Police Discretion and the Use of Force Essay

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Discretion is defined as the authority to make a decision between two or more choices (Pollock, 2010). More specifically, it is defined as “the capacity to identify and to document criminal and noncriminal events” (Boivin & Cordeau, 2011). Every police officer has a great deal of discretion concerning when to use their authority, power, persuasion, or force. Depending on how an officer sees their duty to society will determine an officer’s discretion. Discretion leads to selective enforcement practices and may result in discrimination against certain groups of people or select individuals (Young, 2011). Most police officer discretion is exercised in situations with individuals (Sherman, 1984). Discrimination can lead…show more content…
While police see the action of racial profiling as a normal police tactic, minority groups see the actions as racist (Young, 2011). Although most studies on police officer discretion is focused on racial profiling, it has also been shown that officers patrol hot spots. Hot spots are areas known to have a high rate of criminal activity. Focusing on hot spots is an officer’s discretion, because they are ignoring other areas that could potential produce criminal activities. All surveillance and enforcement efforts are focused on the “hot” area. Not only are officers ignoring other areas, but they have determined those areas are not as important as the hot spot. Hot spots can prove to be problematic if the criminal activity located in the hot spot before it was being patrolled is moved to a new location. The new location is prone to no police surveillance because all resources are focused on the old hot spot (Mastrofski, 2011). Discretion and the Use of Force Police have the uncontested right to use force when necessary to apprehend a suspect. If the force exceeds that which is necessary it is defined as excessive force and is illegal. An officer’s discretion on use of force is a based on judgment. They do not know if a judge will later rule an instance of use of force as excessive or not. There is a fine line between what is considered acceptable force and what is considered excessive force. All an
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