Understanding discretion in modern Policing

As in other organisations, officers in a police service, from the Commissioner to the officer on patrol, are all called upon to exercise discretion. The focus in this article, however, is exclusively on the generally “lower level” exercise of discretion with respect to law enforcement (investigation, search, arrest, prosecution, etc) and public order policing, in particular circumstances,8 rather than “higher-level” discretionary decisions such as whether to give priority to the policing of particular kinds of offences, or whether to establish some specialist policing squad. Indeed, it is the “lower level” exercises of discretion which have particularly occupied the attentions of most scholars who have written about police discretion, many of whom have pointed out the significance of the fact that officers “on the beat” very frequently have to make relatively unsupervised discretionary decisions.9 This, of course, poses particular challenges for achieving effective accountability for their exercises of discretion.



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