Law Enforcement and Police Discretion

The video demonstrates a conversation between states Sergeant Davis of the Wisconsin State Capitol Police and an 87-year-old citizen, Mary, about the police discretion towards the Solidarity Sing Along singing protest. Mary is a visitor to the Capitol who asked some questions regarding the events emerging over the noon hour with the protesting group of singers (Amsterdam, 2013). The main reason was that Unlawful Assembly was declared on three different days during the last week of the events; however, the police made no arrests. A police sergeant explains the notions of police discretion and the related law enforcement. As such, the use of discretion by police is an obligatory approach in terms of contemporary policing.

Police discretion refers to the individual decision or judgment of the police officer regarding the appropriateness of courses of action. It is a necessary approach to filter violations and investigate the most critical offenses in the first place. Cox, Massey, Koski, and Fitch (2019) state that the police are considered professionals and, therefore, “must exercise discretion wisely and ethically” and stay responsible to the public they are sworn to serve (p. 239). The police sergeant Davis explains the discretion through the example with the investigatory stops (Amsterdam, 2013). It is one of the pivotal areas where police have discretion in deciding who to stop as many citizens commit some violation or crimes throughout the day. Additionally, it is appropriate to exercise discretion in ticketing and arrests. Police officers have justly broad discretion concerning the process of issuing traffic tickets and other non-serious citations.

Also, the police are allowed to give warnings under specific circumstances when they believe this would be the most efficient way to protect the public. At times, the officers have discretion regarding the decisions on arresting the offender and how to do it. Nevertheless, when police operate without a warrant, they must decide whether the violence or crime is sufficient to justify the arrest. With this said, police discretion is an integral approach to policing and law enforcement to ensure public safety and allocate the police actions appropriately. Discretion implies selecting the most appropriate course of action by police officers in favor of human rights and ethical policing.


Amsterdam, L. (2013). The nice thing about law enforcement is that we have discretion [Video]. YouTube. Web.

Cox, S. M., Massey, D. W., Koski, C. M., & Fitch, B. D. (2019). Introduction to policing (4th ed.). SAGE Publications, Inc.

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