The Effects of Police Discretion

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The police department is one of the few departments that are faced with unpredictable events. With such an environment where one has no clue on what he or she stands up to on a daily routine, the situation is made even more dangerous. Police officers are more often prone to death-causing circumstances than any other occupation all over the world. Every single day presents unique challenges to the police hence making preparedness very difficult (Klinger, 1997). These unpredictable circumstances are what the police discretion banks on.

It is impossible to have a unified problem-solving procedure during a crisis since no situation is like the other in most cases. This held, the police are more often than not left to act at their discretion. This happens with little or in most instances no supervision whatsoever. This paper sets to discuss the effects of police discretion, how internal and external police mechanism affects it, and offer solutions to the problems involved.

Benefits of police discretion

As pointed out clearly by Engel (2007), discretion involves law enforcement officials taking best-suited actions in a situation based on their judgment. In addition, the nature of the environment that police officers are forced to work under basically requires discretion (Carrington, 2003). It is impossible to uphold justice in every aspect that justice is has been disregarded. Police discretion allows for such instances where the legal procedure would be ineffective. In a case for example in traffic, a police officer is responsible to make sure the traffic laws are obeyed and if they are not followed, the officer must enforce compliance. However, it is in the discretion of the officer to determine whether or not it is worth following up on an overspeeding driver under the influence of alcohol or to give a warning.

Such discretions save the court unnecessary workload with cases that could have been resolved outside the confines of the court. The government lacks the resources to cater to such a workload. This may mean more financial burden for the government which is a negative economic impact. Police discretion is beneficial in the sense that police officers have the authority to determine and solve a dispute without involving the court (Carrington, 2003). With this, minor situations are resolved with ease and even faster. Nonetheless, internal structures force the police officers to overlook their privileges as provided by police discretion. This is mainly due to consequences a police officer can face as a result of his or her actions.

Shortcomings of police discretion

With all the benefits abound in the use of police discretion, the practice is not without fault. Police officers are different people with different minds and different approaches f situations. This, therefore, means that different officers will interpret a situation very different from the other. These disparities create a sort of confusion for the public and can cause chaos. The public also can not determine how an officer will or should behave in response to a problem. This, therefore, means that the public may not know the actual responsibilities of police officers and hence can not demand a service or report on service disregard (Palenzuela, 1988).

Police discretion is more criticized owing t the fact that it is virtually uncontrolled as well as unmonitored. This reality is the most dangerous aspect of police discretion that presents the debate on whether or not discretion is of essence in the police department. Some people feel that discretion present more harm than good to the public and security of country. Discretion provides a window for law breakers to get away with it. While the police offer reserve the right to determine whether or not a law offender deserves to be apprehended and arrested, there is a mishap on this discretion. One cannot conclusively rule out that all police officers are diligent in performing their duties (Palenzuela, 1988). This certainty alone presents a valid reason to question the soundness of police discretion.

Managing police discretion

The problem of betraying the law that is probable within the discretion of the police can be solved. However, this does not mean that police discretion must be removed. The exercise of police discretion has its advantages that exploiting them can only work to the good of the country. However, monitoring the extent to which police discretion is used is inevitable. This can work if the police department may come up with policies and problem solving procedures that aim at limiting and controlling the use of discretions (Tittle, 2004). Supervision patrol can be enhanced to keep check on field officers to make sure discretion is not abused. Strict laws governing the use of discretion also may be a subject for consideration (Tittle, 2004).

To have the use of discretion under control, the government can have some types of crimes lifted from police officer’s discretion.

This means if a felony of such agreed degree is committed, the offender must face police sanctions and be arrested. This narrows down the possibility of an officer turning a blind eye on an offence for whatever reasons whatsoever (Tittle, 2004). The government by doing this would prevent a lot of lawlessness as the law offenders take advantage of police officer’s discretions. This seals the possibilities for such circumstances in all aspects.


In my opinion I strongly support police discretion under the circumstances that it has some economical and time saving value. Some instances are more justified to have discretion employed. The police department can not afford to ignore the role of discretion in solving problems in the field. Sometimes problems occurring require timely solutions and delays can only make matters worse. With such situations, then discretion is of essence and can not be marginal.

Nonetheless, precautionary measures must be taken to prevent unlawful processes and cover for mistakes in the law enforcement process. Police discretion is better placed to drive a nation forward in terms of time spent to pursue legal redress. It provides timely solutions to problems and easy access to justice averting the overwhelming legal processes. This however comes with a price if proper measures are not deliberated upon.

It is in both the government and the public interest to uphold the rule of law and do everything to protect and abide to it. Police officers are responsible in making sure the law is upheld and adhered to strictly. However, some aspects of law enforcement are just out of reach and impossible to conform to. There has to be ways to bend the law for the good of the public and the country as well. That is the reason as to why police discretion is of essence as discussed above in this paper.


Carrington, P. J., & Schulenberg, J. L. (2003). Police Discretion with Young Offenders. Canada, C: Department of Justice Canada.

Engel, R.S. (2003). How Police Supervisory Styles Influence Patrol Officer Behavior. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice Office of Justice Programs.

Klinger, D. (1997). Negotiating order in patrol work: An ecological theory of Police response to deviance. Web.

Palenzuela, D. (1988). Refining the theory and measurement of expectancy of internal vs external control of reinforcement. Personality and Individual Differences , 9, 607-629.

Tittle, C.R. (2004). Refining control balance theory. Web.

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