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  • Help a cadet understand "officer discretion"

    Hello, I am currently in the Academy and will be graduating in august. I cant seem to get a clear answer regarding the concept of officer discretion, specifically regarding traffic stops. I do know department policy plays a large role.

    Basically I have 2 questions,
    1. How do you utilize it during traffic stops, while still maintaining integrity?

    2. I have searched the net and my penal code book far and wide but cannot find the actual law regarding officer discretion as it pertains to issuing citations does anyone know what it is (in texas) or if there even is one?

    Some officers speak of knowing when people "deserve" tickets and when they don't, In my mind that opens the door to discrimination and abuse of authority. I know "common sense" and such, I have heard the story of "that guy" who pulls over dieing people on their way to the hospital, but its not always that clear cut.

    thoughts?
    "We are the seawall against which the tides of chaos break"

  • #2
    Originally posted by kcatkinson88@gmail.com View Post

    2. I have searched the net and my penal code book far and wide but cannot find the actual law regarding officer discretion as it pertains to issuing citations does anyone know what it is (in texas) or if there even is one?
    Try looking in the code and finding a law that says the officer MUST cite someone for something.

    Hint-----You won't........

    Therefore the officer can or can not cite when he/she observes a violation......THAT is discretion

    Comment


    • #3
      You stop Mrs. Smith because she has a tailight out, you give her a verbal warning and tell her to tell her husband to put a new light in when she gets home... Thats officer discretion. Most cops give a heck of alot more verbal warnings than actually writing a ticket..
      Retired LASD

      Comment


      • #4
        Try looking in the code and finding a law that says the officer MUST cite someone for something.

        Hint-----You won't........
        Thank you...that actually clears up a lot. I guess everything after that is just personal ethics.
        "We are the seawall against which the tides of chaos break"

        Comment


        • #5
          At the base of it all is being fair, firm and consistent in your application of the law.

          As Iowa noted, there are provisions of law that say if an offense occurs you must arrest or cite the violator; while others say doing something is a violation but which does not require enforcement action to be taken, this is where officer discretion comes in. Just remember the base: Fair, Firm and Consistent.

          Once you get with your FTO and start working the streets you should gain further insight into when and where this concept comes into play. Learn by watching and listening.
          Originally posted by SSD
          It has long been the tradition on this forum and as well as professionally not to second guess or Monday morning QB the officer's who were actually on-scene and had to make the decision. That being said, I don't think that your discussion will go very far on this board.
          Originally posted by Iowa #1603
          And now you are arguing about not arguing..................

          Comment


          • #6
            Originally posted by katkinson View Post
            Hello, I am currently in the Academy and will be graduating in august. I cant seem to get a clear answer regarding the concept of officer discretion, specifically regarding traffic stops. I do know department policy plays a large role.

            Basically I have 2 questions,
            1. How do you utilize it during traffic stops, while still maintaining integrity?

            2. I have searched the net and my penal code book far and wide but cannot find the actual law regarding officer discretion as it pertains to issuing citations does anyone know what it is (in texas) or if there even is one?

            Some officers speak of knowing when people "deserve" tickets and when they don't, In my mind that opens the door to discrimination and abuse of authority. I know "common sense" and such, I have heard the story of "that guy" who pulls over dieing people on their way to the hospital, but its not always that clear cut.

            thoughts?
            Balancing spirit of the law vs letter of the law with department policy, your appropriate states statutes and what YOU feel needs to be done to correct the issue.

            Example, in AZ anyone that's stopped driving with a suspended or revoked license, never ever had a license or permit ANYWHERE or certain DUI offenses, along with a coupla other things, has their vehicle towed and impounded for 30 days. I have no discretion there because the law says TOW IT.

            Now, someone that's DUI slightest degree or .08 but below a .15, I'm not required by state law to tow the car but my department policy dictates that I tow it in DUI offenses. No discretion there because there's a rule that says TOW IT.

            If if stop someone that doesn't have a valid license but has a learners permit: now I have the choice to tow the car or tell them to park it and issue a ticket then have a licensed driver come pick it up. Depending on the situation at that moment in time, I have the choice between towing or leaving it there; whichever feels appropriate. I've done both because each situation dictated accordingly. Also, speeding. You don't have to ticket on every offense because YOU can choose the way you think it needs to get dealt with, whether cite, warning or "Hey knucklehead, slow down. I'm not cutting any paper so let this be a lesson."

            I start every shift praying to be wiser than Solomon ever was. And that prayer is answered every shift. Hopefully you'll learn, good luck.

            Comment


            • #7
              Discretion = Your decision. Use common sense, do the " right thing" and you'll never go wrong. It's very simple, don't over complicate it.
              Certified troll.

              Comment


              • #8
                Remember also that abuse of discretion can go both ways.

                Among other things, people visit the Department of Motor Vehicles office to renew their vehicle registrations and drivers licenses. Sometimes they are late in doing so because they forgot or because they are broke and don't have the money to pay the fees. But no matter how late they are, I give them a little respect if they are at the Motor Vehicles office taking care of business. Not so one of my officers. He used to sit in the Motor Vehicles parking lot citing people for expired registration or expired drivers license. There was a point where he was going through one citation book per day just on these kind of citations. That came out to over 500 citations per month. Local highway patrol officers whose job it was to just write traffic violations only averaged 120 cites per month. Not only was this an abuse of discretion, but it discouraged people from coming to the Motor Vehicles office to comply with the law. I tried referring to him as one of my Hitler Youth in an effort to discourage him, but he never got the hint. Fortunately he transferred out.

                On the opposite end of the spectrum we had another kind of discretionary abuse. We had one officer who simply refused to make arrests for any misdemeanor crimes and we almost had to twist his arm to get him to make felony arrests. He simply felt that the crimes weren't worthy of enforcement or for whatever reason, the people didn't deserve to be arrested. I don't believe he was with us for too long before he was encourage to move on elsewhere.
                Going too far is half the pleasure of not getting anywhere

                Comment


                • #9
                  Officer discretion is basically a few different actions: The word SHALL takes away discretion; the word MAYcreates discretion.

                  1. You shall make a physical arrest for all felonies. You may make a physical arrest for most misdemeanors and some infractions.

                  2, You may cite and release most infractions, some misdemeanors and no felonies.

                  3. You may issue a fix-it-ticket for most mechanical violations that are not immediate hazards or urgent repair needs.

                  4. You may issue a written warning (in some states) for some infractions, no misdemeanors or felonies.

                  5. You may issue a verbal warning for almost all violations you observe - except, felonies (shall arrest). The verbal warning is your choice after weighing the totallity of circumstance and the effectiveness of a verbal vs documentation.

                  No one, not even a supervisor should second guess your decision. They may offer a suggestion but cannot demand that you perform a certain manner; again, except for violations outlines in the appropriate state or local laws.
                  Be courteous to all, but intimate with few, and let those few be well tried before you give them your confidence!

                  [George Washington (1732 - 1799)]

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by SgtCHP View Post
                    Officer discretion is basically a few different actions: The word SHALL takes away discretion; the word MAYcreates discretion.

                    1. You shall make a physical arrest for all felonies. You may make a physical arrest for most misdemeanors and some infractions.

                    2, You may cite and release most infractions, some misdemeanors and no felonies.

                    3. You may issue a fix-it-ticket for most mechanical violations that are not immediate hazards or urgent repair needs.

                    4. You may issue a written warning (in some states) for some infractions, no misdemeanors or felonies.

                    5. You may issue a verbal warning for almost all violations you observe - except, felonies (shall arrest). The verbal warning is your choice after weighing the totallity of circumstance and the effectiveness of a verbal vs documentation.

                    No one, not even a supervisor should second guess your decision. They may offer a suggestion but cannot demand that you perform a certain manner; again, except for violations outlines in the appropriate state or local laws.
                    Sarge, that's what was in my head and I was trying to convey but you put it out there perfectly. It's always great reading your posts.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Others will disagree with me, as they have in the past when I've brought this up, but often the "shall" in your state code doesn't make it mandatory. Especially if there is no penalty listed, you may get in trouble with your employer but the legislation can't force you. This came up in my state a few years back over "shall provide a certified breath test" when an officer didn't. The officer could get in trouble with his department, but since the code doesn't say "or its an infraction punishable by..." or whatever, there is no penalty for violation, so the "shall" is useless.

                      We ignore the "shall" periodically on the routine and on the extreme. There's not an Indiana officer here who has towed every car with an expired plate he saw, despite the "shall" in the Indiana Code. Similarly I've seen a woman over 80 flee (at about 20mph) the police in a motor vehicle to get her son (who had a warrant) home and try to close the garage door so he wouldn't get locked up. Due to her age and health conditions, she was given a summons for a felony, obviously not something with in the normal rules but a smart choice none the less.

                      Your discretion, as lawfully limited by your superiors and department policy, is part of checks and balances. You are an extension of the executive branch, executing the laws. That's a very important thing to remember, we aren't a tyranny and we have those checks for a reason.
                      I miss you, Dave.
                      http://www.odmp.org/officer/20669-of...david-s.-moore

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Discretion, get it? Discretion! Look that up and the answer is there!

                        It is NOT an integrity issue as you are not getting anything in return from the motorist for your warning. Unless you think a thank you and a smile is an integrity issue... Well... Your the ultimate to robocop.
                        Captain Square Badge, reporting for duty!.

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by L-1 View Post
                          Remember also that abuse of discretion can go both ways.

                          Among other things, people visit the Department of Motor Vehicles office to renew their vehicle registrations and drivers licenses. Sometimes they are late in doing so because they forgot or because they are broke and don't have the money to pay the fees. But no matter how late they are, I give them a little respect if they are at the Motor Vehicles office taking care of business. Not so one of my officers. He used to sit in the Motor Vehicles parking lot citing people for expired registration or expired drivers license. There was a point where he was going through one citation book per day just on these kind of citations. That came out to over 500 citations per month. Local highway patrol officers whose job it was to just write traffic violations only averaged 120 cites per month. Not only was this an abuse of discretion, but it discouraged people from coming to the Motor Vehicles office to comply with the law. I tried referring to him as one of my Hitler Youth in an effort to discourage him, but he never got the hint. Fortunately he transferred out.

                          On the opposite end of the spectrum we had another kind of discretionary abuse. We had one officer who simply refused to make arrests for any misdemeanor crimes and we almost had to twist his arm to get him to make felony arrests. He simply felt that the crimes weren't worthy of enforcement or for whatever reason, the people didn't deserve to be arrested. I don't believe he was with us for too long before he was encourage to move on elsewhere.
                          This is not discretion.

                          The one officer chooses not to have any discretion by being a moron and writing hard working people who are going to the DMV to fix a problem.

                          The other officer is a zero. There is NO such discretion for felonies or even misdemeanors for that matter.
                          Captain Square Badge, reporting for duty!.

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Discretion means that everyone you stop doesn't have to get a ticket.

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Just try not to overthink and analyse other things in police work like you have this topic.

                              Comment

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