Police discretion is essential to the success of an officer and the public at large. Let’s not get carried away by the fact that police officers disrespect palpable offenders, but at times on duty, police officers too have to initiate measures to protect innocent lives and property and use force to obtrude in self-defense. Discretion means judgment, and for law officers, this can be the difference between life and death. Newspapers carry reports of police encounters where people were shot in self-defense and also to protect innocent bystanders (Article 1). The case of the London police shooting an unarmed black, suspecting him of being a terrorist still lingers in our minds. Just because he happened to run away on seeing the police did not give the police the right to shoot him. The police could have stopped him and questioned him for his action instead of labeling him a terrorist and killing him. This is where discretion counts. Discretion involves making a judgment and a decision based on the situation one finds him or herself in at the time of action. The use of discretion is one of the major challenges facing U.S. police today.
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In continuation of the discussion on discretion, discretion in the context of this paper means the availability of a choice of options or actions one can take in a situation, especially when faced with grave consequences.
Police officers have little or no time to act in most situations they find themselves in. Whether its chasing criminals, attempting to stop a bank robbery, or curbing incidences where danger to self is likely, these officers have to make decisions instantaneously without having time to think the consequence of their actions.
How true was James Q. Wilson, when he said that a police officer’s role in exercising discretion is anything unlike that of any other occupation, for they work in an environment which is apprehensive and many-a-time, hostile (Wadsworth, 2005, Ch.5, p.120).
In the case related to the naked Asian boy and the man pursuing him, the best possible solution would have been for the police officers to take the parties to the police station for further investigation. The police officers could have easily stopped the atrocities against the Asian boy and verified his and his attacker’s credentials before letting them go. This would have helped the police uncover the history of murders committed by Jeffrey Dahmer (Refer Wadsworth, p.21). It is in situations like this that the police should use their discretion to gain advantage over their adversaries in crimes. Had the police officers acted with discretion, they would have saved one innocent life, while bringing a perpetual criminal to book before he could cause further harm to society. They had failed in using their discretion, and instead, believing in what they saw and heard from Dahmer. The bleeding and naked Asian boy, the attacker’s story to the police officers not refuted by the dazed and mute boy, led the police officers to believe that the two males were indeed homosexual lovers arguing. However, they should have heeded the warning signs of the two women and taken an appropriate step to take them to station for enquiry. In this case, the relationship between the police and the criminal seemed to have helped; for it was violator who acted respectfully to the police and gained their favor, and secondly, the fact that the victim’s race was a key to their discretion can also not be excluded (Wadsworth, 2005, Ch.5, p.122).
In the case involving the young female police officer and the cyclist, she was right in chasing in an attempt to arrest the suspicious man. However, when she found that she couldn’t bring the man down on her own and was being attacked by the man, she should have called for backup and tried to corner the man who seemed to have a killer instinct. Instead, her shooting to kill the man was unwarranted and definitely not the right discretion (Appendix C).
Analysis: The question is whether the officers’ actions are ‘objectively reasonable’ in light of the facts and circumstances confronting them…The reasonableness of a particular use of force must be judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene, rather than with the 20/20 vision of hindsight… the ‘reasonableness’ inquiry… is an objective one….”
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In this case, the young female woman police did not use the right discretion and instead used extreme force which could have been avoided.
Wadsworth, 2005, The Police Role and Police Discretion: An Introduction to Policing, COPYRIGHT: Thomson Learning, Inc.
Axia College Material: Appendix C: Use of Force Scenario.