Police discretion refers to the freedom of the police to exercise their own judgment in their line of work. Sometimes, police officers encounter situations that require quick decisions. Other times, they are in settings where the law does not explicitly explain how to proceed (Fadillah et al., 2020). In such circumstances and many more, police officers are free to make their own decisions about what to do. The law allows the police the discretion to exercise authority in the ways they see fit.
Police discretion is exercised when an officer decides, in a specific moment, what to do and how to react to the situation. Examples of decisions that may require an officer to use their own discretion include whether to arrest a person, whether to draw a weapon, whether to stop and search someone, and whether to fire their gun. No two situations are similar and therefore, different decisions are made under different circumstances (Fadillah et al., 2020). Discretion is allowed to ensure the police have enough flexibility to perform their job.
There are many factors that influence discretion including the suspect’s demeanor, nature of crime, departmental policy, and suspect’s characteristics. First, police officers are more likely to be lenient when the suspect is cooperative, remorseful, and respectful. Second, they are also likely to ignore a crime when they deem it to be harmless to society. Third, departmental policy influences discretion because some departments promote the use of discretion to a higher degree than others (Fadillah et al., 2020). Finally, some police officers exercise discretion depending on how they profile the suspect based on characteristics such as age, gender, and race. Therefore, there are numerous factors that determine how much discretion a police officer exercises in a given scenario.
Fadillah, F., Machyawaty, T., & Sitorus, T. (2020). Police discretion is a judgmental skill. Technium Social Sciences Journal, 14, 1-9.