To What Extent is the Use of Discretion
Police discretion is a sensitive topic in modern day law enforcement. Most police officers clearly understand that their job extends far beyond the limits governed by statistics. Both the public and the police understand that officers do not mechanically enforce the law. Rather, they make continuous decisions regarding many matters not falling within the jurisdiction of the law--finding a lost child, removing a dead animal, or dispersing a group of teenagers (Cohen 27).
Cohen states that discretion is an unavoidable part of an officer's job. It is not an option. Oddly enough, the use of discretion is not authorized by law (Cohen 27). Only New Mexico authorizes police officers to use discretion, although the limits and scope of that discretion are not specified (Cohen 40).
Upon questioning concerning the appropriate use of responsible discretion, experienced officer seem to rely on common sense and the knowledge that discretion is a gray area of wisdom. Common sense connotes the judgment of reasonable, rational, normal human beings. Cohen purports that safe and sane solutions are preferable to creative ones and that balancing of interests of all concerned is ideal (28-29). Common sense probably cannot be taught. Either police officers already have it or they do not.
The gray area aspect requires good judgment on the part of an officer. He must be able to assess many factors bearing upon the situation and to make quick, reasonable decisions according to quickly fluctuating conditions. Gray areas do not have any rules. Officers must simply do the best they can, making desirable choices from various alternatives.
It is no surprise that law enforcement officials are subject to great criticism. Discretion is not authorized by law yet it is required by every officer on a moment by moment basis. The components of responsible discretion are not possible to teach and even rath...