Police discretion takes different meanings in relation to the person defining it. Some theorists define it as the free will to choose according to a particular situation. Others consider it to be the opposite of routine and habitual obedience, bringing in knowledge, skills and insight to provide a solution to a particular situation (Terrill, 2008). Discretion is also taken as discernment where an individual seeks to make good, virtuous choices by habit or wisdom that comes with experience (O’Connell, 2007). It includes making autonomous and individual decisions that take courage to have personal input in situations arising in one’s place of work. Others see it as a privilege to go against the rules, disobey one’s superiors without violating the rules or eroding the trust between them and their superiors or the public (Engel, 2009). However, it does not entail doing what one pleases but is bound by the norms which range from professional norms to societal norms and the legal and moral norms. An abuse of discretion is on the other hand seen as the failure by an individual to take into proper consideration the facts and law relating to a particular situation.
Police discretion takes different meanings in relation to the person defining it
The public is however dissatisfied with how the police officials are handling criminals. The way some are treated leaves a lot of unwarranted questions on the impartiality of the police force. From research, it has been found out that individuals create an impression on the police officers who decide on what to do to you when they apprehend you. Black males have been victims of harsh treatment while those that act with deference (good demeanor) towards the police are treated more leniently (O’Connell, 2007; Engel, 2009). Serious crimes are given more attention than minor crimes while cases where more acts of resistance are witnessed cause police overreaction. These variables create varied reactions towards individual discretion. Use of force has been regarded as one of the worst abuse of discretion observed by the police force. As a matter of fact, cases of increased police harassment have increased causing a public outcry. Police are using incapacitating tools to get criminals to confess. Human rights activists have accused them of going against the law to get their job done.
The police on the other hand defend their actions by citing different cases. For instance, they claim there is a great deal of ambiguity in some of the policies created leaving them to interpret the laws as would deem fit. They further cite that communities do not fully define criminal activities and how they should be punished. Thus, this leaves them with no choice but to act as they see befitting (Goldstein, 2007). In other cases, they faced cases that warranted different causes of action. For instance, domestic violence is a very delicate issue. Female victims have been found to be uncooperative, while the breadwinner’s arrest could prove to be hurtful to the family (Terrill, 2008). Thus, they look for alternatives such as mediation, counseling or social referrals. With such kind of decisions to be made, the police deem it fit to use all means to maintain law and order in a country as mandated by the law.
Some cases may however warrant use of force to quell public disorder. Such measures may be taken to dissuade another party from a particular course of action or physically intervene to stop them from going on with their activities. This use of force is however to be done according to the statutes provided (Goldstein, 2007). Force may be used when the lawbreaker refuses to desist or flees, or attempts to, from a serious scene of crime. The amount of force applied is permissible under the circumstances present. The principle of proportionality should be applied when applying force for defensive purposes to minimize the loss of life. Thus, proper utilization of powers and discretion in particular is vital for the continuity of a state. The police force should be responsible in handling the public to improve communication trust between the two entities. This will ease the rates of criminality in the locality.
- Engel, R. S. 2009. police supervisory styles: influence to patrol officer behavior. Research for Practice, National Institute of Justice. Washington DC: U.S. Department of Justice.
- Goldstein, Herman. 2007. Policing a Free Society: Categorizing and structuring discretion Cambridge, MA: Ballinger Publishing Company.
- O’Connell, Mary Ellen (2007). “Proportionality and the Use of Force in Conflict”. Jurist: Legal News and Research. Bernard J. Hibbitts. Retrieved 02nd November, 2010. http://jurist.law.pitt.edu/forumy/2006/07/proportionality-and-use-of-force-in.php.
- Terrill, William 2008. Situational-based determinants of police coercion. Justice Quarterly 19(2):215-248.