In the field, it is almost impossible for the police to apply the law to the letter due to the diverse nature of scenarios. For this reason, the police exercise personal discretion to a great extent in their practice. The manner in which the police handle juveniles is of particular importance. Police serve as the gatekeepers of the juvenile justice system. Therefore, their handling of the juveniles is crucial in the juvenile justice system. There exist some differences in the manner in which the police handle juveniles in comparison with adults. When dealing with minors, there is a difference in the exercise of personal discretion and the balance between the two dimensions of the police behavior which are the use of authority and offering assistance and support. To understand and improve the contribution of the police to the juvenile justice system, it is necessary to understand the factors that influence the manner in which police officers handle juveniles.
Although there are a set of guidelines and rules on how police officers should conduct themselves, in the field these are vague, and it is known that police officers exercise discretion to a high degree (Neyroud, 2014). When handling juveniles, the uncertainty is higher as it is challenging to interpret laws that are specific to juveniles as sometimes they have to be treated as adults. It is upon the individual police officer to decide which juvenile gets a citation, which gets arrested, and who they tell of other agents that may offer help regarding the particular situation. The decision made by an officer when dealing with a juvenile will determine the shape the direction juvenile justice will take, hence the great significance of decisions made by the police.
Factors such as demeanor, evidentiary strength, personal preferences, sex, and the severity of the offense influence the manner in which police officers handle juveniles. When dealing with a female juvenile, the police are less likely to arrest the suspect and be coercive. The magnitude of the offense also affects the way in which an officer decides to deal with a situation involving a juvenile. For some offenses, some officers just warn against recurrence of the same and threaten to effect an arrest; they refer the juveniles to another agency that may help for some offenses, and for other offenses, they arrest (Sanden & Wentz, 2017). Police officers are more likely to exercise their authority over minority juveniles than white juveniles hence the reflection in the number of juveniles arrested, where more are a minority. When a minor appears rude, the officer is more likely to use force than if they appear otherwise. The strength of available evidence determines how police handle juveniles. In the presence of substantial evidence that a juvenile has been involved in a crime, the police are more likely to use force and effect arrest. Therefore, in dealing with juveniles, the difference in circumstances dramatically influences the decisions made by police officers.
Variation in personal behavior of police officers significantly impacts on the manner in which they handle juveniles. The responses of officers to situations and people greatly vary. In a similar situation, different officers exercise their authorities at different degrees (Neyroud, 2014). Some officers prefer to utilize their authority on most occasions and are more aggressive whereas other deal with a similar situation in a different way. When dealing with juveniles, some officers are selective, and others are not and make arrests and give out citations at every opportunity. Some officers are cynical and often view people as being wrong and likely to be involved in some illegal activity whereas others are good-natured and more concerned about utilizing their authority to help and bring justice. The variation in behavior of officers is substantial especially when handling juveniles as on most patrols, officers are usually alone, and therefore it is their sole responsibility to make any decisions upon witnessing a crime.
When dealing with juveniles, police tend to behave differently than with adults. Police officers feel they have more latitude with juveniles (Skaggs & Sun, 2017). For this reason, they tend to rely on personal discretion to make decisions rather than the legal aspects of the situation. Although police officers tend to make decisions based on what they deem right, this is especially the case when the individual they are dealing with is a juvenile. The effect of this is seen in the way police officers handle complaints from juveniles. They are less likely to arrest in an encounter initiated by a juvenile. On the other hand, police officers are more likely to arrest a minor when complainants request them. The difference in the dealing of the police with juveniles is a significant issue as it impacts on the decisions made regarding juveniles, and the shape that serving justice to the juveniles will take.
In conclusion, different factors affect the manner in which police officers handle juveniles. Decision-making making by police officers is dependent on personal discretion to a great extent, especially when dealing with a juvenile. Factors such as demeanor, sex, personal preference, evidentiary strength, and severity of the offense affect the way in which officers handle cases involving juveniles. Differences in the personal behavior of police officers affect their handling of juveniles. Police handle situations differently when it involves a juvenile.
Lynn Skaggs, S., & Sun, I. (2017). Policing juveniles in rural communities. Policing: An International Journal Of Police Strategies & Management, 40(2), 244-264. http://dx.doi.org/10.1108/pijpsm-03-2016-0030
Neyroud, P. (2014). Policing 'Facts' and Policing Evidence: System 1 and System 2. Policing, 8(2), 93-95. http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/police/pau019
Sanden, M., & Wentz, E. (2017). Kids and Cops: Juveniles' Perceptions of the Police and Police Services. Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice, 33(4), 411-430. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/1043986217724536
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