The main objective of this paper is to reveal the importance of the use of discretion by police officers in the contemporary world. In this paper, I have tried to show both the advantages and disadvantages of the employment of police discretion. However, my main purpose is to establish the use of discretion as an advantageous practice for the criminal justice system. I have put emphasis on the fact that police discretion in the modern times is a useful exercise for saving time and space in jails. Police officers today have immense power in their field. They may use this power in the form of discretion to lessen the burden on the prison authorities and management. This can be done by resolving the issues outside the jails without arresting the minor offenders. Such practice may help in making a better society as minor offenders may get a lesson for the future. Writing tickets or resolving the issues on the street can be a lot more effective than crowding the jails unnecessarily with individuals who have done minor transgressions. I have focused on the fair use of discretion by the police officers to ensure a better functioning of the criminal justice system. I have highlighted the importance of fair use of discretion as laws are more necessary than using power of decision making. Thus, this paper is meant to provide a basic understanding of how police officers can use discretion in certain circumstances to avoid time-wastage and filling up jails. To sum up, the paper supports the use of discretion by the police officers to boost up their confidence in their own skills and ultimately strengthening the law enforcement unit.
The exercise of discretion in the criminal justice system is of immense importance. In general terms, discretion is an individual’s ability to choose an alternative from a number of probable guiding principles. As far as police is concerned, this unit of law enforcement is given training about various possible situations that may be encountered on the field. However, problems arise if they are faced with a new situation they have not handled previously. Thus, discretion is brought into play in such situations where they have a number of choices before finalizing a decision. It is important to note here that the laws of society do not cover each and every situation. In a similar fashion, police officers are not trained to deal with every situation. Therefore, a police officer has to use discretion in the light of the law of he/she faces a new challenge/situation.
In some cases, a police officer has to use discretion by ignoring certain law interpretations. In the contemporary world of today, discretion is used by police officers extensively. They enjoy enough power whereby they let people go for an inconsequential offence after giving them a ticket or talking them about it. Although, many people criticize the use of discretion by the police officers; discretion use by them may be beneficial. Giving police officers the power of discretion can save room in jails for more serious crimes rather than filling them up with minor offences.
A police officer may use discretion in a variety of circumstances making sure that everyone is treated in a fair manner under the prevalent law. Discretion may be used by a police officer for resolving domestic disturbances. For instance, if the police officer believes that both the parties were involved in the fight, he/she may use discretion to allow both the abuser and abused end the argument. Officers may use discretion to let the abuser stay at home and solve the issue with the family members without getting arrested. This means that the involved individuals may reconsider their argument and not get imprisoned. Such an exercise of discretion can surely save space in jails.
Secondly, discretion can be used in situations like public intoxication. This is because people who are intoxicated are not unsure of their condition. This is the reason little discretion should be used in such conditions. It as it is more important for the officer to identify whether there was a medical concern involved or the person was intoxicated. Such a practice may be beneficial as the jails do not get crowded for petty misdemeanors.
Disorderly conduct is sometimes offensive. However, a police officer may use discretion in such situations as every person has a different definition of improper conduct. One of the best examples in such respect is that of playing loud music. Youngsters may think it is fine to play music loudly in their garden. On the other hand, this may be thought of as disorderly by their neighbor. Therefore, if a police officer is called for help in such circumstances, it is more appropriate for him/her to use discretion to get the problem resolved without anyone being arrested and put behind bars.
Discretion may also be used in situations like unintentional trespassing. If the laws of trespassing are broken by someone accidentally who doesn’t know about not entering or going into a particular area; it is at this time that a police officer may use discretion after proper investigation. However, if trespassing is done deliberately; then it is necessary for the police officer to follow the law and get the culprit punished.
One of the other areas where it is important to exercise discretion is traffic stops. This is because there may be various reasons for people to drive in a certain manner. Therefore, it is essential for the police officers to understand the given circumstances and not arrest everyone for speeding or using mobile phones while driving, etc. It is better for the officers to first talk about the problem with the driver of the vehicle and then make a decision about putting a person behind the bars or not.
As far as my opinion is concerned, I believe that discretion must be used fairly and under the law. This is because many police officers may use their powers in a negative way by abusing it. It is exceedingly important for an officer to realize and understand that he must not interact with people in a discriminatory way. A police officer must always remember that policing is an honorable responsibility and everyone should be treated equally without any differentiation of color, age, gender characteristics, etc. A prejudicial person may never prove to be a good police officer as he/she will never be able to differentiate between good and bad, right and wrong. Prejudicial behaviors tend to harm a law enforcement department and its reputation.
I believe that police officers must use discretion while dealing with teenagers, mentally retarded individuals, females and elderly people. Minorities must also be given a chance to have their say and then it is better for the police officer to decide what is to be done or not.
It is important to mention here that the environment of the police officers is a great factor why they have to use discretion. The best example in this regard is that of a patrol officer who has a negligible supervision. Their field work frequently puts them in situations where immediate decision-making and discretion is required. In my opinion, discretion is particularly important at certain times for the general public to accept the authority of the officers. It is important to note that police officers are human beings too. They have their own opinions and thoughts regarding every situation and not every officer will use discretion in the similar way.
Police agencies are made strong due to the diverse nature and authenticity of the police officers. It is to be remembered that police officers are not machines and have their own individuality. This individualism and discretion use can be best understood by making a comparison between the perspectives of an experienced officer with the perspectives of a newly-recruited officer. Discretion is being used by an experienced police officer for several years whereas a rookie officer is not familiar with the proper usage of discretion. This is the reason a rookie officer tends to go by the law word by word and does not show flexibility in a majority of situations. On the other hand, an experienced officer knows that it is better to resolve the issue in a light manner if the offence is minor (Schulenberg, 2003). This is the reason experienced police officers recognize and understand the role of discretion in saving time and space for the criminal justice system. They tend to resolve minor issues by using discretion in order to not burden the criminal justice system and jails with minor offenders.
A considerable amount of discretion is employed by police while dealing with the juvenile delinquents. In particular, a police officer has to choose between issuing a casual warning, a strict warning, or taking the juvenile into custody. However, such decisions are influenced by a lot of factors including the experience, attitude and values of the officer. All such influences are considered as extra-legal (McKillop & Pfeifer, 2004).
In short, a lot of time and space can be saved by using police discretion fairly. Police officers all over the world have found it effective to consult the victims prior to deciding something. Discretion employment results in time-saving and less paper work. Although many police officers use discretion unfairly at certain times, it has helped the fair ones to get away with pointless time spent in arresting, charging, and sending culprits to jails. However, it is exceedingly important for the law enforcement authorities to be genuinely transparent and answerable for all the decisions taken by the officers.
It is also important for the citizens to understand that usage of discretion by police is a vital power. It is the responsibility of every individual to facilitate police officers in their interrogations and not be a nuisance. At the same time, a person who wishes to join police forces must realize and understand that the practice of policing has changed significantly in the recent years. It is required of a police officer to have stable and sensible mental level to make prompt but matter-resolving decisions. However, this shall also be kept in mind that every state and government is different and the circumstances keep changing too. It is also the high time to make amendments in the police department.
Every police officer should be allowed discretion according to his position in the department and his academic qualifications. A police officer who has not acquired proper education would not be able to make intelligent decisions based on ethical values and this could prove to be a problem not only for the law enforcement departments but also for the citizens. Therefore, it is the sole duty of the criminal justice system to make sure that discretion by police officers is used in the most appropriate ways. The police department can strengthen only when the police officers work honestly and properly, without abusing their powers.
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