Should a police officer have discretionary powers and why?

Police officer discretion is a powerful tool that is necessary for basic policing (Bronitt & Stenning, 2011). If police discretion is not in place, the application of a “must arrest” for all offenses would result in unnecessarily high detentions rates and arrests. The primary reason why police should have discretion is so that they can make considerations, to determine the necessity for an arrest (Dawson & Hotton 2014). That is because, during investigations, there are many considerations on other issues which must be carried out before arriving at a conclusive decision.

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Judges in a court of law should also have the discretion of powers in determining the maximum sentence (Schulenberg 2015). That is because sound judgment can only be arrived at after considering some factors or a combination of factors which resulted in the sentencing. The judges should be able to provide a sound judgment based on each case (Fitzgerald & Carrington 2011). However, this brings into question the consistency of the sentences and elimination of unjust convictions.

The main advantage of judicial discretion is that a judge has a chance to combine all the facts and use common sense to treat people with trust. Allowing this flexibility ensures that everyone gets a fair judgment based on the circumstances. Apart from that, people who violate laws may get a warning instead of a citation (Boyce, Cotter, & Perreault 2014). Some disadvantages include, the discretion may lead to unfair judgment or preferential treatment by the police officers (Snook et al. 2012). Additionally, it can promote laziness of officers since they will be ignoring some crimes, and not take appropriate actions.

The case R. v. Dyment is a good example of how discretion has been used positively in Canada. The police officer had attended the accident involving the defendant and received sample blood from the doctor who was treating the Appellant (“R. v. Dyment – SCC Cases (Lexum)”, 2017). The sample indicated that the appellant was driving under the influence of alcohol and he was convicted of impaired driving. The case R. v. Beaudry in 2007 the police officer was accused of obstructing justice by allowing a fellow police officer to drive while under the influence of alcohol. Primarily, the police officer failed to gather evidence that was crucial to lay criminal charges on the intoxicated driver (“R. v. Beaudry – SCC Cases (Lexum)”, 2017). The case is a good example of how discretion has been used negatively in Canada.



Boyce, J., Cotter, A., & Perreault, S. (2014). Police-reported crime statistics in Canada, 2013. Juristat: Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, 1.

Bronitt, S. H., & Stenning, P. (2011). Understanding discretion in modern policing.

Dawson, M., & Hotton, T. (2014). Police charging practices for incidents of intimate partner violence in Canada. Journal of research in crime and delinquency51(5), 655-683.

Fitzgerald, R. T., & Carrington, P. J. (2011). Disproportionate Minority Contact in Canada: Police and Visible Minority Youth 1. Canadian Journal of Criminology and Criminal Justice53(4), 449-486.

R. v. Beaudry – SCC Cases (Lexum). (2017). Retrieved 31 March 2017, from

R. v. Dyment – SCC Cases (Lexum). (2017). Retrieved 31 March 2017, from

Schulenberg, J. L. (2015). Moving beyond arrest and reconceptualizing police discretion: An investigation into the factors affecting conversation, assistance, and criminal charges. Police Quarterly18(3), 244-271.

Snook, B., House, J. C., MacDonald, S., & Eastwood, J. (2012). Police witness interview training, supervision, and feedback: a survey of Canadian Police Officers 1. Canadian Journal of Criminology and Criminal Justice54(3), 363-372.