Police officers, when performing their duties, are required to use a certain level of discretion hence the presence of a thin blue line that they are not allowed to cross. Discretion is the ability, right, or power to act or decide as your judgment, choice, or freedom of sentence (Grant & Terry, 2017). Failure to act discretely, police officers will be considered to violate the law. As such, they need to decide on their own at a given moment on what to do. There are various instances in which police officers use discretion, such as; whether to make an arrest or draw a weapon, stop and assist someone, shoot a gun, issue a traffic ticket, and perform a search. However, there are no defined guidelines on police discretion, giving them an added advantage.
In most instances, police officers use discretion when faced with many results giving them complete control of the results they pick. However, they are advised not to use discretion to ensure that society learns to follow the law and avoid giving people the idea that they can do whatever they want. Discretion also allows police officers to utilize their experience and skills to determine the level of force to be used against a suspect (Grant & Terry, 2017). The officers get chances to choose and pick their enforcement opportunities, such as allowing them to focus their energy on situations where the offender broke the law recklessly. It also gives them a chance to determine where they should allocate resources. Lastly, the police officers have the power to decide the charges filed against a suspect by changing the nature of the costs faced by choosing a related or lesser sentence than a severe one.
Unfortunately, circumstances have occurred where extra-legal factors have been used and affected the suspects negatively. An example of such is black Americans being treated disparately in the criminal justice system. In the 1900s, racial disparities have affected many black Americans through emancipation by being targets of unique forms of sentencing, policing, and confinement (Grant & Terry, 2017). In the reconstruction era, the United States did not write laws discriminating according to race. However, even neutral laws impact disparately on black people. For example, the war on drugs has brought about policies such as habitual offender laws and drug-free zones that have brought about differential outcomes. For example, the drug-free zone laws prevent the sale of drugs in specific areas such as parks, playgrounds, schools, and housing projects. Those who sell or use drugs in and around these areas get punitive sentencing and get arrested violently and forcefully. In most instances, people who live around these areas are generally black Americans. Due to income and housing segregation, most of them sell drugs, get arrested forcefully, and face worse sentences than the Whites due to income and housing segregation.
There are many instances where discretion has been used wrongly, leading to riots and strikes as people try to fight for the rights of the oppressed. As such, discretion, should be used well, as it helps build society positively. Police officers, while using control, should never forget that everyone is human, and they have rights that they should be allowed to enjoy fully despite their race, affiliations, or offenses. When applying discretions, they should always follow the necessary and correct procedures when making an arrest.
Grant, H. B., & Terry, K. J. (2017). Law enforcement in the 21st century. Pearson.