleeing (1).

In hindsight, calling for backup may have been a more appropriate action, but chances are good that the struggle would have ensued long before backup arrived. The FBI policy also states that it is improper to judge the officer’s action from a calm view, and that judging the officer’s actions should take a first person point of view from the time that the incident occurred (1). From a first person point of view, it was not the intent of the officer to stop the suspect from fleeing using deadly force, but to detain him (2).

The officer did not draw her weapon until the suspect began attacking her, which would fit into the guidelines given by the FBI training policy (1). Discretion is controlled largely by implementing policies that provide guidelines for officers to follow. The guidelines can be used in a court of law to determine whether or not the officer used deadly force in accordance with the guidelines, or not (3). Not only are these policies and guidelines used for training purposes, they also serve as a working knowledge for officers to refer when using discretion in the field (3).

For example, officers must wait until they are in imminent danger before they can use their weapon in the field (3). The officers must pay attention to detail, and use the knowledge that they have about the situation, to determine their actions. Taking into account the frequency of death among officers, and the need for split second decision making, knowing when to use deadly force can potentially save the life of the officer (3). References: 1. FBI Training on the New Federal Deadly Force Policy. 2. Deadly Force in the Defense of Life. 3. Introduction to Policing, Appendix C.