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"Broken Windows" and Police Discretion

NCJ Number
Date Published
October 1999
59 pages
Publication Series
This report details how a police officer's role in order maintenance and crime prevention extends far beyond just arresting violators of laws, notes that police discretion exists at every level of the police agency, and explains how the development of police guidelines needs to acknowledge police discretion and to establish accountability
The analysis focuses on why police officers make arrests in some circumstances and not others, especially when they are dealing with matters such as handling alcoholics and panhandlers and resolving disputes between neighbors. The author maintains that police officers must and should exercise discretion in such situations. However, giving police officers permission to use their professional judgment is not the same as endorsing random or arbitrary policing. Policing that reflects a neighborhood's values and sense of justice and that understands residents' concerns is crucial; effective policing in a democratic society can be achieved only with community support and community involvement. Considering the police as an administrative agency obliged to develop guidelines publicly to shape its inevitable use of discretion offers one more way to develop community support and involvement in policing urban areas. This viewpoint will improve both the quality of policing and the public understanding and support of police. However, guidelines development must be understood to be an integral, ongoing part of policing in that it is the process of creating a community consensus about the moral and legal basis for urban life. Chapter notes and appended training bulletin and policy statement

Date Published: October 1, 1999