Getting grounded – Before the oral board
If you intend to pursue a career in law enforcement, the time is now, that you develop an articulable opinion on the topic of officer discretion.
If you can tell the oral panel what officer discretion is, and how you’ll use it on the street, diplomatically, you’re doing well to prepare yourself for a position at their agency.
Few candidates can speak frankly on the topic of officer discretion because, quite honestly, they’ve never really given it much thought.
Yes, they kind’a, sort’a know about it, but kind’a and sort’a has caused countless law enforcement applicants to fall flat on their face when the question of, or discussion of officer discretion comes up in an interview.
Let’s get you planted on solid ground.
Stop or I’ll warn you!
The average person will describe officer discretion as giving, or not giving a speeding ticket.
That same average person, after receiving a well-deserved speeding citation will often grumble under their breath, that the officer COULD have used some discretion for crying out loud!
We’ve all heard it. Discretion is more, much more than not giving someone a ticket, but that certainly sums up the general public’s thought on the matter.
Right now, you ARE a member of the general public and I want to get you out of that mindset.
Defining officer discretion
Writing comes naturally for me and I don’t think I’ve ever had a terribly difficult time defining a phrase, until I sat down to give definition to the term “Officer Discretion.”
While I’ve never had an issue articulating how an officer should use discretion, a solid definition eluded me for a bit, and in the end, I would (without looking for a definition on the Internet) describe it in this way:
“Officer Discretion is a rather nebulous term used to describe the power that law enforcement officers are afforded, the power to, or not to take enforcement action in a given situation.”
I would like to note, this is my original definition, in other words, I coined it. While I’m not sure the Webster Dictionary people will be headhunting me any time soon, this definition is a solid start, in answering any question having to do with “officer discretion” should it come up in your first, or next oral board.
The real world
In pondering the thousands of calls for service I’ve taken over the years, I couldn’t help but come to the conclusion that officer discretion is a balance between personal biases, department policy, pity, state statutes, compassion, training, and how close it is to our lunch break or the end of our tour of duty.
Now, that’s not how you’d approach the discussion of officer discretion in your interview, I’m just giving you a snapshot of how discretion may be used, or misused, depending upon an officer’s environment at any given point in their day.
How’s that for blatant honesty?
No doubt the elements of officer discretion are more far reaching but to talk about proper and effective use of officer discretion, with an officer, versus putting words on a screen is somewhat of a trail.
More than a few times in my career I’ve had occasion to sit down with “Officer Zealot” and have the – let’s use our discretion a bit differently – discussion.
You don’t have to define it, unless…
They ask you! I do however want you to allude to good, solid, diplomatic, well thought out and reasonable discretion throughout your interview.
With so many oral board questions, and particularly the dreaded scenario questions, law enforcement applicants are afforded the opportunity to squeeze in their ability to manage officer discretion in a way that will make that police agency shine, should they be hired.
It’s likely you won’t be asked the question point blank, “Define officer discretion” but I can nearly assure you, you’ll have several opportunities to convey to the oral board panel that you know what it is, and you know how to manage it.
Five Bullets – For a Great Approach
Give these bullet points some thought. Do a bit of research on officer discretion and please, PLEASE, read true life accounts of officers that have used, and misused their discretion.
In other words, determine, after your research, what good discretion is and how it can be used poorly, and properly. The examples that you use to form your opinion should, at least for starters, be very cut and dried.
YouTube is a great place to find good and not-so-good, and even TERRIBLE uses of officer discretion. Use these bullets to assist you in forming a strong opinion as to how you’ll use your discretion, once you’re hired.
- Don’t let your personal biases (we all have them) influence your use of officer discretion.
- Be certain that your use of discretion blends well with department policy, and department philosophy.
- Compassion is a good thing, include it in your decision making process when you can.
- If you’re in doubt as to whether or not your use of discretion will get you, or someone else in hot water, follow the letter of the law and worry later, about how you could have done things. Following the letter of the law is nearly always a failsafe rule for dealing with the “should I or shouldn’t I” quandary.
- In sensitive situations, when the discretion (do or don’t) question isn’t blaringly obvious, seek the input of a supervisor.
If your use of sound discretion is applied evenly from day to day, week to week and so on, you’ll never have to fear sitting down with a lieutenant, captain or worse, the chief for that terribly uncomfortable, “We need to talk about your use of discretion,” talk.