Police discretion is the ability to make decision of action to take in regard to policy and practice. It is the power a police officer has to choose the right course of action when faced with a particular case. This involves the authority to use the best means to maintain peace and order and to help the helpless (Walker and Katz, 2002). The choice he or she makes must suit the given circumstance. Since there is no given law or policy that rules out how an officer should handle all scenarios that he may come across in the field, they are forced to be flexible so that they can be able to handle all the cases they come across.
Goldstein (1977) argues that, it is important to have police discretion based on their nature of work and the environment under which they work. In most cases, officers are always in the field alone, thus being in direct contact with citizen. In case something happens that requires police input, the officers in the field must act very fast which involves making quick decisions leaving no room for consultation (Hunt, 1985). Furthermore, due to lack of a clear line that distinguishes the level at which criminal behavior needs sanction or need to be ignored, police discretion comes handy.
Police discretion allows some crimes to pass through little or no police intervention (Walker and Katz, 2002). This may results to some resource or economical benefits since there are no adequate prisons, jails, community-based rehabilitation centers or courts to deal with crimes if all were to go through the set criminal justice system. Nevertheless, this doesn’t put into consideration additional police who will be required to handle all the crime cases that will translate to additional financial burden that this will translate on the tax payers (Engel 2003).
However, police discretion is an issue that has been made public in the United States especially when use of physical force to restrain, use of deadly force and where incapacitating tools are applied. The public is never happy when there is uncontrolled or over use of discretion. This involves areas where there is violation of human or individual rights, seizures, protection against unreasonable searches and compelled self-incrimination (Walker and Katz, 2002). Misuse of police discretion harms the community and the results is strained relationship between the police and the community (Engel 2003).
Managing or controlling police discretion is very tricky since situations that needs officers to act are different and still, officers are individuals who thinks differently. However, standards to control police discretion can add value on the police work which will in return benefit the community at large (Hunt, 1985). Police discretion are aimed at enabling officers to function effectively, main agenda being to support community goals since they responds to needs that arise in the community and requires police responsibility function Goldstein (1977).
However, despite the shortcomings of police discretion, it is important and cannot be eliminated completely. Engel (2003) points three main ways of controlling police discretion. These methods are: establishing procedures, policies and law enactment that puts some measures to encourages reasonable use of police discretion. Furthermore, individuality of human nature which involves different behavior characteristics and personalities of police officers and supervisors can prevent full control of police discretion. References Engel, R. S. 2003.
How police supervisory styles influence patrol officer behavior. Research for Practice, National Institute of Justice. Washington DC: U. S. Department of Justice. Goldstein, H. 1977. Categorizing and structuring discretion. Chapter 5 (pg. 93-130) in Policing a Free Society. Cambridge, MA: Ballinger Publishing Company. Hunt, J. 1985. Police accounts of normal force. Urban Life 13(4): 315-341. Walker, S. and Katz, C. M. 2002. The history of American police. Chapter 2 (pg. 22-56) in The Police in America: An Introduction, Fourth Edition. Boston: McGraw Hill.