In the article Police Discretion (2004), a difference between ministration and administration is defined. The former involves following rules down to the letter – no ifs, ands or buts. On the other hand, administration entails discretion in assessing individual situations and making judgments accordingly. It goes on to state that there are some situations that the law may not account for, it is up to the officer to decide how to deal with the situation at hand. And even when the law is clear, deviating (from the letter, but not the spirit) from it is sometimes more preferable. As no two situations, crimes or cases are exactly alike, the approach and steps taken can and must vary between them.
The article clearly stresses the need for good discretion and judgment. All too often, it says, there are criminals who deserve arrest yet go free. Conversely, law enforcement can sometimes go too far in handling situations, resulting in senseless death and tragedy – Ruby Ridge and Waco being among the most infamous cases. Such scenarios might actually have been predicted or feared in the 1950s, back when discretion was tabooed as a concept.
However, though there are indeed instances where discretion goes mad, the benefits far outweigh the risks. Philosophers state that discretion is what happens when the law runs out – that is, law enforcement improvises. Discretion can manifest in five ways – first, discretion-as-judgment, which calls on police officers to treat the law as something flexible rather than rigid. The second is discretion-as-choice, which is simply to decide and act for oneself – something all humans are capable of. Discretion-as-discernment, meanwhile, bases decisions on one’s wisdom and moral values. The fourth, discretion-as-liberty, emphasizes human freedom and inalienable rights. Finally, discretion-as-license involves bending rules as one sees fit – and being held accountable for it.