What would be the advantages and disadvantages of living in a society that abolished police discretion and used a full enforcement policy?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

There are many potential advantages and disadvantages of this scenario, although I think it is clear that the disadvantages would outweigh the advantages. The primary advantage would be that crime would or could be virtually eliminated, because law enforcement professionals would have free rein to carry out the letter of...

Unlock
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

There are many potential advantages and disadvantages of this scenario, although I think it is clear that the disadvantages would outweigh the advantages. The primary advantage would be that crime would or could be virtually eliminated, because law enforcement professionals would have free rein to carry out the letter of the law, and this might eliminate any and all threats to it.

Unfortunately, this would come at a high price. Under this system change, anyone who breaks the law, even unintentionally or in a way that is benevolent in nature, would be at risk of being incarcerated. This would lead to a steep rise in imprisonment, and at-risk communities would likely be worse off, mainly because of a lack of resources to avoid crime (more food on the table means less likelihood of stealing, and vice versa). Additionally, giving that level of extreme power to law enforcement professionals would create a tyrannical system, and the law could potentially be changed to outlaw things that aren't harmful and therefore endanger innocent citizens.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

A full enforcement policy would take away any idea that the law was applied unfairly. If someone were to break the law, then they would be fined or otherwise punished. Jaywalking, loitering, or violating noise ordinances for any reason would be punished. People would be very careful about obeying all of the laws, as they knew that they would be punished if caught. Given new surveillance mechanisms, it would be easier to catch offenders.

A full enforcement policy would also take any mercy out of the law. Fines and punishments would become so great that people might stop coming to law enforcement first if there are problems. People who could not pay fines would clog an already congested judicial system, thus making the offenders' problems worse. Courts would be too involved in petty cases to hear felonies, thus creating a legal backlog for people who need the judicial system the most. If people could not pay their fines, they might also add to an ever-growing prison population.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Living in a society where the police had no discretion and, instead, had to enforce every law to the letter would have its good points and its bad points.  On the good side, there would be little or no doubt about the point at which you would be judged to have broken the law.  There would also be no feeling that the law was being applied unfairly.  On the bad side, the system would become more impersonal and incidents that felt very unjust would surely occur with greater frequency.

In our current system, it is not always easy to know how far you can bend the law before you are liable to get in trouble.  The clearest example of this is in traffic laws.  It is not common for the police to stop people who are, for example, going 5 miles per hour over the speed limit on the freeway.  But it is possible and it causes there to be an element of doubt in a person’s mind.  The element of doubt also allows for the perception of unfairness.  You might get pulled over for going 5 miles over the limit and feel as if the police are persecuting you because they would not have stopped someone else for doing the same.  This is particularly a problem among members of racial minorities who tend to feel that they are getting singled out for poor treatment.  Neither of these types of situation would happen if police had no discretion.  There might also be less crime as people would know that they could not get away with anything.

On the other side, a system with no flexibility will often seem unjust.  For example, going by the strict letter of the law, the police might have to arrest and detain a 10 year old who shoplifted a piece of candy.  In the current system, they might bring the child home and talk to the parent without actually putting the child into the juvenile justice system.  This sort of seemingly just act would be impossible.

Thus, there would clearly be good and bad aspects to life in such a situation.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team