"It might be thought that UK police discretion is tightly constrained by legal rules. At times it is but more frequently it is not" Discuss in the context of Stop and Search

Essay by grantj2107College, Undergraduate March 2009

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In discussing the above quotation I intend to examine what is generally meant by police discretion, what constraints are imposed on that discretion and how effective those constraints actually are upon today's police force. Finally, how such discretion is applied in relation to police powers of stop and search, and how effective any constraints actually are.

Police DiscretionDiscretion, defined as "the freedom to decide what should be done in a particular situation" , will inevitably befall the police officer as it befalls any person. The difference for police officers is that they are 'obliged' to conduct themselves in accordance with the law they are charged with upholding.

Discretion is exercised throughout all levels of policing. Within the higher echelons of the Police discretion is used, for example, in deciding to target certain areas of crime with the use of initiatives or policies, possibly through the influence of Government and the Home Secretary.

Most recently police efficiency has been measured "in terms of crime fighting" by proactive and "intelligence led policing", largely as a result of the Home Office White Paper on Police Reform, 1993. The Police would argue that if success is to be measured in such a way, discretion is an inevitable tool in that efficiency. Further down the institutional Police hierarchy, high-ranking officers exercise similar discretion over, for example, decisions to be pro-active in particular crime areas or localities. In the Greater Manchester Police area this October (2003), the Police provided a high level of visible policing around campuses, student halls and traditional student 'bedsit' areas. The aim of this was to combat the 'usual' high level of mugging and robbery around such areas each autumn. This was a conscious decision by the GMP to use its discretion in local policing issues. In their work "From Suspect to...