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Police Discretion

Police discretion is a criminal justice concern and one which is very important. Police face continual dilemmas between enforcing the spirit of the law or the letter of the law. Discretion in a broad sense is defined as an individual officer’s ability to make their decision on the principle of courses of action. While undergoing training police officers are often presented with a handful of impossible situations that they may face during the course of their career. These situations are far from an exhaustive list and many officers face situations that demand a personal decision and police discretion.

Many laws fail to cover every aspect and as such police officers need to use discretion where the law might be lacking. In situations where the law is ambiguous it is up to the officer to employ their discretion to arrive at a conclusion. Discretion is often used when there are many options and the officer must pick the choice that is best for the situation at hand. Discretion is a void located in the center of procedure ad policy. In some instances police discretion is limited or eliminated entirely. There are certain social and legal as well as professional and moral norms that police discretion must consider.

Police discretion has to take into account three categories of factors. These factors are linked to offender variables such as their age and their health as well as their gender and economic status. These situation variables might come into consideration when investigating a serious crime. For example: an officer might pull someone over for having a false registration sticker on their car. As a serious offense the officer has the discretion to review the circumstances and determine whether the action was part of a ring that sells illegal registration or whether it was merely a person who was scared and had fallen on hard times and was unable to pay for the new registration. Upon searching the vehicle the officer found no drugs or alcohol. The person in question had no record. But in the glove compartment were a series of overdue and unpaid bills. The officer was able to use discretion in this situation to determine that the action was not part of something bigger or more serious and was able to dole out the ticket and court date for a mere misdemeanor offense.

Police discretion is a good thing when used properly. It is something that police everywhere must face at some point in their career. It helps to fill the hole between the letter of the law and the spirit of the law.

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