Police Discretion and Dilemmas

We live in the world that increasingly displays the use of physical force and others illegal means of influence to control or direct the behavior of others. For example, the police sometimes exceed their authority by using force in wrong situations, collaborating with restricted informants and encouraging an innocent person to commit an illegal act. That is why it is very important to determine which actions of the police the law permits and which ones the law restricts.

The police are prepared to use force on a daily basis. However, there is a strict limit of using force by the police in certain situation. Under the common law, a police officer would be justified in using any force necessary to capture and arrest a fleeing felon, but at the same time, he would not have the right to use deadly force to arrest a person suspected of committing misdemeanor. However, it is almost impossible in the heat of the moment to know exactly what crime a suspect has committed. This uncertainty caused the police some problems in deciding exactly how to act. In the 20th century, states and police departments in the U.S. moved away from the fleeing felon rule and adopted standards that limited the use of deadly force by a police officer (Brody, Acker & Logan, 2000, p. 271). Firstly, in felony cases, a police officer can use deadly force when “the officer has probable cause to believe that the suspect poses a threat of serious physical harm either to the officer or to others”. Secondly, in misdemeanor case, he is “not allowed to use deadly force unless it is absolutely necessary for self-defense or the defense of the life of the third person” (Del Carmen, 2004, p. 185-187).

The most important source of information about crime and criminals for many police officers are informants. However, the biggest problem is that their reliability is highly questionable. Moreover, police officers should be aware of the way of collaboration with informants in order not to restrict the law. South summarizes ethical issues when addressing informants as follows: “getting too close/or engaging in love affairs with informants; overestimating the veracity of the information, being a pawn of the information who is taking advantage of the system for money or other reasons; creating crimes by letting the informant entrap people who would not otherwise have committed the crime; engaging in illegal behaviors for the informant; letting the informant invade one’s personal life; using coercion and intimidation to get the informant to cooperate” (Pollock, 2007, p. 146). These ethical issues are very important for police officers to organize their work in a right way and get true information. Moreover, by breaking these rules, a police officer breaks the law and becomes a criminal himself.

Entrapment occurs when the police encourage an innocent person to commit an illegal act. Two approaches are used to determine whether entrapment has occurred. The objective approach of entrapment examines the government’s participation in exceeding accepted legal standards. For example, if the state provided a condition that made the crime possible or if there was pressure on the defendant in order to engage him in the actions, a court might conclude that entrapment had occurred. The subjective approach looks at the defendant’s background, character and predisposition towards crime. For example, if an undercover police officer proposes someone who looks as a person using narcotics to buy some and after that arrests him, it may be treated as entrapment (Pollock, 2007, p. 148).

To sum up, using force by the police, collaborating with informants and entrapment may be restricted by law as well as permitted. It is necessary for police officers to know in which situation such actions are necessary in order not to break the law and properly perform their obligations.

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