Are police officers allowed too much discretion?
This question highlights one of the most perplexing aspects of “law and order,” the preservation of a peaceful, safe society where both Strict Law and Human Reason work side by side. One the one hand, we are all in favor of equal treatment under the law, and we object to such practices as profiling and selective enforcement. On the other hand, we want our law enforcement agents, from police patrols to prosecuting attorneys, to bring reason, humanity, insight, and creativity to their jobs. The law enforcement officer (police officer) on the beat or on patrol every day has a limited time and energy to enforce the thousands of laws on the books and, as in the business world, is expected to be efficient and effective within those limits. The amount of “discretion” allowed a police officer depends on his/her intelligence, compassion, experience, and many other factors, and should be regulated and monitored by the person in charge of personnel. To say that all police have too much discretion is to say that the force should be taken over by robots, automatons, computers—we must never remove the “humanness” from these enforcers completely. When an officer stops a vehicle in a traffic stop, his/her human judgment comes into play when he/she walks up to the “human” driver—we all are counting on the officer’s “discretion” at that moment.