Police Discretion and the Use of Force

explanatory Essay
2111 words
2111 words

Discretion is defined as the authority to make a decision between two or more choices (Pollock, 2010). More specifically, it is defined as “the capacity to identify and to document criminal and noncriminal events” (Boivin & Cordeau, 2011). Every police officer has a great deal of discretion concerning when to use their authority, power, persuasion, or force. Depending on how an officer sees their duty to society will determine an officer’s discretion. Discretion leads to selective enforcement practices and may result in discrimination against certain groups of people or select individuals (Young, 2011). Most police officer discretion is exercised in situations with individuals (Sherman, 1984). Discrimination can lead to legal problems for an officer of the law. If discrimination due to an officer’s use of discretion results in a violation of due process it is a violation of the law (Young, 2010). Due process is the constitutionally mandated procedural steps designed to eliminate error in any governmental deprivation of liberty, life, or property (Pollock, 2010). One of the main concerns with using discretion is the possibility of it leading to a violation of due process by racial profiling. Types of Negative Police Discretion Racial profiling occurs when a police officer uses a “profile” as reasonable suspicion to stop a person with the intent to obtain consent to search their belongings (Pollock, 2010). These stops are usually traffic stops and the officer is looking to obtain consent to search the individual’s automobile. The “profile” used is based on race. In these cases, an officer is using their discretion to target minority groups because they believe they are involved in criminal activities... ... middle of paper ... ...rsation among researchers. The problem I see with the topic of conversation is there is not a lot of research done on the actual affects of the individual discretion of each officer compared to a department that has been educated in following policies more than personal discretion. In fact, from what I saw there is not much research on the effects of discretion at all. It seems like it is a topic that is overlooked when researching the effectiveness of a department. I feel like before more solutions are found on how to correct the problem of discretion, more research needs to be done on how discretion plays a role in every day policing. Until this research is conducted, all the articles published are on theories of discretion causing problems, and all of the solutions mentioned are methods to correct a problem that has not even been proven to be an issue yet.

In this essay, the author

  • Defines discretion as ity to make a decision between two or more choices. depending on how an officer sees their duty to society, discretion leads to selective enforcement practices and may result in discrimination.
  • Explains that racial profiling occurs when an officer uses a "profile" as reasonable suspicion to stop someone with the intent to obtain consent to search their belongings.
  • Explains that police have the uncontested right to use force when necessary to apprehend a suspect. an officer's discretion on use of force is based on judgment.
  • Explains that national studies on police behavior have failed to adequately address the issue of police discretion due to the lack of important research data.
  • Explains that ethical dilemmas entail the individual struggling with personal decision making, and sometimes results in a personal dilemma. utilitarianism does not agree with the idea of racial profiling.
  • Describes the measures taken to eliminate racial discrimination in the police culture, such as new officer recruitment and training and patrol work.
  • Opines that the concept of police discretion is a large topic of conversation among researchers.
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