Police Discretion Essay

Discretion was defined to be the selection among possible path of actions. It was rampant and has great importance in the criminal justice.

Discretion can be looked at different perspectives such as discretion-as-judgment, discretion-as-choice, discretion-as-discernment, discretion-as-liberty and discretion-as-license.  In the discretion-as-judgment, discretion is perceived as the converse of routine or habitual practices. In line with this, discretion gives anyone knowledge, ideas, abilities and insights unexpectedly. Police are not soldiers that are commanded with orders. Police must be more objective and prudent in applying and materializing rules and must follow what the rule is all about.

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As discretion-as-choice, discretion includes forming of personal attachments, contribution, judgment calls and intellectual decisions. It is all about the ability of making own decisions and following your conscience and modification of superior’s decision if necessary.

            On the other hand, discretion-as-discernment looked at discretion as not only making decisions or choices but also making good and virtuous decisions. Discernment is prudence, foresight tactfulness, tolerance, empathy and being discreet.

In discretion-as-liberty, discretion is the authorization of being free to act and using this permission to broaden the rights and duties, which aim of vision of liberty and inalienable rights. Lastly, the discretion-as-license sees discretion as the contrary of standard prospect. It gives anybody the privilege to break the rules, defy your immediate superior, and be less than perfect all the time however maintaining good relationship with your superior or the common public.

Furthermore, discretion not just like doing what you like what you want and what you prefer. Discretion is restricted by several norms of the society.

Police discretion was a forbidden theme of conversation until 1956 when American Bar Foundation released a study about it. Even the study had showed such discretion, still nobody would admit it occurred or existed. The attitude of police toward legality of actions is that any variation from accepted flow of actions was considered extralegal and noted as somewhat source of corruption.

When it was unveiled to public, people and other institutions like the American Friends Service Committee (1971) have called for its immediate abolishment and thus police authorities required a clampdown on the issue of discretion. Now, it is perceived as bad or good if used properly. The exercise of discretion was mainly not the problem however; there are cases that police discretion was abused.

            Discretion is granted on police authorities for the purpose of serving the needs of the community and giving them the sense of protection they need. There are different types of police; legalistic, watchman or service style but the main point is how they structured and controlled discretion.

             There are various causes of police discretion. One is an offender variable in which police accept seriously complaints made by mature individual than complaints made by youth. African Americans are more prone for arrest and force of police authorities. There are also cases that people who show good attitude to police is most likely to be treated mildly. People who are rich and influential and located at the upper class obtained special treatment from the police authorities.

Mental status and gender is another factor that affects police on how to deal with different incident encountered. Another cause is situation variables in which police gave more importance serious crimes than minor ones. Usually, handling of deadly weapons or manifesting police resistance made police officers more reactive to situation. In addition, the essentiality of property involved in crime scene determines the efficiency of police response and investigatory actions towards it.  Police rarely acts upon complaints of citizen; they prioritize activities commenced by police administration.  Bureaucracy of police is more manifested with the presence of witnesses, media and the public.

            Police also has a tendency of becoming lenient when justice system was clogged and become stern when they need money. Size and structure of the department are directly proportional to the intensity of police discretion. Communities that have many resources and give more services to public tend police to employ no arrest system.

            Moreover police has a belief that legislature have no aspiration of total enforcement, however what they believed is that politicians were making more appearances on the crime scenes portraying a good and sincere image to the public.

            Domestic violence, drunk driving, laziness, lack of faith in utility of arrest, hate crime, mental illness, vice crime and use of force are the different areas of discretion.

            Domestic violence is one area where police abused. Instead of prosecuting husbands who battered their wives, police officers do nothing. Some police dealt more with mediation, counseling and social service referral. The reasons of such attitude of police are; they see domestic violence as a private matter, victims were usually uncooperative, apprehension of breadwinner would be a burden to the family and because male police favored male assailant. To avoid the burdens of court dates and paper works they used and abused the power of discretion.

            The use of force is another area where we can see how discretion maws structured and controlled. The force used by the police are only limited and reasonable for any situation. The use of force must be in total control in order to protect them from civil liability.

            Police discretion is a double-edge sword that can be used for good or bad intentions or purposes.

            Even if we say that the relics of racial discrimination in law enforcement in the past is gone, we cannot take the fact that attempts to control police discretion do not guaranteed that there is no abuse of police discretion in the part of the enforcer. There were visible historic impetuses for controlling police discretion concerning racial discrimination but still do not assured of the objectivity of the police.

We all know that discretion is some sort of making choices hence there would be a salient point that there is someone who would be the loser in the selection. In many cases, racial minorities, immigrants, young people and people who have different cultural and political views from majority group were always the losers. At the very first, the problem in granting police discretion and judicial control of discretion only gives law enforcement permission to target the least likely heard and sound complaints. This was truly manifested in heterogeneous communities and even in the homogeneous society.

The next big question is that, “Are US police biased?”.  There are findings that police and justice system in the United States were not biased when it comes to race.

For someone to be prisoner, there are four things that must first have to occur. Before a police arrest somebody, charges must be filed first, plead guilty, found him guilty of the crime, and sentenced him to prison. Definitely and certainly, racial discrimination cannot be observed in this situation. Blacks have certainly high chance of being arrested than any other race.

In the statistics presented by the Uniform Crime Reports (UCR), black share a large percentage (about 27 percent) of apprehension cases which is quite amusing because they were only 13 percent of the total population of the United States. On the other hand white and Hispanics are accounted for the 71 percent of arrest cases but constitute 81 percent of the total population of America. If all crimes of various types were summed up, the chance of being arrested of a Blackman is twice of that of both white and Hispanics. They have a larger chance of being arrested for violent crimes and even much larger for robbery.

Many people believed that Blacks are arrested so frequent because police are biased in targeting crime committers. They think police arrest them with no objective and legal reasons. Several laws have passed in order to correct what they think as abuse of authority. Conversely, police strongly say that they arrest a huge number of Blacks because they themselves commit a great number of criminals.

The most objective way of looking the presence of police bias is to have a comparison between the proportion of Black criminals and the proportion of arrested Black suspects. If in case equal, it is a positive indication that police are fair in exercising their authority.

The UCR and   the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) have recorded the most current data regarding the different crimes done to victims and the number of arrest of those various crimes. However, the data do not represent the actual occurrence of crimes; instead, a smaller number of arrests were recorded.  NCVS conducted data extrapolation and showed the estimation of the actual number of crimes in the United States annually.

From 2001 to 2003, approximately 1.8 robberies have occurred. Similarly, UCR reported that police arrested about 229,000 for robbery. Before a police makes an arrest, one must tell them of the crime hence the most applicable manner of to assess whether there exist biasness in law enforcement by the police is really the comparison between the proportion of Black criminals and the proportion of arrested Black suspects.

The data showed that 55 percent of the offenders in robbery cases were all black and 55.4 percent of the robbers were reported to the police were black. In line with this, 54.1 percent of the robbers subjected for apprehension were black. Actually, police arrests fewer blacks than what is expected. In other crimes such as burglary, 45 percent of black crime committers were reported however, only 28 percent of arrested suspects were actually black.

When all the crimes are collected, blacks have a 26 percent less chance of being arrested than any other races.  These facts do not support the charges against them instead it imply the opposite; the police are more rigorous in non-black apprehension.

            Victims are asked to give description of their perpetrators and sometimes victims do not identify Hispanic suspects correctly. They somehow categorized them as either Asian or Indian.

            Victims are most likely to call the attention of the enforcer if the crime committer has gun or any weapon at hand. Usually, blacks handled guns and knives more frequently than any race did, thus more crimes were associated with blacks. Moreover, even on the same crime category, blacks are committing serious offenses; therefore, even though they constitute only thirteen percent of the total population of the United States, they commit a large number of crimes than anybody else (based on data gathered by NCVS).

            Blacks have a higher possibility of stealing cars. The National Incident-Based System (NIBRS) is a database wherein you can use it to make clear comparisons between race of offenders reported and number of each race arrested. Four thousand seven hundred twenty six police departments in 23 states have detailed all crimes known to them including information about the race of the criminal involved and the race of arrested criminals. The data presented represent less than 20 percent of American population and a 15 percent of total crimes occurred in all the states in America.

            Furthermore, violent interracial crimes involved 85 percent of blacks while whites only contribute 15 percent of the crime. Blacks commit more interracial crimes and hate crimes against white (about 45 percent) than blacks do. A very shocking and striking statistics showed that blacks are 39 times more possibly to be involved in crimes on white than whites committing crimes against black. Blacks commit robbery above a hundred times.

Clearly, from these arguments we can conclude that police was not really biased when enforcing law and authority towards race.

Still there are many believed that there exist racial discrimination in exercising police discretion. Racial separation and discrimination are still visible in the United States.  It seemed that African American and other colored people are not truly accepted in the American community.

Racial discrimination (not only with blacks) is deeply seen in the enforcement of laws and judicial process. Muslims felt this kind of unfairness since the September 11 bombings and attacks. Associated Press has reported cases of Muslim discrimination in United States. In November 2006, 6 Muslims who came from a conference have removed from the airport, handcuffed and interrogated by airlines enforcers because of a false alarm from a passenger. Investigation was conducted and found out that the airlines had unlawfully taken out the six Muslims. Another instance is the Latino and African-American motorist in Los Angeles were most likely to be questioned and subjected for vehicle inspections than whites.

Racial discrimination was manifested in judicial processes and procedures in the United States. In fact, blacks usually received a more severe and harsh punishment than whites. Based on statistics taken by the National Urban League, male blacks were sentenced longer than any white man was. Forty percent of male black prisoners condemned to more than a single year of imprisonment while 20 percent were Latin Americans. The number of black prisoners was about 7 times that of white inmates and the number Latin Americans were 2.5 times higher than that of white.  In addition, it showed that blacks have the higher probability of being imprisoned or jailed than whites.

This racial bias has resulted to hate crimes. A relatively high increase of the racist and neo-Nazi groups has occurred for five years and hate crimes continuously stretching within America. Study showed that crime committers were mainly motivated by racial bias.

            Human rights violation by law enforcement and judicial system is also a frequent and widespread situation in several parts of the United States. The enforcer seriously abuses police discretion. Reports from Human Rights Watch told that since September 11 attacks, more than 70 men were put in prison without any criminal charges. Moreover, reports from the Washington Post said that complaints against New York Police Department have augmented by 60 percent in the span of four years.

A study conducted by Professor Craig Futterman of the University of Chicago stated that 662 out of 13,500 Chicago police enforcer have received each more than ten complaints. In line with this, four police were arrested for false arrest. Two former inmates of Cook County Jail complained of physical injuries got from jail guards. Michael Mejia was handcuffed by guards and banged his face on the wall. Guards also received complaints from allegation of kicking and stomping of prisoners. Nevertheless, officials of the jail’s internal affairs division did not act on those complaints.

            Judicial injustice in the United States is quite alarming. There are cases reported that offenders were put to prison without proving guilty of the crime or even conducted house arrests without formal proceedings.

            Faulty cases and frame-up were observed in the United States. Investigations and reviews showed that 328 criminal cases were all frame-up and thus implied that a relatively high number of prisoners were innocent of the allegation. A man who was alleged and jailed for rape asked for a DNA test but police declined his request. After the September 11 attacks, 6,472 individuals were subjected to prosecution on terrorism-related cases. Many arrested individuals prior to terrorism charges have freed from charges because of insufficient evidences.   Sixty four percent of them were proven innocent and an added 9 percent of were dismissed by prosecutors.

            United States has recorded a highest number of prisoners in the world. There are actually 2.2 million of prisoners in the municipal jails. The US correctional have recorded 7 million prisoners both men and women.

            Abuse and mistreatment is common to US jails. In fact, the United States is the only nation in the world that used dogs to punish and scare inmates in the prison. They used these dogs aggressively and uncompromisingly to attack and assault prisoners to take out prisoners in the cell. The Human Rights Watch reported that Connecticut prisons were subjected of using dogs twenty times just to remove prisoners in cell.

There are also reported cases of abuse of illegal immigrant in US. Those immigrants that were mistreated by police and suffered from hunger and eventually committed suicide. Another abuse case is improper housing of prisoners in different jails. The United States have 60 prisons, which houses a couple of thousand inmates. The inmates were jailed in a very small area, which is not well ventilated. Due to this situation, inmates become eventually insane and mentally ill.

            Some primary rights of prisoners were removed from them. For instance, their right to vote was deprived from them.

            Disease and crimes were rampant in many jails in the United States. Based on records from the United States Department of Justice, 50 percent of the total prisoners in the United States have suffered from mental illness such as melancholia, mania and hallucination. Over a million prisoners that are released annually have a very contagious and infectious disease. In line with this, a rate of 7000 prisoners per annum died in US prisons. Majority of the deaths recorded were caused by mental illness, which was untreated and left undetected. Aside from this, prisoners also suffered from basic ailments like colds and other virus-infected diseases.

In the 2004 survey, the number of AIDS infected prisoners in federal jails increased by almost a thousand, which is relatively higher than the rate in US population.

            In connection to AIDS problem, sexual assaults were rampant in various prisons in the United States. Thirteen percent prisoners in US prisons experienced sexual abuse from police enforcer. Approximately 200,000 inmates were abused sexually and has a tendency of becoming victims of sexual assaults.

            Here manifestation of racial discrimination, religion discrimination and human rights violation were observed. Blacks were often discriminated when it comes to law enforcement and policing in the United States.

            Two sides of police discretion were presented. One is that police are not biased and they just do their intended job. The other side is the abuse of police authority and power that is reflected by the complaints of different assaults and racial discrimination. Nevertheless, whichever is correct is not the idea but the real point here is that how effective the enforcement of law and justice in the United States.

            We see that police enforcement was not so effective in dealing with criminal acts. Many criminals were not really punished by law instead the innocent one suffered from it. In the past until the present, law enforcement is still weak in giving justice to anybody and now is the right time of altering the judicial system in United States.

            Discretion is not doing anything that you want. Discretion is delimited by norms of the society in which police must conform. Police discretion is somehow good if used in good intension. Police discretion became evil only if abuse by cruel authorities.

            Police discretion enforces law to have a harmonious society with no trace of criminal acts but if not used properly this would bring more chaos to the community.

Work Cited

 Feng, Cheng. Full Text: The Human Rights Record of the United States in 2006, On Human Rights Violations by Law Enforcement and Judicial Departments.Gov cn. 8 March  2007. 10 December 2007 < http://www.gov.cn/misc/2007-03/08/content_545466_2.htm>.

Feng, Cheng. Full Text: The Human Rights Record of the United States in 2006, Racial Discrimination.Gov cn. 8 March  2007. 10 December 2007 < http://www.gov.cn/misc/2007-03/08/content_545466_5.htm >.

Free M. D.Racial Issues in Criminal Justice: The Case of African Americans. Monsey, New York: Criminal Justice Press. March 2005. 10 December 2007 <http://www.bsos.umd.edu/gvpt/lpbr/ subpages/reviews/ free305.htm>.

Injustice in America. Jeremiah Project. 10 December 2007 < http://www.jeremiahproject. com/prophecy/justice02.html>.

“Police Discretion”. Syllabus for JUS 205MegaLinks in Criminal Justice.  6 January 2004. 10 December 2007 < http://faculty.ncwc.edu/TOConnor/205/205lect09.htm>.

 The Color of Crime: Race, Crime and Violence in America. New Century Foundation. 1999. 10 December 2007 < http://www.nc-f.org/colorcrime99.pdf>.


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