Police Discretion, Essay Example

Under most circumstance the police should enforce the law in an equitable manner. They are however provided with discretionary powers to deal with individual circumstances.  For example a motorist goes through a red light instead of stopping ( minor traffic violation). The Police Officer pulls the motor vehicle open he has a number of options available: give the person a ticket, issue a caution and warning, which may take the form of written or verbal. This is referred to as police discretion. (Aberle, 2011)

Often police are called to domestic disputes between married couples. Without discretion the couple might find themselves arrested, placed in handcuff and as such become an unnecessary part of the criminal justice system.  Whereas, the issue may be just a subject that got overheated and the couple were not listening to each other but just immersed in anger and rage.  By sitting them both down and getting them to talk to each other in a calm manner; it may not warrant an arrest.  If the officer is not fully satisfied the issue is defused he may insist that they go to counselling sessions. This negates what might otherwise result in a costly legal process.

Police don’t have discretion in certain circumstance. For example if the Police officer is making a felony arrest the officer must arrest the suspect and take the person into custody. Normally the arresting officer will try to obtain compliance to the law by taking the least intrusive action, however the law defines those situations where the law must be strictly interpreted.


Strengths Weaknesses
Provides more flexibility and discretionary power to the police officer. It can lead to confusion in the community owing to different interpretations of the law
Makes the officers role more meaningful Whether you be the police or the public disparities in style from different officers are unpleasant
May help in saving the taxpayer money by unnecessary court/admin time Departmental policy might state all seat belt violators are ticketed; whereas the officer might only issue a caution for a speeding offence
Equity of the law exists but allows flexibility for minor misdemeanours Police may be delving into areas without specific knowledge e.g.  psychology, sociology
Provides a more positive interaction between the police and the public  

The vast majority of police officers in the USA are hardworking individuals serving the public in a responsible and ethical manner.  Their job is to build up confidence and trust in local communities and be seen to be an integral part of that community. Other discretionary difficulties arise when an Officer makes a decision not to investigate a reported disturbing event; this particularly where it is believed that a criminal act has been carried out.  This often has a wide ranging ramification where a subsequent crime is proven to have taken place. Investigations carried out into one large municipal police force indicated that the police made a wide range of discretionary decisions when it came to deciding whether or not to invoke the criminal process.  Most of the items investigated were basic honest decisions but perhaps not the best policy decisions in all circumstances. Much of the decision making process being governed by the Police Manuals in terms of responsibility for the purpose and prevention of crime.


Aberle, R. (2011). The Administration of Justice 2nd Ed. New York: Kendall Hunt Pub .