Term Paper: Discretion Police Chiefs and Discretionary Situations "Nobody

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Discretion

Police Chiefs and Discretionary Situations

"Nobody wants a ministerial agency of justice, one that would ritually and religiously follow every rule and regulation down to the letter in a mechanistic, repetitive, assembly-line manner. Instead, we need responsible administrators -- officials who show good judgment and exercise discretion by assessing the context of each and every situation;" this is especially true of a modern law enforcement strategy (Stevens, 2004). Essentially, following the letter of the law with absolutely no adaptations based on individual cases and situations only creates an inefficient system that is not flexible enough for modern implementation in law enforcement. Police chiefs need to be able to make discretionary changes as needed, in order to keep their departments fluid and flexible enough to be able to handle contemporary challenges in policing efforts.

Discretion is the ability to make changes or decisions that may not uphold protocol one hundred percent, based on prior knowledge or experience in a particular situation. Essentially, "it brings knowledge, skill, and insight to bear in unpredictable ways…it involves making personal contributions, judgment calls, exercising autonomy, and individual solutions. it's about the courage to make your own decisions, to have personal input, following your conscience," (Stevens, 2004). Discretion empowers police to make decisions based on their best judgment and acute experience in particular circumstances. Overall, "police work is complex" and "police use enormous discretion," which "is at the core of police functioning" (Kelling, 1999, p 6). Using discretion in police work has become more of a recognized function of contemporary police practice as more research is done in regards to its nature and the complexities of crime in the modern world (Kelling, 1999). Yet, "discretion is not doing what you please" (Stevens, 2004). It is still very calculated and tailored to the problem-solving nature of law enforcement in general.

As such, discretion from police chiefs can help set a standard for guidance that can be followed by other officers. When a police chief exercises his or her discretion, it can have a powerful impact on the department. Therefore, "guidance from police executives and supervisors can be helpful in defining discretionary areas and the array of legitimate and effective intervention methods -- that is, the best practices culled from the experience of other officers" (Nila, 2012). As the top leaders of the department, police chiefs can set a tone as an example for the rest of the department to follow. Thus, when they make discretionary decisions that do not always follow protocol exactly, these can impact their ability to lead the department and set that example. The research suggests that "good administrative guidance from the chief and top officers is critical; it can help define the types of situations subject to discretion and the range of possible actions" (Nila, 2012). Police chiefs taking discretionary actions help better empower the rest of their departments.

There are a number of types of discretionary actions a police chief can make. Engaging with members of the community through implementing community policing practices often requires discretionary actions and decisions on behalf of a police chief. Often this includes "trying to engage their community members with the police to jointly address recurring crime and disorder issues through problem-solving efforts" that first gained popularity in the 1980s (Diamond & Weiss, 2005, p 9). Adhering to protocol often means isolating community members from the law enforcement process. Standard protocol tends to focus on the department and its officers as being removed from the community, a separate entity that simply engages the community if and when it has to. Thus, "for some chiefs, civil service rules and collective bargaining agreements may constrain the executive's latitude in decision-making in areas such as hiring, promotions, and assignments" (Diamond & Weiss, 2005, p 21). Here, the power remains isolated within the department, but this can also isolate individual officers and make police work less effective within an untrusting community. Justification for the exercise of discretion related to changes in protocol to promote community policing rests on the fact that reaching out to communities has a powerful impact on the productivity and success of field officers in particular locations (Fridell & Wycott, 2004). Discretionary decision making occurs often in community-policing programs where the members of the community are seen to augment underlying police strategies. It is clear that "community-oriented policing partnered the police and communities to promote innovative problem solving with a particular focus on prevention through education and through changing the environment of crime-prone areas. Discretion, wisely used, was seen as the solution, not the problem" (Nila, 2012). Discretion in regards to operating procedures and department organizational structure has helped empower efforts to implement community policing strategies. Allowing good judgment to see "that enforcing a law" could compromise the underlying mission and the team members set to execute it; "this good judgment -- or practical wisdom -- demanded certain moral skills such as the ability to truly listen, to empathize, to quickly perceive the particulars of a situation, and to imagine the consequences of alternative scenarios" (Nila, 2012).

There are a number of potential discretionary actions that may go beyond a step past simply following protocol in regards to how a police chief approaches the concept of community policing. For example, is order to allow the field officers to have more intimate access and a greater stance within the community they are advocating collaborative law enforcement practices with, police chiefs may hand over much more power in terms of the field officer's ability to make decisions and take action within that very specified jurisdiction. This is essentially allowing known police officers to take a greater role within the communities they are working in, therefore showing community members their commitment, but also their ability to best serve the community at large with their more intimate knowledge of the community's unique needs and demands. Known as "organizing for empowerment," such discretionary action can involve adapting rank and power structures where "community policing envisions the empowerment of officers to take independent action to solve problems, work with community leaders, and improve the social environment of the neighborhoods they serve" (Meese, 1993, p 4). This clearly differs from the traditional protocol of the hierarchy of power all leading back to the main executive branches of police departments. Essentially, police chiefs can reorganize power structures within their departments for certain tasks so that there is less time wasted having decisions come from outside the community that is in need. Under a more typical structure, field officers would have to clear decisions and actions with their division heads, which may not be so knowledgeable about unique community needs, especially in larger urban areas with a greater diversity in regards to individual community types and structures. Empowering beat officers on their patrols within communities that have a relationship with them is the primary element of this discretionary alternative that makes it so successful within employing community policing methods (Fridell & Wycott, 2004). Moreover, police chiefs may make the discretionary decision to adapt training methodologies to fit this new model for community policing as well. According to the research, for community policing to work best, it "must become part of the culture of the department, and thus be reflected in significant attitude changes" (Meese, 1993, p 6). A police chief has the discretion to change training methods in order to better prepare the attitudes of the officers within his or her department for how to handle the unique demands of community policing. This may mean adapting training for new recruits, but also implementing ongoing training programs to refresh older officers and provide them with new philosophies and tools for success within their diverse communities they serve. It would be a clear change of protocol to train officers not just in regards to the legalities, but also in social service practices, where the lessons of sociology and civil service meet with law enforcement on a practical level. Essentially, "rather than preparing officers to perform police work mechanically, it should help them to understand their communities, the police role, and even the imperfections of the criminal justice system," (Meese, 1993, p 6). This unorthodox method for training officers to succeed in individual communities goes beyond standard protocol, but is an alternative that might be costly and hard to implement based on the current structure of most training systems in police departments around the country. One successful example of this was the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department and their implementation of "service-oriented policing" as a way to "move the department and its personnel toward a more service-oriented posture" that features a committee of differing ranking officers (Meese, 1993, p 8). The Los Angeles Police Department also implemented "community enhancement requests," where community members and officers can turn in requests and ideas for making the community a better environment (Meese, 1993, p 8). All of these initiated as a discretionary decision with a police chief that decided to make the members of the community more active within law enforcement strategies through… [END OF PREVIEW]

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