What does the common person know about police discretion. We watch shows like Cops and Law & Order, which give us nice story lines, but no real facts. What does police discretion mean?
Police discretion is an essential part of the job function of a police officer. Each day officers face decisions about arresting someone, letting them go with a citation or verbal warning. This discretion holds a great deal of power, a power that most police officers respect and never abuse.
In this article, police discretion will be looked at in-depth and 10 examples of police discretion will be given. These examples will then be used to show whether discretion was used in a reasonable fashion or was an abuse of power. With the badge, a person has an unbelievable amount of power. With this power also comes responsibility. Police officers are expected to know all the elements of laws, down to the tiniest detail. They have to know if the crime is a misdemeanor or felony and the only way of knowing that is knowing the elements of the law that has been broken.
Police officers must be aware of important case laws, such as the Terry frisk, Miranda warning and so forth. The choice to arrest or give a court summons is at the discretion of the police officer.
Police discretion is something a police officer faces every single day on the job and its one of the most important tools he or she has. This discretion simply boils down to whether an arrest can or should be made. Discretion is loosely defined as giving a person a choice of action and in police terms, a freedom to make that choice. This freedom gives the officer a chance to let someone go instead arresting them, cutting the wrongdoer a break and letting the person go home.
Examples of Police Discretion
- Traffic Violation – Failed to stop at red light – An officer can use discretion on a driver who failed to stop at a red light. The driver might have missed the sign by accident or be unfamiliar with the area. As long as the officer detects no alcohol or narcotics, he or she can choose to let the driver off with a warning. This is a reasonable use of officer discretion as people do make mistakes and the officer realizes this.
- Traffic Violation – Driving Under Influence (DUI) – An officer can choose to make an arrest in this situation or have the person call another person for a ride home and have the vehicle towed. This discretion is limited in a way, as the officer is understandably not allowed to let a person continue to drive home while intoxicated. This discretion is reasonable, as with both choices the threat someone will die that day or night has ended.
- Domestic Violence – Police officers have some discretion when it comes to domestic violence. The choices are if the officer can see a visible mark on one of the two or more parties, the other person is arrested and in most states, it is a law. If both parties are equally involved in the violence then both parties are either arrested or told to separate for a time to allow the anger to dissipate.
If children are involved, one parent (usually the aggressor in the situation) will be removed for the time being, so that the children will not be handed over to Department of Human Resources (DHR) or Department of Children and Families (DCF).