Law enforcement constitutionally is a provincial responsibility in Canada. The provinces have given most urban areas the authority to maintain their own police forces. Police forces are grouped into three levels: municipal, provincial, and federal. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police-RCMP is the national police force contracted by all provinces except three to carry out the law enforcement responsibilities. The force was established in 1873 for general law enforcement until 1917 when policing contracts were terminated after which in1920 when the federal laws were reorganized and their responsibility for federal law enforcement was extended to include the whole nation. Quebec and Ontario are the only provinces that are not provincially policed by the RCMP.
The Canadian police protect the communities through guidance of Constitution Act, the Criminal Code and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. However, despite the guidance, the police are given discretionary powers within their work. Discretionary powers refer to the judgment officers use while at field to decide whether to let someone go after stern warning or to take someone to jail for minor offences as such offenses may pose danger to themselves or to other people. However, it should be noted that the police do not have discretion in all circumstances. (Kelly 1976)
Step1. Define the circumstance demanding discretion: An officer should evaluate the nature of the offence that he faces. An intoxicated driver's case or a domestic case for example demands different discretions due to their different effects.
Step 2.Evaluate what is fair treatment: The officer should make judgment on what is best for the offender as well as for the whole community.
Step 3.Weigh the severity of the situation: The police should assess how severe the situation is before reaching conclusion to exercise discretion.
Step 4.Know when to apply the discretion: Wisdom is required before an officer applies his discretion. Different circumstance call for different timing before an officer acts. Circumstance my warrant quick or delayed application of discretion for example the timing for arrest or to shoot differ due to their consequences.
First offenders: When court in the offence, first offenders will often not hide their fright and sorry feelings. This will normally move the police officer to sympathize with the offender rather than take action against them. The officer may then be moved not to take action against him or her. This is unlike common offenders who may not get scared but may want to escape or shall be unruly in their speech with the officers hence not pleading their release but instead compel the officers to arrest him.
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Youth related incidences: police discretion on matters relating to young teenagers is usually dependant on the nature of the offence and the reactions of the parents or guardians when they get the report about the offence of the teenager under their custody. Remorseful parents or guardians are likely to influence the police to release the offending teenager upon tongue lashing or warning as compared to parents or guardians who show disrespect and contempt despite being informed of offences of their children.
To turn sirens on or not: Code 3 allows the police not only to pass through red lights but to also exceed posted speed limits while responding to high priority calls. Such could include response to a robbery, bomb alert or other emergency light threatening alerts. In such situations most police agencies require the use of loud sirens and lights to secure way. These should be turned off once the officer arrives at the scene or when he learns that the situation is no longer an emergency.
Police response to a call: An officer upon receipt of a call evaluates the nature of the call. He determines how fast he needs to respond by getting the feel or inquiring about the situation during the conversation. An emergency call will require his immediate response as compare to response to matter under control such as an investigation.
Intoxicated drivers: the police evaluation of drunkenness of the offender and the offenders' cooperation to pull out of the road or any other instruction will influence the police officers discretion whether to arrest or just reprimand and release the offender. Other considerations the officer will give attention to include, the offenders education level, age or number of times he has been caught committing same offence.(Cragg, 1992)
Whether or not to search a house or a car: an office responding to a call may have discretion to search or not to search an offender's house or car. An over speeding motorist playing loud music upon being pulled over by the police may invite the officers discretion to search his car. They officer may want to check for drugs or alcohol commonly associated with such kind of offences. Similarly, if called to a residence, the police may want to clear any suspicions they have by taking the discretion to conduct a house search.
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Life threatening situation: officers sometimes face difficult life threatening situations demanding their quick discretion and action. An officer may face a situation where he may be required to shoot before the suspect commits suicide or shoots other victims. In the event that the officer delays to be the first to pull the trigger then the damage that may follow will be enormous but in the case too that he injures a suspect and the suspect happens not to pose any danger then the officer will face expensive action for damages. Such is the difficulty in to act or not to act decision that an officer has to make that have enormous consequences. (Macleod, 1994)
Policing discretion is a tricky area of criminal justice. Correct decision will lead to more benefits to the community in terms of maintenance of law and order while wrong decisions will lead to great losses. It is therefore of great necessity for police officers to be exposed to rigorous training that will sharpen their decision making process when faced with a variety of circumstances that their occupation exposes them to.
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