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Factors that Influence Police Discretion

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Criminology
Wordcount: 2000 words Published: 11th Jul 2018

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1) What is discretion? Name and describe the factors that may influence an individual officer’s discretion in making decisions involving a criminal suspect. (6 pts)

Discretion is the exercise of choice by law enforcement officers in the decision to investigate or apprehend the disposition of suspects, the carrying out of official duties, and the application of sanctions. The cops have the power to decide whether to act depending on the judgment they feel they must make. In some situations certain people are not handled as strictly as others (an example would be if someone was to get pulled over for speeding and they get a ticket for something else). Studies of police discretion have found that a number of factors influence the discretionary decisions of the individual officers:

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1. The Background of the officers – Law enforcement officers bring to the job all their previous life experiences. Family values such as socialization through the family as well as attitudes that influence the decision of the officer. If an officer has learned prejudice against certain ethnic groups for example, this is likely to influence the decision an officer will make.

2. Characteristics of the suspect — Demeanor, style of dress and grooming may influence police discretion. Poorly groomed suspects can expect less respectful treatment. Some officers treat men and woman differently. Very rarely will an officer arrest a woman. Another characteristic would be the personal style of the individual or group. Examples would be biker’s attire or people with outlandish haircuts are more likely to be arrested than someone with a professional haircut.

3. Department Policy- This is not entirely subject to control by official policy, but can influence it. If a department has targeted certain kinds of offenses or if supervisors adhere to strict enforcement guidelines and closely monitor dispatches and other communications, the discretionary release of suspects will be quite rare.

4. Community Interest- Public attitudes toward certain crimes will increase the likelihood of arrest for suspected offenders. Contemporary attitudes toward crimes involving children- including sex abuse, sale of drugs to minors, domestic violence involving children and child pornography- have all lead to increased and strict enforcement of laws. Once the community has voiced its concern over the problem, the police respond with a series of highly effective arrests. The departments that require a police officer to live in the area that he/she patrols make them more aware of the effects of crime on the community and they respond better than a person who doesn’t live in their district.

5. Pressure from Victims- When victims refuse to file a complaint are usually associated with certain crimes such as spousal abuse. When victims refuse to cooperate with the police, there is often little that can be done. On the other hand, some victims are local in insisting in the victimization and can easily be dealt with. Victim-assistance groups have sought to keep pressure on police departments and individual instigators to ensure the arrest and prosecution of suspects.

6. Disagreement with the law- Some laws lack an unpopular consensus. Some of the laws that deal with victimless offenses are gambling, homosexuality, lesbianism, prostitution and drug use. Some laws are not even in certain jurisdictions. Unpopular laws are not likely to bring much attention from law enforcement officers. If an arrest were to occur, it could be because an officer digs deeper into his/her investigation and reveals something more serious about the crime.

2) Name and describe the four historical eras of policing as discussed in the book. (4 pts)

The four historical eras (epochs), are distinguishable by the relative dominance of a particular approach to police operations. They are the political era, reform era, the community policing era, and the homeland security era.

1. Political Era – The first period, the political era, was characterized by close ties between police and public officials. It began in 1840 and ended around 1930s. Throughout the period, American police agencies tended to serve the interest of powerful politicians first, and providing public-order services almost as an afterthought.

2. Reform Era- The second period, the reform ear, began in the 1930s and lasted until the 1970s. It was characterized by pride in professional crime fighting. Police departments focused more on solving “traditional crimes”, such as murder, rape, burglary, and focusing on capturing offenders.

3. The Community Policing Era – The third period, and the one that characterizes much of policing in America today, is the community policing era. This era started in the 1970s and is still present today. This was an approach to policing that stresses the service role of police officers and envisions a partnership between police agencies and their communities. Agencies focused on the service role of police officers.

4. Policing to Secure the Homeland Era – The fourth period, policing to secure the homeland era, is quite new and continues to evolve. This era grew with national concerns with terrorism prevention born of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. In this era agencies focused on causes of crime outside of the immediate community (country).

3) What are the dangers of police work? What can be done to reduce those dangers? (5 pts)

Some dangers of police work include: violence in the line of duty, risk of disease and infected evidence, and stress and fatigue among police officers.

1. Violence in the line of duty – In 2007, 188 American law enforcement officers were killed in the line of duty. These officers were kind-hearted, and laid back, and well liked in the community.

2. Risk of disease and infected evidence -Routine criminal and accident investigations hold the potential for infection through transmission of evidence.

3. Stress and fatigue among police officers – Traumatic events, like hurricanes, terrorist attacks, and violent confrontations are instantly stressful. These can affect police officers long term.

Diet and exercise can decrease stress and fatigue, along with getting more sleep and taking care of their body.

4) What ethnic and gender differences characterize policing today? What is the social significance of this diversity? (5 pts)

Today many departments have dramatically increased their complement of officers from unrepresented groups. There are not as many African American officers or other ethnic officers compared to white (Caucasian) officers in the field. Although ethnic minorities are now employed in policing in significant numbers, women are still significantly underrepresented. The 2001 Status of woman in policing survey conducted that woman fill only 12.7% of all sworn law enforcement positions nationwide

The social significance of this diversity is that woman and African Americans and other ethnic groups will actually benefit the policing departments making them better, well-rounded officers, it would help the discrimination of particular ethnic or sexual groups.

5) Be able to explain the ruling of each of the following cases and what area of policing the ruling affected (ex: search and seizure, arrest, interrogation, etc) (10 pts)

A) Mapp v. Ohio (1961)

b) Aguilar v. TX (1964)

c) Escobedo v. IL (1964)

d) Miranda v. AZ (1966)

e) Harris v. US (1968)

f) Weeks v. US (1914)

g) US v. Leon (1984)

h) US v. Borchardt (1987)

i) Kyllo v. US (2001)

j) US v. Grubbs (2006)

A. Mapp V. Ohio (1961) – This case was decided to change the face of American law enforcement forever, made the exclusionary rule applicable to criminal prosecutions at the same level beginning with the now- famous Mapp case; the Warren Court charted a course that would guarantee nationwide recognition of individual rights as it understood them, by agencies at all levels of the criminal justice system.

(The area of policing the ruling affected: Search and Seizure)

B. Aguilar V. TX (1964) -The case of “paid” informants. The case of Aguilar v. Texas clarified the use of informants and established a two-pronged test. The US court ruled that informant information could establish probable cause if both of the following criteria are met. 1. The source of the informant’s information is made clear, and 2. The police officer has a reasonable belief that the informant is reliable. The two-pronged test was intended to prevent the issuance of warrants on the basis of false or fabricated info. (Schmallenger, Frank, 2010).

(The area of policing the ruling affected: Search and Seizure)

C. Escobedo v. IL (1964) -In the case of Escobedo vs. Illinois, the right to have legal counsel present during police interrogation was recognized.

(The area of policing the ruling affected: Interrogation)

D. Miranda v AZ (1966) -This case established the well-known Miranda Warnings. In this case involving Enesto Miranda, who was arrested in Phoenix, Arizona, and was accused of having kidnapped and raped a woman.

(The area of policing the ruling affected: Interrogation)

E. Harris v US (1968) – Police officers have the opportunity to begin investigations or to confiscate evidence, without a warrant based on what they find in plain-view and open to public inspection. The plan-view doctrine was succinctly stated in the US Supreme court case of Harris v. US.

(The area of policing the ruling affected: Search and Seizure)

F. Weeks v US (1914) – Freemont Weeks was suspected of using US mail to sell lottery tickets, which is a federal crime. Weeks was arrested and feral agents went into his home to conduct a search. They had no search warrant. They confiscated many items for evidence as well as the suspects personal possessions, including clothes, books, papers, and even candy.

(The area of policing the ruling affected: Search and Seizure)

G. US v Leon (1984) – In the 1984 case of US v Leon, the court recognized what has come to be called the “good-faith exception” to the exclusionary rule.

(The area of policing the ruling affected: Search and Seizure)

H. US v Borchardt (1987) – The case of Us v. Borchardt, decided by the 5th circuit court of Appeals, held that Ira Eugene Borchardt could be prosecuted for heroin uncovered during medical treatment, even though the defendant had objected to the treatment. Because of this case guidelines for conducting emergency warrantless searches of individuals came into effect, and in order to use evidence against an offender in a warrantless search certain criteria has to be met.

(The area of policing the ruling affected: Arrest)

I. Kyllo v Us (2001) – This case set the standard on how technology can be used to the police based on the results of a warrantless search conducted by officers using a thermal-imaging device to detect if his housing was giving off more heat than the other houses, investigators applied for a search warrant for Kyllo’s home.

(The area of policing the ruling affected: Arrest)

J. US v Grubbs (2006) -The constitutionality of Anticipatory warrants was affirmed in 2006, in the US Supreme court Case of US v. Grubbs.


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