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NCJRS Abstract

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NCJ Number: 169300 Find in a Library
Title: Discretion, Functionalism and Conflict
Author(s): F Sanders
Date Published: 1992
Page Count: 61
Sponsoring Agency: University of Exeter
London, SW8 5DT, England
Publication Number: ISBN 1872383-50-8
Sale Source: University of Exeter
P.O. Box 276
London, SW8 5DT,
United Kingdom
Type: Literature Review
Language: English
Country: United Kingdom
Annotation: This paper reviews the literature on police discretion in the United Kingdom.
Abstract: The author advises that discretion is a complex concept and cannot be understood without first understanding the political, social, and psychological context of modern policing. This paper considers these interrelated areas and identifies the links between them. A review of definitions of police discretion notes that there is no legal definition of the term, but the most widely quoted definition is that of Kenneth Culp Davis: "A public officer has discretion whenever the effective limits on his power leave him free to make a choice among possible courses of action or inaction." A review of the law and discretion notes that the law recognizes that discretion is a necessary and crucial part of police work, but also recognizes that there are limits to this discretion that are defined by the courts. Two models of the police use of discretion are identified in the literature. The functionalist model suggests that discretion is the essence of policing and that police officers could not perform their duties without exercising discretion. The conflict model argues that society is permeated by class conflict, with the police representing the dominant class; thus, police discretion will inevitably be used to discriminate against minorities. Some argue that police discretion should be neither accepted nor encouraged, since it involves a failure to enforce the law in a consistent and predictable manner. One section of this paper examines whether there are any grounds for believing that the police make decisions that victimize a particular section or sections of society. The exercise of discretion is apparently dependent on a number of variables that may include race and class, but other factors such as age, gender, demeanor, offense seriousness, and victim attitude may also play a part in police decisions. Another section of the paper examines the effects of police culture and officers' attitudes in terms of how they may be formed, modified, or changed and how this may affect their decisions. The concluding section explores the effects of the police organization on discretion in terms of both providing a framework for individuals to operate and a structure designed to both limit and control the use of police discretion. 293 references
Main Term(s): Police discretion
Index Term(s): Discretionary decisions; Discrimination; Foreign police; Police attitudes; Police-citizen interactions
Note: Brookfield Papers No. 10.
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