Criminal Justice Paper on Police Discretion and Control Mechanisms

Police Discretion and Control Mechanisms

Police officers encounter various situations at crime scenes which require valid responses that are in line with the law. Police discretion allows the officer to decide if they want to pursue the police procedure or merely let an individual off with a warning (The law dictionary). Police discretion is limited to minor offenses such as giving a speeding ticket or domestic violence. However, it does not apply in felony cases. The decisions made are guided by the officer’s knowledge and skills in handling various unpredictable cases without contravening the law. When a decision is made depending on the current situation, it is referred to as contextual. However, when the decision is passed based on insights and acquired skills, it is judgmental. The police officer is at discretion to make a decision based on their age, gender, religion, physical appearance, political orientation or any other prejudices (Gaines, 2011). In addition, the relationship between the offender and the officer, if it exists, influences an officer’s discretion.

Police discretion is controlled using internal and external mechanisms to reduce prejudices when handling criminal cases. Internal mechanisms are encouraged within the force by having police officers report any misconduct of their colleagues to supervisors. Instilling internal mechanisms depends on the character of the police officer such as misconduct allegations, use of excessive force, misuse of allocated sick off days, commendations received, and job performance, among other factors (Gaines, 2011). The various forms of internal control mechanisms are enforced such that they do not infringe on the independence of the officer to make informed decision in the course of their duty. However, police discretion does not infer that police officers neglect law enforcement or let off criminals.

External mechanisms entail the actions imposed on the police officers from other agencies or persons. These include: control by the citizens, legislative control, and control by the courts. Foremost, the citizens are entitled to report any misconduct they might have observed among police officers when they are handling a case in the community. Citizen review boards exist which analyze the conduct, executed plan of action, as well as the performance of officers. They provide this feedback to the police administrators. Through citizen control boards, discipline is maintained in the police force and any complaints against the officers are addressed which boosts the confidence of the citizens in the police force (Gaines, 2011). In addition, legislative control over police discretion applies by enacting the strict laws of the U.S. federal government in a state.

The control of the court over police discretion serves as the major external control mechanism. The jurisdiction of the court ensures that police officers are cautioned against the use of excessive force. Officers are also warned against corruption and favored interactions with law offenders. The court apprehends criminals and enforces the law through the police officers thus ensuring the community is protected. Hence, law enforcement integrates the efforts of various agencies and groups to ensure that the community is protected and served in accordance with the stated laws. The discretion of the police officers ensures that the law is applied appropriately. Nevertheless, it is necessary to enact control mechanisms on the police force to avoid cases of misconduct or increased levels of crime due to corruption and prejudices.




Gaines, L., & Kappeler, V. (2011). Police discretion. In Policing in America (7th ed., pp. 219-256).

The Law Dictionary. (n.d.). Police Discretion Definition. Retrieved from