Albeiro E. Florez, Department of Criminal Justice, University of Maryland University College. This report is a response to Professor Jeffrey B. Bumgarner’s project 2 directives. Correspondence concerning this report should be addressed to Albeiro E. Florez, Department of Criminal Justice, University of Maryland University College, Adelphi eCampus, Adelphi, MD 20783. Contact: [email protected]
Police Discretion Case Analysis
People make decisions on a daily basis to decide what we should do in any given situation. Having the knowledge to differentiate between what is appropriate or inappropriate is what gives us the freedom to make this decision with the correct judgment.
In law enforcement, sworn officers are taught to face any situation by employing good judgment and making the best decisions by themselves or with little to no supervision. This is what we know as police discretion (The Rynard Law Firm, 2007). The Merriam-Webster dictionary describes discretion as “the quality of being careful about what you do and say so that people will not be embarrassed or offended” (Merriam-Webster, 2013).
Although systematic routines and protocols need to be followed by officers to ensure they abide by the law as well as to enforce it, often circumstances will show up and force officers to make a decision based on what they feel is right or wrong according to their training. Even though the Chiefs of police do not spend a lot of time in the field, they still have to use discretion while making decision that affects the police department and the community. As I finished reading and understanding our textbook, I started to realize how complex police work can be, especially when we examine closely the use of discretion in the daily routine of a police officer, and as to how this helps to understand the importance of the role a police chief plays in the vitality of a police department (Thibault, Lynch, & McBride, 2011).
In this concept paper I will discuss two different situations where a police chief had to exercise discretion to come up with a plan of action for each. A police chief role requires an even greater obligation in order to develop guidelines to help sworn officers achieve the standard, for which it will require the inevitable use of discretion from one case to another. I hope this concept paper will clarify the proper way to exercise police discretion in current policing.
2002 Beltway Sniper Attacks
During October 2002, there were a series of coordinated sniper attacks in the vicinity of the Washington, DC metropolitan area, and along Interstate 95 in Virginia. Ten people were killed and three others were injured (Associated Press/KX, 2006). The Montgomery Police Department and its Police Chief, Charles A. Moose, led the investigation. Police Chief Charles Moose had to make the strong decision to keep information from the media and the public eye in order to protect his investigation. As the Chief of Police, he has to assure the public that they are safe. He chose to use this to his advantage, tactically and publically. Chief Moose’s controlling protocol occurred when he decided to keep the public at ease and calm. He had two choices, either to let the attackers know that they were under control by giving the media all information necessary and evacuating the areas to target them directly with minimum collateral damage; but instead, he chose to limit the investigation details in order to keep the attackers in the dark.
During the attacks, Chief Moose justifies his discretionary actions when he states that the unfortunate leak of sensitive information resulted in the death of five innocent people (Reaves, 2002).
I think the reasons supporting the compliance with the controlling protocol are the fact that he kept the public safe and calm at all times, he based his decision by deductive reasoning from the facts at hand, once the media leaked the information, there were five more fatalities.
In most investigation cases, the release of vital information is a critical task and it is an imperative controlling protocol when dealing with killers that are erratic and unpredictable, this protocol helps the department head to control the ongoing investigation and manipulate the attacker by being one step ahead. In fact this case specifically urged “the country at large to question the role of the press in these types of situations” (Reaves, 2002).
As the attacks developed, the media dedicated vast amounts of airtime and newspaper space to each new event. There was a time that the media got to spend hours reporting live at the time of the attacks. The TV show named America’s Most Wanted dedicated a whole episode to the snipers hoping to aid in their capture. On the other hand, we can see that other media such as The New York Times was publicizing fabricated coverage; this resulted in the resignation of the top two editors, Gerald Boyd and Howell Raines (The New York Times, 2003). As the attacks continued, people’s situational awareness was at an all time high; the public parking lots were empty, people did not want to pump gas or they rushed the pump trying to avoid getting picked by a sniper. The paranoia was so high that fuel stations put up tarps around the fuel pumps trying to make the public feel safer. After the detailed threat against children was sent to the media, numerous school groups reduced field trips and outdoors activities based upon safety concerns. Some schools simply closed for the week and many others changed their pick up procedures to make sure the parents picked up their own children, lowering the amount of time that the children had to spend outside (Moose, C., 2003).
All of the above mentioned facts are what have caused me to believe that the fact that he was decisive to follow this discretion was appropriate for this case, probably the only way out. Chief Moose may have saved countless lives by letting the attackers continue with their plan as they developed the investigation in the dark, only releasing information to the media and using the media as a communication system between himself and the snipers. This caused the attackers to get overconfident and leave traces; they were spotted various times by eyewitness, which made it easier for the investigators to get closer to them. Right before the end, Chief Moose utilized the media to send the sniper a cryptic message. “You have indicated that you want us to do and say certain things. You have asked us to say, ‘We have caught the sniper like a duck in a noose’. We understand that hearing us say this is important to you”. Chief Moose then asked the media “to carry the message accurately and often” (Josh White and Robert Barnes, 2009). Finally, the snipers got caught at a parking lot while they were resting with their guard down. At the end of the day, I am confident that Chief Moose made the right call by being discrete the way he did. As I mentioned earlier, one of the higher priorities for a Police Chief is to assure the safety of the public, and he did that. The way he utilized the media discreetly, gave him a tactical advantage during the entire investigation.
Trayvon Martin vs. Zimmerman Case
For the second case of discretion I would like to bring up a huge case that recently changed many peoples’ lives, it has many points of view but at the end it’s a great example of the misuse of the word discretion. Bill Lee Jr., the Ex-Police Chief of Sanford Florida, has been criticized for his discretionary actions he took in the Trayvon Martin case. George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watchman, shot an unarmed man, his actions generated disturbance across the entire United States. The Sanford Police Department failed to detain Zimmerman the night the shooting occurred, in addition, Chief Lee made the discretionary decision to not pursue any charges, these actions together created one of the most well known ethical court cases in the United States. Chief Lee established his discretionary decision based on Florida’s state law. Florida’s State law states “law enforcement was prohibited from making an arrest based on the facts and circumstances they had at the time. Additionally, if the arrest is done maliciously and in bad faith, the officer and the City may be held liable” (Bonaparte, 2012). Chief Lee’s controlling protocol was based on the initial evidence that supported Zimmerman’s self-defense claims and the State of Florida’s Law. Chief Lee also went a bit further and explained that his discretionary actions were also justified by simply stating that in the State of Florida “a person who is not engaged in an unlawful activity and who is attacked in any…place where he or she has a right to be has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force, if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony” (Coalition To Stop Gun Violence, 2011). In my personal opinion I think that Chief Lee discretionary actions were very inappropriate. Unlike the last case, He based his decision in a very early stage of a case, without taking in consideration the entire spectrum of this specific situation. After all the disagreements that surrounded the very intense case between Trayvon Martin vs. Zimmerman, Chief of Police Bill Lee Jr. decided to submit his resignation. Regardless what the outcome in the Trayvon/Zimmerman case was, the now ex-Chief Lee remained under scrutiny throughout the case. Chief Lee said that his discretionary decision was a matter of protocol; he stated that arresting Zimmerman based only on the evidence at hand at the time of the incident would have violated Zimmerman’s Fourth Amendment rights. Chief lee also said, “The police department needed to do a job, and there was some influence — outside influence and inside influence — that forced a change in the course of the normal criminal justice process,” Lee said. “With all the influence and the protests and petitions for an arrest, you still have to uphold your oath…that investigation was taken away from us. We weren’t able to complete it” (McLaughlin CNN, 2013).
“The U.S. Department of Justice is expected to make a thorough analysis of how the city’s police department handled the investigation into the Feb. 26 killing of the 17-year-old Martin, including studying when officers arrived to the scene of the shooting to the actions that Lee and other officials took in their ultimate decision not to arrest Zimmerman” (Hightower, 2012). We, as educated professionals, have to make decisions and judgments everyday involving different situations, most of the time, we have to take that step and make the decision in a matter of seconds or minutes. Nonetheless, the discretionary actions taken by Chiefs of Police have a severe effect on the people that are involved with the matter at hand, but these decisions influence the entire community as a whole as well. There are consequences to every decision made, good or bad. The use of appropriate discretion, such as in the first case presented in this paper, the Sniper case that involve Chief Moose, is guided to help the public safety, by keeping them calm and at ease at a time of distress such as the one discuss above. On the opposite hand, the use of inappropriate discretion, such as the one displayed by Chief Bill Lee Jr. in the second case described in this paper, the Trayvon Martin vs. Zimmerman case, was more so to protect the city’s liability. Either way, Chief Lee’s actions had a very negative impression on the community and therefore, a negative consequence to the police department itself as well. Now, regardless that Chief Lee could justify his discretionary actions, the community did not perceive them as ethical. Consequently, it is in the Police Chief’s best interest to make sure that when making a discretionary decision, they should reflect that justice is served, not only in the eyes of the law, but to the community as well. “Police professionals cannot simply think ethically; they must also act ethically” (Gleason, 2006).
The Rynard Law Firm. (2007). Police Discretion. Retrieved 10 October 2013, from Rynard Law: http://rynardlaw.com/Article6.aspx Merriam-Webster. (2013). Merriam-Webster. Retrieved 10 October 2013, from Merriam-Webster: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/discretion Thibault, E. A., Lynch, L. M., McBride, R.B. (2011). Proactive Police Management (Custom Ed. for UMUC CCJS 340). Administrative/Staff Functions. 10. 206-231. Associated Press/KX (2002). Police reportedly details for new shootings. Retrieved 09 October 2013 from http://www.kxnet.com/getARticle.asp?ArticleId=13796 Reaves, J. (2002). Person of The Week: Charles A. Moose. Retrieved 11 October 2013, from Time U.S.: http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,363860,00.html The New York Times (2003). U.S., CORRECTING THE RECORD; Times Reporter Who Resigned Leaves Long Trail of Deception. Retrieved 11 October 2013, from http://www.nytimes.com/2003/05/11/us/correcting-the-record-times-reporter-who-resigned-leaves-long-trail-of-deception.html?pagewanted=all&src=pm Moose Charles, Fleming Charles (2003). Three weeks in October: The manhunt for the serial sniper. 370. Josh White and Robert Barnes (2009), Washington Post. Supreme Court Rejects D.C. area snipers appeal. Retrieved 09 October 2013
Cite this Police Discretion Case Study
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