Discretion is defined as having the ability to differentiate between multiple outcomes of a specific behavior (Pollock, 2015). All law enforcement officers have a large amount of discretion when it pertains to their position of authority, power, and influence. Those are all incumbent upon how an officer views their role in society during their course of duty, which will ultimately determine their use of discretion. Due to the fact, police officers have complete control, a majority of the time, over what they can and will not enforce, members of the community have asked for a mechanism to control police discretion. Some of these control mechanisms include internal controls, external controls, and control by the courts. Police discretion is the foundation for law enforcement in general. When a public officials power all them free will make a decision with numerous possible courses of action, is described as discretion.
Police discretion is slightly different from the base term of discretion in which police officers are acting in a manner that seems to be just and modest under the presented circumstances with the power and authority bestowed upon them. discretion is not doing as one pleases as a police officer, but acting as what is prescribed in the professional, community, legal and moral norms. Police officers make numerous contacts every day which all can have a vast array of situations that the officer must be able to handle efficiently. No two contracts are ever the same, even when comparing a sizeable number of situations across a lengthy period of time. Typically police officers are usually in a position of being able to formulate a decision on their own on a particular police matter or with assistance from a peer and with no supervision. This is the foundation of police discretion.
In law enforcement, while an officer is in the field, discretion is left up to that officer to make a rational and trustworthy decision on situations that are presented to them. officers in certain situations will have no choice but to utilize their discretion in certain circumstances in regards to what level of punishment or force type is necessary to resolve the situation at hand. A vast majority of those in the community feel as if law enforcement can come to any conclusion that they so desire at any time. Is quite the opposite as police officers still have to abide by the laws established by the state or the federal government and must act as an extension of those entities.
There are several factors officers take into consideration when exercising their discretion in formulating a decision. Some of these factors include the final demeanors of both the suspect and officer and if either demeanor worsened over time (Alpert, Dunham, Stroshine, Bennett, & MacDonald, 2018). Other variables include the citizens’ race, age, wealth status, gender, and health, including mental capacity. A good example of this would be an experienced driver and a novice driver being stopped for speeding. The harsher penalty would fall upon the more experienced driver as they have the knowledge and experience to know the rules of the road, where a novice would be let go with a warning due to their lack of experience.
Internal Control Mechanisms
Internal control mechanisms and mechanisms that are utilized in an attempt to highlight and focus on unsuitable inappropriate behavior. This type of control mechanism emphasizes control and limits police discretion under a bureaucratic style of organizational structure. These various control mechanisms are There are several control mechanisms accessible to be utilized as internal control mechanisms for law enforcement agencies. These mechanisms would be policies and procedures that have been memorialized and choosing when to take action when it is constant with real-world necessity.
The effectiveness of policy and procedures doesn’t just rest with controlling what officers do but additionally provide directions for when officers are challenged with situations where they are in need of some assistance (Sekhon, 2018). A suggestion to enhance the internal control mechanisms would be to require police officers to report instances of wrongdoing by fellow officers that they observe engaging in wrongdoing or become of aware of the transgression. If an officer is aware of unethical transgressions, but fail to report it, then that police officer would be held liable for appropriate discipline. This type of control also provides officers with incentives to remain in line with the policies and procedures that have been established, such as promotions and special assignments.
Another form of internal control mechanism in law enforcement is that of the Internal Affairs Division. Their task is to investigate cases of wrongdoings by line officers within the department. Internal affairs were not established to threaten officers, but to remind them of the dangers of committing an unethical act and not following department policy and procedure. After internal affairs investigated the facts and conducted their interviews, they would then have to relinquish their findings to the Chief of police who would then make a determination of wrongdoing or not. This would create an uneasy feeling with the public as internal affairs were not allowed to make recommendations on the type of punishment the investigated officer should receive (Bobb, 2018).
An effective tool of internal control mechanism on discretion is that of the role of supervisors. Being that in law enforcement supervisors only come from the ranks of line officers, it is safe to say there will be a lot of respect had for the officer being promoted, in some circles. There will always be those few officers who will assume the individual promoted was not because of their passion for the job and their will to succeed, but instead because they were the favorite or a good test taker. For the majority, however, they understand that the more professional you are and act, the more accountable you will be for your actions and ethical decisions.
When officers realized their discretionary powers were being minimized, it left a sense of annoyance for the simple fact that they felt as if supervisors did not deem them to be as reliable to make a decision on their own (Engel, 2018). This would leave the only viable opinion that when an officers discretion is limited, it lowers morale and the level of professionalism. The same can be said for when discretion is increased, that as the powers of discretion are reinstated so are the levels of professionalism. Consequently, when discretion has been expertly commanded, it will then foster ethical decision making from subordinate officers. It still goes to note that even though law enforcement has vast discretional powers, there are still legal aspects that must be abided by and that too can limit police officers discretion and have an impact upon their professionalism.
External Control Mechanisms.
The use of external control mechanisms in police departments varies in their efficiency. There are many aspects to take into consideration on the alternate types of controls, with one of the most important being the inclusion of external actors to be tasked with supervising the actions of law enforcement. The reason for external control mechanisms is because of when the community in which a specific law enforcement agency is continuing to violate their trust, they will become disgruntled. If the community becomes annoyed with the level of service they are receiving, they might be inclined to organize and demand a meeting with the Mayor’s office and the Chief of police. Yet still, after the community has mobilized to place pressure on the city to enact some form of reform, those who rallied to have these mechanisms emplaced will not know the results of the change to which their pressure caused.
Civilian Review Board.
Civilian review boards are something of a novelty as it is fairly new to police control. This idea of using an outside side, after the police department has conducted their own internal investigation, was seen as a new way to assist with removing corrupt police officers. These review boards are there to ensure citizen’s complaints against officers are being handled and the police are being held accountable for their actions (Guzman & Frank, 2004). These review boards conduct their own independent review on specific cases to reach a conclusion if the steps taking by the internal control mechanism were satisfactory. These boards typically are comprised of local politicians and their goals differ, depending on who the panel consists of.
There are three types of three types of civilian review boards. The first type of civilian review board is the investigative style. In this model, the review board is tasked with staying within the boundaries of the specific allegations against an officers misconduct or abuse. The review board then takes those findings and relays the information to the Chief of police or the Mayor of the city. The second type of citizen review board is the review type. In this model, the citizen review board analyzes the findings found out by the police departments internal control mechanism and attempts to determine if the department was fair and just in their determination. The final kind of citizen review board is the assessor model. In this type of review board, the panel does not get tunnel vision on a specific complaint but focuses their audits on the internal control auditor to ensure the process was fair to both the officer and the citizen. It is always dependent upon the type of board to concentrate on all complaints received on a specific issue or just focus on those which are currently in the appeal process (Finn, 2018).
The reason these types of external controls are favored so highly is that of them being relatively inexpensive due to these boards not conducting independent investigations. This is also a setback to some as the reviewers are completely at the whims of the internal investigation controlled by the police’s internal affairs division. Some even go as far as to doubt the factuality of the findings in civilian review boards as there are only typically two paid auditors, from the city, who conduct the review. Then if these auditors are completely unaware of police practices and methods, they then have to be given a crash course in police, that is taught by the agency being investigated, and some feel there is room for corruption or bias.
Along with the trend of including external sources as a way to control police discretion, a favored idea is to continue having police officers appear in court for certain traffic infractions and all felony level crimes. This at times can have an adverse effect depending on whether or not the officer deems it necessary to go to court over the infraction. Some officers might decide to use their discretion inciting for a lower offense that does not constitute a court appearance, which at times can be seen as undermining the purpose of discretion altogether. This is where the Judicial control of discretion is important. Since law enforcement contact begins with police officers, it is incumbent upon the judicial system to utilize their discretion in determining if an officer made the correct decision during the arrest. Being that the prosecutors’ main goal is to seek justice and not look to impose a sentence, they too have varying levels of discretions. A good example would be if an officer arrested an individual for the possession of a scheduled narcotic and due to the amount that was in their possession, money on their person and baggies, they would be charged with sales of narcotics. The prosecutor could at that point make the determination that the individual arrested and accused of the crime did not have the intention to sell and was only a heavy abuser, therefore reducing the charge to a simple possession (Goldstein, 1967).
Due to unavoidable mistakes that are had by officers in domestic assault responses, states such as California has made it into legislation that an arrest will be made in instances of abuse allegations by a spouse or domestic partner. These types of state legislated mandated policies draw a fine line in which officers have to adhere to when investigating these types of crimes. Since it is a state-legislated requirement, it will automatically go into that department’s policy and procedure, requiring the officer to have full knowledge of its intentions and requirements. Guidelines such as the aforementioned have one goal and that is to limit discretion in lieu of an arrest. Being that this kind of policy limits the lateral movements of an officers discretion, they are held completely liable if they fail to execute an arrest.
Discretion has become a key component in law enforcement and the criminal justice system as a whole. These mechanisms of the judicial systems do not have complete control over discretion and must still abide by the laws emplaced by the stated and their specific policies and procedures. They are still to require to act within very broad margins on the belief of legality. These margins encompass the American constitution as well as the state constitutions to which they are allowed to operate in and are often times vague in their wording. As we all have come to realize that the use of words is not a straightforward as the use of numbers and can often have more than one definitions to the actual interpretation of the word or sentence. Thus the “fullest extent of the law” is unfeasible and makes discretion a core requirement in the successful implementation of the criminal justice process.