Use of Police Discretion

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Use of Police Discretion How much discretion should the police have? Should any allowances be made for extenuating circumstances, or should a police officer follow the "letter of the law"? These are questions which are typically raised when discussing police discretion. Few issues in criminal justice raise more attention and outcry than an officer's ability to be flexible with a given situation. The authority to decide how to handle a specific situation has traditionally been left up to the police departments and their officers. The ability of an officer to act in a professional manner is expected as well as deserved in most cases, but the use of "common sense" when it comes time to exercise their powers is a trust issue which many disagree with. The general public will cry "false arrest" when the situation suits them and on the next hand file a writ of mandamus when it does not.

In 1956 when the American Bar Foundation "discovered" the topic of police discretion it was considered taboo. Prior to 1956 nobody would admit that discretion existed, for the attitude at the time (and even today to some extent) was that if any deviation from accepted procedure occurred, than it was a matter of corruption. After it was finally "discovered" many police administrators called for a "crack down" on police discretion and sought a clampdown through administrative measures. These new policies mandated closer control over individual officers, but soon lead the realization that police discretion is a necessary evil. This discovery illustrated how, if properly structured, police discretion could be put to could use.

This paper will discuss the use of discretion in police work, including its many interpretations of the definition. Also to be examined will be different opinions on whether or not discretion should be controlled, and...