The police. Twenty-four hours a day, three hundred sixty-five days a
year, this division of our government has a mandate to enforce the criminal law
and preserve public peace. Understood in this mandate is an obligation to
police everyday life matters that originate in the daily lives and activities of
citizens within their community. Police interact in some form with the average
citizen more often than any other government official. In society today the
police play a key role in maintaining a civil society. This role assumes a
substantial amount of power and authority over the general public. With power
comes corruption and/or misuse of power. The question that is presented is,
how and why do the police exceed the parameters of their power and authority?
This is an issue that is predominant in urban settings, but not
exclusive to these settings. This is an important issue because it effects all
people. The police is a government service to all people, but all people do not
feel they are being serviced. Not everyone is satisfied with the conduct of the
police. Why do people feel that police are crossing boundaries that they should
not be? This will be observed from four different aspects in which police are
capable of exceeding the parameters of their power and authority: police and
use of discretionary enforcement, 'Police justice', police harassment, and the
unwarranted use of police authority.
Police are allowed to and must use personal discretion in their
determination of law enforcement. Unlike a judge or lawyer a police officer can
not gather information and take time to make a prognosis to make a decision
affecting the fate of a person. He must make a quick decision based on his
discretion to determine the fate of a person.. '...a quick decision is required
to protect the interests of the public and to satisfy requirements of operating
efficiency' (Reiss, p.130) Now we are telling officer to not enforce the law,
but to determine the law.
A policeman's discretionary decision may then be evaluated by others
both inside and outside of the department. This is the cause for a further
complication in the processes because in order to avoid criticism the police
officer then might use his own sense of justice. This 'police justice' is
basically having the officer conduct his own trial. This usually satisfies
probable cause but also has the officer concluding a suspect's guilt and a
arrest that he determines justifiable. That also leads to the fact that
citizens who behave antagonistically towards an officer are more likely to be
arrested than those who are civil or very differential. Donald J. Black
reported in 'Police control of Juveniles', American sociological Review February
1970, that when Complaints are present 72 percent of adults who behave
antagonistically toward the police are arrested in the field while only 45
percent who are civil and 40 percent who are differential toward the police are
arrested. This is an obvious misuse of discretion. When a police officer treats
a citizen antagonistically there is not much the citizen can do, but when it is
the citizen acting antagonistically it more than likely will be a determination
When a police officers judgment is constantly questioned and his sense
of justice is not validated he may lose his commitment to the system. Police
are often alienated in the criminal justice system, in a sense there status is
demeaned by the decisions of lawyers and judges. They are treated as less of a
professional. To see a person who in the officer's discretion was guilty be
released time after time, it is difficult for the officer to keep his commitment
to the system. 'Where moral commitment is lost, subcultural practices take over.
One such practice that exacerbates the relationship of the police with the
public is harassment' (Reiss, p.138) Therefore police create their own
subcultural practices which include harassment.
Author Albert J. Reiss offers an alternative explanation to why some<...
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