Research Paper: Discretionary Use of Police Authority

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Discretionary Use of Police Authority

Over the last several years, the issue of police discretion has been increasingly brought to the forefront. Part of the reason for this, is because the nation is trying to balance the civil rights of the individual, while giving law enforcement the power to adjust to a host of different circumstances. This means that the ultimate choice that confronts the officer in such situations is: to act according to either the spirit of the law or the letter of the law. For instance, when an officer pulls a person for a minor traffic violation, they can exercise any one of these two choices by: giving the person a ticket or let him off with a verbal / written warning. However, when the same officer witnesses a felony in progress, the law necessitates the detention of the suspect. This process of is called discretion.

In the latter part of the 20th century, a notion was put forward that police departments (like certain administrative offices) are engaged in challenging work that is based upon the use of considerable discretion. (Remington, 1965) to quote James Wilson, "The patrolman, in the discharge of his most important duties, exercises discretion, owing in part to his role in the management of: conflict and the suppression of crime." (Wilson, 1968) This is important, because it shows how the overall use of police discretion has been continually evolving. However, the law enforcement officials cannot discharge their duties with discretion in every situation. This is due to the fact that laws as well as department policies can restrict or eliminate the use of discretion. Therefore, this overall amount of authority is constantly changing.

Advantages of police discretion

Police discretion lets all officers make effective decisions, when no specific solution is available under existing law. Where, they can resort to using discretion, at the time of determining the appropriate level of force against a suspect. This power can be a deterrent to potential criminal activities, by not following predictable patterns (which could give them an unfair advantage). Discretion, allows law enforcement officials to choose between who should be cited or immediately arrested (while they are engaged in the process of enforcing the law). This… [END OF PREVIEW]

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Cite This Research Paper:

APA Format

Discretionary Use of Police Authority.  (2011, February 7).  Retrieved December 10, 2019, from

MLA Format

"Discretionary Use of Police Authority."  7 February 2011.  Web.  10 December 2019. <>.

Chicago Format

"Discretionary Use of Police Authority."  February 7, 2011.  Accessed December 10, 2019.