POLICE USE OF DISCRETION
A COMPARISON OF COMMUNITY,
SYSTEM, AND OFFICER EXPECTATIONS
Harol Hugh Nees, II
B.S., Northern Arizona University, 1969
B.S., Metropolitan State College, 1976
M.A., University of Northern Colorado, 1977
M.C.J., University of Colorado, 1981
A thesis submitted to the
Faculty of the Graduate School of Public Affairs of the
University of Colorado in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the degree of
Doctor of Public Administration
Graduate School of Public Affairs
g) Copyright by Harol Hugh Nees, II, 1986
All Rights Reserved
This thesis for the Doctor of Public Administration
Harol Hugh Nees, II
has been approved for the
of Public Affairs
Nees, Harol Hugh II (D.P.A., Public Administration)
Police Use of Discretion: A Comparison of Community, System,
and Officer Expectations
Thesis directed by Professor Mark Pogrebin
Law enforcement officers exercise broad discretion while
carrying out their duties. While most researchers, authors,
practitioners, and the public recognize this as fact, no one has
developed a method or an approach to properly manage the exercise
of enforcement discretion by law enforcement officers. This
thesis provides information that may be used to better manage the
exercise of discretion.
Numerous authors have written about the exercise of discre-
tion by officers. Prior to the 1960's, few openly recognized that
in fact officers do exercise discretion. Since that time, numer-
ous authors have written about the exercise of discretion with
most of those authors either describing or defining discretion. A
few, including Brown, LaFave, and Vandal 1, developed approaches to
help manage the exercise of discretion. It is upon the foundation
built by Brown, LaFave, and Vandall that this work is built.
The research involved the use of vignettes of enforcement
incidents. Boulder County law enforcement officers were asked to
select from a series of options as to how they would handle the
incidents. Other respondents (law enforcement supervisors, admin-
istrators, prosecuting and defense attorneys, judges, probation
officers, community leaders, and members of the community) were
asked to select the options which best fit what they expected or
desired officers to do in the various situations.
The study was descriptive and exploratory in nature. The
research pointed out that while differences do exist among the
respondent groups, they are not great. In brief, the differences
are among the options which had a lesser impact (take no action,
warn, or refer to a social service agency) or between the options
which involve more impact on the individual (issue a summons or
jail). For example, no significant portion of any one respondent
group chose an option with great impact while another significant
portion of a respondent group chose an option with lesser impact.
The research supported the need for additional efforts to
narrow the differences among respondent groups. Some techniques,
explanations, and suggestions evolved from the research which
would assist in narrowing the identified differences.
The form and content of this abstract are approved. I recommend
Facultymember ifi charge of thesis
This manuscript is dedicated to Devon, my son, who didn't
live to see its completion. He will always have my admiration,
respect, and love. He is missed.
A dissertation cannot be written without the assistance of
many. If I were to recognize everyone who deserves to be recog-
nized, this would read like a telephone book. To all of you whose
name does not appear on this page, you are not forgotten and your
contribution is appreciated.
While struggling through school, I met a professor who
helped me survive, Dr. Larry McFarlane, a professor of history at
Northern Arizona University. He pushed me at times and pulled at
others. I owe to him the kindling of my drive to complete a
doctorate degree. Others at NAU deserve much credit but if I
tried to list them all I would forget some. The almost 20 years
since NAU have not dimmed my respect for the institution or the
people who make it human.
Others have helped: the names of numerous professors at
Metropolitan State College, the University of Northern Colorado,
and the University of Colorado at Boulder and Denver belong on
this page. While their names are not here, their ideas are
represented in what I have written.
The professors of the Graduate School of Public Affairs
deserve a lot of credit. Dr. Mike March supported me from a
distance. Nick Pijuan provided me with many challenges, much
support, friendship, and is one of the best teachers I have had
during my years attending school.
Much credit, thanks, and respect go to the committee that
worked with me through this unending project. Dr. Mark Pogrebin,
the chair, provided direction, ideas, support, and challenged me.
Dr. Bob Marsh gave support and positive criticism. Dr. Bob Regoli
helped me with the quantitative analysis and much more. Dr. Mary
Jane Turner kept pushing me to improve the writing. Dr. Eric
Poole joined the Committee in mid-stream but provided assistance,
ideas, and support. Together, they helped me overcome my
The National Institute of Justice gets my thanks; they
provided funding for this research. Anne Schmidt of NIJ helped me
through the bureaucracy of the federal government and the Univer-
sity of Colorado. William Saulsbury provided much assistance
after Anne Schmidt changed positions at NIJ.
Last, but not least, my thanks to those who completed the
questionnaire. Without your time and effort this work would not
have been possible.
STATEMENT OF PROBLEM....................................... 1
Purpose of Study......................................... 3
LITERATURE REVIEW ......................................... 8
The Literature Reviewed ................................. 10
Observational Studies ................................... 14
Managing Discretion ..................................... 19
Judicial Review of Officer Discretion ................... 24
Survey Procedures ....................................... 38
Coding System ........................................... 42
Demographic Information ................................. 47
Overview of Findings..................................... 49
Curfew Violations ..................................... 54
Drugs and Alcohol...................................... 68
Cases Involving Juveniles ............................. 72
Traffic Violations..................................... 78
Additional Vignettes................................... 85
Complainant at Scene.................................. 90
Comparison of Police Officers Responses
with Other Groups...................................... 93
Agency Comparisons.................................... 97
Comparison with Previous Research ...................... 107
Problems of Discretion.................................108
Comparisons with Brown's Research .................... Ill
Years of Experience...................................120
Officers and Their Communities........................121
Discretion Management ............................... 121
Discretion Management ............................... 123
Expectation Differences ............................. 124
Setting Priorities. ................................. 126
B. DEMOGRAPHICS DATA.................................... 157
C. ADDITIONAL DATA........................................178
D. CODING SYSTEM......................................... 192
3- 1 Answer Code............................................. 43
4- 1 Respondents by Group.....................................47
4-2 Comparison of Vignette Categories by Group...............50
4-3 Comparison of Group Mean with Grand Mean.................53
4-4 Police Respondent by Rank................................55
4-5 Curfew Violations ...................................... 56
4-6 Police Response by Agency ...............................58
4-7 Comparison of Combinations...............................59
4-8 Years of Service....................................... 60
4-9 Enforcement Style....................................... 61
4-10 Comparison of Enorcement Style Choices ................. 62
4-12 Police Response by Agency.............................. 67
4-13 Comparison of Large and Small Agencies...................67
4-14 Drugs and Alcohol....................................... 69
4-15 Police Response by Agency .............................. 71
4-16 Officer Experience...................................... 72
4-17 Juvenile Violations .................................... 73
4-18 Officer Experience.......................................75
4-19 Police Response by Agency ............................. 76
4-20 Officer Education Trends for Juvenile Offenders ... 77
4-21 Officer Education Trends for Curfew Violations. ... 77
4-22 Traffic Violations....................................79
4-23 Officer Experience......................................81
4-24 Police Response by Agency ............................. 81
4-26 Comparison of Police and Other
Criminal Justice Workers.............................85
4-27 Vandalism (V-7) ........................................87
4-28 Police Response by Agency . ...............88
4-29 Gambling (V-13).......................................89
4-30 Police Response by Agency ..............................91
4-31 Theft (V-14)............................................92
4-32 Similarity with Police Officer Response ............... 95
4-33 Respondent Group Most Similar to Officer................97
4-34 Comparison of Means and Standard Deviations
STATEMENT OF PROBLEM
Law enforcement officers exercise broad discretion while
carrying out their duties. Atkins and Pogrebin define discretion
as a "situation in which an official has latitude to make authori-
tative choices not necessarily specified within the source of
authority which governs decision-making."^ Davis argues that an
officer's discretion exists "whenever the effective limits of his
power leave him free to make a choice among possible courses of
action or inaction.Ht
LaFave pointed out that officers have the broadest range
of discretion when involved with low-visibility incidents and
minor crimes.3 Other authors, including Peterson4 and
Bittner, offer empirical support for this view. Bittner
summarized the significance of research into the gray and murky
area of police discretion when he wrote that in effect policemen
have a greater degree of discretionary freedom in proceeding
against offenders than any other public official. He pointed out
that the officer's decision not to arrest is not a matter of
The ways in which law enforcement officers exercise
discretion have a great impact on citizens. As Goldstein points
Before verdict, and despite the presumption of innocence
which halos every person, the state deprives the suspect
of life, liberty, dignity, or property through the imposi-
tion of deadly force, search and seizure of persons and-
possessions, accusations, imprisonment, and bail. . .
Each year tens of thousands of people are arrested and
jailed, and in addition many thousands more are contacted, warned,
issued a summons, or booked and released by law enforcement
officers. The law enforcement officer has even broader discretion
in minor cases, the very cases which involve the millions who do
not go to jail each year. Goldstein argues persuasively that,
although legislatures draft criminal laws, it is the police who
interpret and act upon law violations. In fact, the police
often have as much or more influence in determining the effect of
criminal law as does the legislature which drafted it.
This concern for the management of law enforcement
officers' use of discretion is far from new. At the turn of the
century, the newly-formed International Association of Chiefs of
Police discussed the need to manage the use of discretion by
officers. More recently, the President's Commission on Law
Enforcement and Administration of Justice dealt with the issue in
its publication, Police.*0 The National Advisory Commission
on Criminal Justice Standards and Goals addressed the issue of
officer discretion, proposing that every police agency should
acknowledge the existence of discretion and provide guidance to
Numerous books and articles have been written on discre-
tionary decision-making; a recent bibliography from the National
Criminal Justice Reference Service contains over 370 entries.
Calls for managing the use of discretion have been issued by every
major criminal justice standards advisory group, but the managers
of law enforcement agencies have not responded to the call.
Brown found major differences in how officers in three law
enforcement agencies in California handled situations that were
similar in nature. Wycoff suggested in a recent study that
not enough is known about what municipal police in the United
States actually do, what citizens and police believe the police
actually do, and what citizens and police believe the police
should do.^ The Boston University Center for Criminal Justice
in 1978 collaborated with the Boston Police Department to develop
guidelines for the use of discretion by officers.^ The project
failed, the Center concluded, because: (1) criminal investiga-
tions (the focus of their guidelines) are less in need of direc-
tion than police handling street situations and the related
concern of selective enforcement; and (2) combining the Boston
Police Department's leadership with outside expertise produced
only a minor success for the policy-making project.
Purpose of Study
This dissertation will focus on operational discretion.
Operational discretion is the range of decision-making exercised
by "line" or worker-level employees (officers). Officers are
provided with broad guidelines which they then define in such a
way as to meet the needs of the day-to-day delivery of services.
Generally, first-line employees make operational decisions while
supervisors and administrators make decisions involving the
exercise of administrative discretion. An examination of
administrative discretion is beyond the scope of the present
Our study will discover if differences exist between what
officers say they will do when confronted with a series of
vignettes and what other members of the criminal justice system,
community leaders, and community members want the officers to do.
The study is exploratory.* The purpose is to determine whether
differences exist among officers within agencies, among agencies,
and among officers and their supervisors, administrators, other
actors in the criminal justice system, members of the community,
and community leaders. Where differences are found, possible
causes of the differences will be mentioned and explored. By
using the results of this study, managers of law enforcement
agencies may attempt to: (1) narrow the differences between what
law enforcement officers do and what other participant groups
desire officers to do; (2) set enforcement priorities, based on
community input; and (3) design training courses to assist in
meeting these varied expectations, as appropriate. The results of
this study will also be useful to legislators because the legisla-
tors will be provided with additional information about the ways
in which the laws they write are put into action.
The final benefit of the study concerns the importance of
laws being enforced with fairness and equity. Should our research
reveal that officers would take different actions in the same
situations, future studies should address the nature and extent of
these differences as they relate to issues of selective enforce-
ment and application of the law.
1. Burton Atkins and Mark Pogrebin (Editors), Invisible Justice
System: Discretion and the Law (Cincinnati, Ohio: Anderson
Publishing Co., 1978), p. 1.
2. Kenneth Culp Davis, Discretionary Justice: A Preliminary
Inquiry (Baton Rouge"! LSU Press, 1969), p. 4.
3. Wayne R. LaFave, Arrest: The Decision to Take a Suspect
into Custody (Boston, Mass.: Little Brown and Company,
1965), p. 153.
4. David M. Peterson, Informal Norms and Police Practice: The
Traffic Ticket Quota System," Sociology and Social
Research, 35(1971):354-362; and "Police Disposition of the
Petty Offender," Sociology and Social Research, 36(1972),
5. Egon Bittner, "Larimer Tours," unpublished manuscript, Bureau
of Sociological Research, 1965; and "The Police on Skid-Row:
A Study of Peacekeeping," American Sociological Review,
Vol. 32, No. 5, Oct. 1967.
6. Egon Bittner, The Function of the Police in Modern Society
(Rockville, Maryland: National Institute of Mental Health,
1970), p. 107.
7. Joseph Goldstein, "Police Discretion not to Invoke the
Criminal Process: Low Visibility Decisions in the
Administration of Justice," Yale Law Review, 69 (March,
1960), p. 545.
9. Fred Kohler, "Discretionary Arrests The Golden Rule
Policy," in The Blue and the Brass, Editor: Donald C.
Dilworth (Gaithersburg, Md., International Association of
Chiefs of Police, .1976), p. 150.
10. President's Committee on Law Enforcement and Administration
of Justice, Police (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government
Printing Office, 1967).
National Advisory Commission on Criminal Justice Standards
and Goals, Police (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government
Printing Office, 1973), p. 21.
12. S. Krantz, Police Policymaking to Structure Discretion: The
Boston Experience, Final Report (Boston: Boston University
for Criminal Justice, 1978), p. 6.
13. Michael K. Brown, Working the Street (New York: Russell
Sage Foundation, 1981), p. 135.
14. Mary Ann Wycoff, The Rule of Municipal Police: Research as
Prelude to Changing it, Executive Summary (Washington, D.C.,
Police Foundation, 1982).
15. S. Krantz, Police Policymaking to Structure Discretion,
16. Earl R. Babbie, The Practice of Social Research (Belmont,
Calif., Wadsworth Publishing Co., Inc., 1979), p. 85.
Every police agency should acknowledge the existence
of the broad range of administrative and operational
discretion that is exercised by all police agencies and
the individual officers. That acknowledgment should take
the form of comprehensive policy statements that publicly
establish the limits of discretion, that provide guide-
lines for its exercise within those limits, and that
eliminate discriminatory enforcement of the law.
The National Advisory Commission on Criminal Justice
Standards and Goals thus called for managing the exercise of
discretion by law enforcement officers. The call, while not
ignored, certainly caused no immediate response by law enforcement
managers. The National Advisory Commission had reasons for
calling for such reform. Bittner, for example, wrote that police
have a greater degree of discretionary freedom in dealing with
offenders than any other criminal justice system official and that
officers actually decide what the business of prosecutors and
judges will be.
Thus, law enforcement officers' decisions impact greatly
on the rest of the criminal justice system, a system involving
well over a million individual employees and over $25 billion
annually in the U.S.^ However, it was not only monetary con-
cerns which led the Commission to call for managing discretion
exercised by law enforcement officers, but also a concern for
equity and justice. Goldstein wrote that law enforcement officers
have the power to deprive suspects of life, liberty, dignity, and
property before any verdict and despite the presumption of
Discretion, as exercised by law enforcement officers, has
been defined and described by many authors. Atkins and Pogrebin
defined discretion as a "situation in which an official has
latitude to make authoritative choices not necessarily specified
within the source of authority which governs decision-making."5
Pound defined discretion as "an authority conferred by law to act
1n certain conditions or situations in accordance with an offi-
cial's or an official agency's own considered judgment and
LaFave notes that officers exercise the broadest range of
discretion when dealing with more minor and less visible
crimes. LaFave observed: "Police decisions not to enforce the
law rarely become known to the public. Consequently, these
decisions are seldom challenged either in the legislature or in
the trial or appellate courts." For example, in a study of the
Chicago Police Department, Davis found that officers would take
enforcement action, but would not arrest individuals for what they
judged to be minor crimes, provided the victim did not want an
arrest or in instances where no complaining victim was
Few factions have called for a complete control of discre-
tion as exercised by police officers. As noted in the report by
the National Advisory Commission on Criminal Justice Standards and
Goals, it is generally recognized that officers must exercise dis-
cretion.^^- However, as late as 1965, LaFave wrote that "There
has been a traditional failure to recognize the existence and
importance of police discretion." Over the past twenty years
many authors have worked extensively to rectify this situation.
The wealth of literature is reviewed in the next section.
The Literature Reviewed
The literature is rich with differing opinions of whether
the exercise of discretion by officers may be controlled or
managed. This literature is examined in order to provide a sense
of what has been written, as well as to demonstrate how the think-
ing in the field has evolved over time.
Most of the works on the exercise of discretion by law
enforcement officers have been published during the past twenty
years. However, a turn-of-the-century police chief said that
judges often made critical remarks about officers arresting minor
offenders. The chief called for greater officer discretion when
dealing with minor offenders. "To me it was up to the police to
learn to know the difference between a thief, a mischievous man or
boy." Because of this, the chief decided to experiment; he
"determined to have. . policemen use their best instincts. [The
officers] should exercise that discretion that the judges did not
always exercise."*4 He was not only a leader in encouraging
proper use of discretion by officers, but also issued standards
for the use of discretion. His standards included guidelines for
officers in dealing with intoxicated individuals, misdemeanants
and juveniles. He cited statistics showing a 68 percent decrease
in arrests after his policy was implemented. This effort was
probably not the first such effort, but it showed that some of the
executives at the turn of the century were concerned about discre-
tion and the effect it had on their communities.
While this turn-of-the-century chief of police seems to
have accepted that law enforcement officers exercise discretion,
others, later in the century, were not so willing to recognize its
existence. Davis, a professor at the University of Chicago writ-
ing about the Chicago Police Department, observed that "The
Chicago police at all levels usually say that their only enforce-
ment policy is to enforce all statutes and all ordinances."*5
Much of the discussion and writing done during the early
1960's seemed to be aimed at convincing people that officers do
exercise broad discretion. Goldstein wrote that "Police decisions
not to invoke the criminal process largely determine the outer
limits of law enforcement."*6 By these decisions, the police
limit the range of discretion by the other members of the criminal
justice processthe prosecutor, judge, probation officer, and
parole board members. In short, Goldstein recognized the police
as the gatekeepers for the entire criminal justice process. He
also recognized the fact that police do not enforce all of the
laws all of the time and questioned who should decide which laws
are enforced and when they are enforced.
Pound wrote of the exercise of discretion throughout the
criminal justice system. He observed that "All legal systems
which have endured have had to develop, by experience, principles
of exercise of discretion."^ Pound pointed out that in a
changing world there will inevitably be gaps in the law in areas
where laws have not caught up with society. In such cases, discre-
tion is vital to society's proper operation. Pound defended the
use of discretion and justified its exercise, although he was
writing about judges, not police.
LaFave's landmark book provides an extensive examination
of discretionary decision-making by officers. His work provides
an intensive look at the decision to arrest. Using a series
of case studies, he discusses the importance of the officers'
decisions. Like previous authors, LaFave points to the wide-
ranging discretionary decision-making available to officers with
few administrative procedures to guide them. LaFave concludes:
"Notwithstanding the great importance and significance of these
and other instances of discretionary enforcement, the police have
failed to evaluate carefully such enforcement policies or even to
acknowledge that such practices exist." Instead, "Most depart-
ments attempt to maintain the existing stereotype of the police as
ministerial officers who enforce all of the laws, while they
actually engage in a broad range of discretionary enforce-
LaFave carefully described the use of discretion, pointed
out some of the issues resulting from it, and offered some
thoughts about how to direct the use of discretion; however, he
offered few solutions. He did suggest that "Legislatures can give
explicit attention to police discretion and prescribe criteria to
guide the exercise of that discretion."
LaFave was not the only author to mention possible methods
of controlling or managing the exercise of discretion by officers.
Goldstein suggested involving the community in the decision-making
process when writing of an appraisal review board. Such a
board would have broad-ranging powers, including reviewing police
actions and enforcement priorities. Goldstein believed such a
board would probably outlive its usefulness or suffer from
marasmus, but would serve the purpose of making changes.
Finally, James Q. Wilson considered some of the dangers
inherent in allowing police discretion, including bribery, inequit-
able treatment, and problems of responding to community pressures.
While discretion is part of law enforcement, its boundaries are
poorly-defined or unsettled. Wilson illustrated: "For example,
whether to allow a 'leeway' above the speed limit to motorists,
whether to tolerate petty gambling, and how to handle juvenile
offenders are all matters which to some extent are unsettled."
While professionalism demands a narrowing of the possible ranges
of decision-making, Wilson argued that "Professionalism sometimes
permits discretioni.e., a choice of which laws to enforcewhen
by so doing some higher law enforcement end may be obtained."
In one of the early observational studies of discretion,
Piliavin and Briar found that police officers contacting juveniles
exercised wide discretion, and that in doing so, their decisions
were affected by a few readily observable criteria. With
choices ranging from outright release to arrest and confinement,
in virtually all categories of offenses the police made use of
this wide range of options. The factors affecting their
decisions were one's prior offense record, race, grooming, and
demeanor. These criteria were used by officers to decide whether
or not the youth was a delinquent.
Black and Reiss, through an observational study of law
enforcement officers on patrol, found that officers exercise wide
discretion in dealing with juveniles. In fact, they found that
only 15 percent of the encounters that law enforcement officers
have with juveniles result in arrest. They also found that the
presence or absence of a complainant seems to affect the disposi-
tion of the case. Generally, more juveniles are arrested when a
complainant is present, and the officers tend to comply with the
complainant's wishes (arrest or release) when a preference is
The authors further noted that their preliminary data
seemed to indicate, "The probability of arrest is higher for
juveniles who are unusually respectful towards the police and for
those who are unusually disrespectful." Both unusual respect
and unusual disrespect can apparently raise the suspicion of an
officer, increasing the likelihood of arrest.
In a classic paper, Bittner describes the broad range of
discretion officers used while working a beat in a skid row area
of Denver, Colorado. Observing the differences in how skid row
residents were treated both within and outside the skid row areas,
he concluded that discretion is, to a great extent, defined by the
context of the setting in which it is exercised. In two subse-
quent works that expanded on his 1965 research, Bittner found that
officers tended to refer mentally ill persons to other agencies
when there were indications of serious problems, especially when
they thought the person would worsen without a referral (e.g.,
danger to life, health, property, or a potential threat to the
public order or peace). Based on his studies, Bittner wrote
that police act as intake workers, deciding who should be
processed through the criminal justice system.
Reiss stated the main purpose of his research "was to
investigate how citizens decide to mobilize the police and how the
police decide to intervene in the affairs of citizens." He
noted that it is the line officer who must determine how the
individual is to be treated and the decisions have an effect on
not only the individual but the individual's family and the
general public. He further argued that the officer's sense of
justice complicates the decision-making process in that not only
must the decision be correct, but it must be fair. Reiss found
the job of patrol officers a difficult one. They must make
decisions based on limited information, having few guidelines to
rely upon; moreover, they are aware that their judgments could
later be subject to review in the thoughtful atmosphere of
supervisors' offices or courtrooms.
Based on a participant observation study of a metropolitan
police force, Petersen revealed how police respond to internal
controls. Officers pressure fellow officers to keep ticket
productivity within informally agreed-to limits, while supervisors
expect officers to keep their ticket productivity above certain
In a related article, Petersen found officers dealt with
intoxicated individuals (pedestrians) in differing ways, based on
the suspect's attitude and location.32 individuals contacted in
their neighborhoods were generally sent home if their attitude was
cooperative or good, while individuals outside of their neighbor-
hoods or in downtown business areas were arrested. In most cases,
individuals who were disagreeable or did not cooperate were
arrested regardless of their location.
The President's Commission on Law Enforcement and Adminis-
tration of Justice in 1967 and the 1973 National Advisory Commis-
sion on Criminal Justice Standards and Goals both called for all
officers to be college-educated. To examine the effects of educa-
tion on discretion, Finkenauer examined the differences between
what college and non-college-educated police recruits would do
with specific situations. Police trainees with college
education tended to choose options that did not involve arrest
more often than those without. The fact that the decisions were
based on written descriptions of incidents may have affected the
responses. Finkenauer demonstrated that college-educated recruits
tended to invoke the full weight of the law less often than
non-college-educated recruits in the selected vignettes.
Based upon his observations and interviews with Chicago
narcotics officers, DeFleur found that the police work is affected
by public pressure. When the news media pointed out drug-related
problems in the 1950's and again in the 1960's, the Chicago Police
Department responded by increasing drug-related enforcement in the
noted problem areas.^
Black found during an observational study that not all
crime comes to the attention of the police and that not all crime
that comes to their attention is officially recorded: "Patrol
officers wrote official reports in only 64 percent of the 554
crime situations where a complainant, but no suspect, was present
in the field setting."^ He thus concluded that, "The rate of
detection and sanctioning of deviant persons is in part contingent
upon whether the detection of deviant acts is made official."
In deciding whether a report should be taken, the police officers
use certain criteria, such as a complainant's deference (the
complainant being antagonistic towards the police decreases the
likelihood of a report being made), the individual's status
(evidence exists that the police give preferential treatment to
white-collar complainants in felony situations), and the
seriousness of the offense (more serious offenses are more likely
to result in arrest).
To develop a greater understanding of the role of discretion
in law enforcement, Skolnick observed officers who had limited
discretion: parking control officers (who wrote tickets for
expired parking meters). Yet Skolnick found wide discretion being
exercised by the officers. He thus concluded that, "It is impos-
sible to eliminate discretion entirely from the administration of
In his study of discretion in the Chicago Police Depart-
ment, Davis found that the police "at all levels usually say that
their only enforcement policy is to enforce all statutes and all
ordinances."3 He reported that enforcement activity is gener-
ally unplanned and that very few meetings are held to develop
needed plans. He pointed out that enforcement policy is essen-
tially developed by the patrol officers. He reported one reason
supporting the department's failure to develop rules controlling
the use of discretion: that such rules would conflict with the
stance that the only enforcement policy is one of full enforce-
Driscoll (as a participant observer) studied officers
assigned to the Narcotics Tactical Squad in Ventura County,
California, during a three-year period. "The squad was specifi-
cally charged with the exercise of maximum discretion in their
operations and this permitted the research of a variety of socio-
logical concerns." He argued that if officers are left on
their own to decide when to apply the law, they operate in a
vacuum, thus making each officer the single-most powerful criminal
Driscoll noted that, "Full enforcement is thus precluded
by constitutional guarantees as well as by the unwillingness of
ordinary citizens to live under the threat of an unfeeling, harsh,
mechanistic and repressive police state.Thus, presumably,
if full enforcement is neither possible nor realistic, officers
must use their discretion to decide what laws to enforce and when
to enforce them.
Driscoll further observed that officers hold no illusions
about the law or why laws are enacted: "They know that many of
the laws which the legislatures passed were meant to appease
various groups and were not meant to be enforced; this is true
especially with such laws as those relating to gambling and sexual
conduct.Driscoll contended that discretionary decision-
making by officers is not easily subject to control since their
role is far too ill-defined and highly dependent on flexibility in
responding to diverse situations: "It can be no other way. Each
policeman must march to his own introspective rhythm. There is no
one to count cadence."
In reviewing recent research on discretion, Goldstein
observed "That the police exercise broad discretion in carrying
out their multiple functions should, by now, be patently clear.
That the quality of police service depends on the manner in which
this discretion is exercised should be equally obvious."4^ He
also contends that law enforcement agencies are caught in a bind
which profoundly affects the development of policy in that
agencies must formally subscribe to a policy of full enforcement
while actually using wide discretion in enforcement situations.
Goldstein argues that discretionary decision-making by
police needs structuring: "As a minimum it would seem desirable
that discretion be narrowed to the point that all officers in the
same agency are operating on the same wavelength."44 Goldstein
offers few specifics other than to implement administrative rule-
making and to develop the rules openly with input from the
Other authors have provided additional thoughts about
managing or limiting the exercise of discretion by officers.
Niederhoffer, a college professor and a former police officer,
points out that, "It is literally impossible to enforce every law
'on the book'the jails would be too small to hold the prisoners
. . ." In the world of the police officer, "An officer who
brings too many trivial cases into the station house is considered
incompetent, but an officer who brings in too few is considered a
shirker."4 Niederhoffer comments:
When an officer clearly observes a serious violation
of law, his discretion is limited; he must arrest. But
the average crime is not committed in full view of the
policeman. He must conduct a preliminary investigation
which places him in the middle of a labyrinth, following
conflicting reports of witnesses into blind alleys. Each
suspect denies any connection with the crime. Perpetra-
tors claim to be victims. From time to time progress is
barred by a wall of silence. Shall he make an arrest or
not? Which of the suspects should he arrest? Just when
he needs them most, the usual guideposts are silent. His
wisest procedure is to trust no ooe. Cynicism improves
his technique as an investigator.
Where little is required to tilt the officer's decision either
way, little or no official guidance is provided by police adminis-
In "Dilemmas of Police Administration,"48 Wilson identi-
fies two major objectives: order maintenance (peace-keeping) and
law enforcement. Order maintenance contacts involve broad discre-
tionary powers, although few result in arrest. When no complain-
ant is present and the officer does not see the offense, no arrest
is possible. However, arrest is generally not the goal either of
the individuals involved or the officer; generally everyone hopes
to do something which does not end in arrest. The police have
differing rules for order maintenance than for law enforcement;
policies that provide guidance in the first function are not
applicable to the second. Wilson argues that "The dilemmas of
police administration arise out of the difficulty confronting a
chief who seeks policies which can guide his men in performing the
order maintenance function and a technique which will prove
efficacious in serving the law enforcement function." Which
function is given priority over the other will largely determine
the types of policies and general procedures any given department
In a comparative study, Wilson examines law enforcement
practices in eight communities.88 Wilson observes that most law
enforcement situations cannot be handled according to predeter-
mined rules. General rules tend to be ambiguous or equivocal in
handling specific incidents.
Officers exercise discretion and administrators have
failed to provide guidance for officers. Three authors, William
Muir, James Doig, and Michael Lipsky, point out some of the
problems that this failure has caused for officers.
Muir describes how and why police act.*** While his
work, based on a participant observation study, was not intended
to describe discretionary decision-making, it does provide insight
into such decisions. The implication of discretionary decision-
making that Muir pinpoints is that officers are often placed in
difficult positions because of this very lack of structure. Muir
underscores the need for an administrative structure for the
Doig examines the impact policies may have on the opera-
tion of organizations and identifies the failure of chief law
enforcement administrators to issue policy directives as a
problem. "They are silent partly because departmental executives
are unaware of useful ways to structure and control police discre-
tion in such situations, even where useful ways exist." Doig
believes most departments issue only vague guidelines when
specific ones are needed. The main point of the article is the
divergence between what top level officials desire officers to do
and what the officers actually do. The implication for
administrators who develop guidelines or discretionary limits is
that the guidelines may not be followed by officers.
Lipsky argues that while guidelines for discretionary
decision-making are necessary, their development is difficult. He
examines the role of public-sector employees, including the
police, who provide direct Services to the public. "Unlike lower-
level workers in most organizations, street-level bureaucrats have
considerable discretion in determining the nature, amount, and
quality of benefits and sanctions provided by their agencies.
He argues that rules intended to control the exercise of discre-
tion may impede such supervision; for example, they may be so
voluminous and contradictory that they would be enforced or
The following authors provide some thoughts about methods
by which discretion may be limited, managed, or controlled: Erika
Fairchild and Richard Lundman, Jr.
Fairchild discusses three different methods by which
discretion may be controlled: control through departmental rules,
control through community pressure, and control through changes in
officer decision-making capacity.^ Most organizations seem to
have used the first two approaches, while slighting officer train-
ing and education. She concludes that while it may well take all
three approaches to force a change, it seems important that the
training option be given a greater role in moving organizations
toward the needed change.
In a participant observation study, Lundman found police
officer decision-making is shaped both by organizational norms and
employee concerns with autonomy.Lundman1s findings differ
little from those reported by Petersen in 1971: officers exercise
discretion mindful of the pressures from their organizations and
their peers. He also found that race, social class, and demeanor
affect how officers dispose of a situation.
Judicial Review of Officer Discretion
The authors cited in this chapter have made major contri-
butions to understanding the exercise of discretion by law enforce-
ment officers. While these authors have discussed how officers
exercise discretion and how managers have attempted to manage,
control, or limit the exercise of discretion, they do not address
the importance of the courts. The courts have also had an impact
upon how discretion may be exercised.
Generally the courts have supported the exercise of discre-
tion by law enforcement officers. The primary court standards
examine two issues: (1) were the officers' actions reasonable, and
(2) did the officers owe a duty to the individuals involved.*
Most case law dealing with the exercise of discretion has develop-
ed out of civil lawsuits. If an individual is arrested by an
officer, the decision of guilt or innocence is left up to the
criminal courts. The question of the proper exercise of
discretion arises from cases where an officer has decided not to
take action and some other person is harmed.
However, the courts separate administrative conduct from
discretionary, operational situations, generally allowing more
leeway in the latter decisions:
We, therefore, determine that the proper planning and
implementation of a viable system of law enforcement for
any governmental unit must necessarily include the discre-
tion of the officer on the scene to arrest or not arrest
as his judgment at the time dictates. When that discre-
tion is exercised, neither the officer nor the employing
governmental entity should be held liable in part?for the
consequences of the exercise of that discretion.
Thus, officers exercising discretion in "street" situations are
recognized, while the responsibility for controlling the discre-
tion exercised by officers is left to the managers of the various
law enforcement agencies.
While the courts have ruled officers can (and probably
should) exercise broad discretion, some communities have taken
steps to manage or control that discretion. After a recent report
by the Police Foundation, some communities have enacted laws
requiring that arrests be made for incidents of wife-batter-
ing. in another case, law enforcement administrators in
Boulder and Jefferson counties, Colorado, have developed and
implemented arrest and prosecution standards which explain,
define, and, to some degree, manage the exercise of discretion.
The literature on exercising discretion by law enforcement
officers is vast. This chapter presents a survey of the litera-
ture critical to this study.
A chief of police at the turn of the century recognized
that discretion existed and took some steps to manage its use.
0. W. Wilson, in his work written during the 1950's, did not even
mention discretion. Goldstein, one of the first to write about
the exercise of discretion, mentioned that officers "largely
determine the outer limits of law enforcement."
LaFave provided one of the landmark works on the topic,
mentioning several different forms of discretion, all involving
the decision whether or not to use the criminal justice process.
Following LaFave, a number of authorities examined the exercise of
discretion. All found that officers do exercise discretion, but
until Brown, few examined the different decisions that officers
make in similar situations. Some researchers found that certain
norms exist among officers, pointing out that peer pressure
controls or limits the range of decisions that officers make.
Although most authors argue that discretion is necessary,
they differ in how they view the exercise of discretion. Research
shows that discretion is exercised by officers, yet it is unclear
what the limits are or what its impact is on the criminal justice
system and public.
Brown, one of the first to look at the differences between
the approaches and dispositions used by different officers, used
expanded methods based largely on the work of LaFave and
Vandall.0 This present study is based upon the work of Brown,
Vandal 1, and LaFave and includes new variables in order to compare
how officers say they will handle a situation with what other
criminal justice practitioners and community members expect or
desire that officers do.
1. National Advisory Commission on Criminal Justice Standards
and Goals, Police (Washington, D.C., 1973, U.S. Government
Printing office), p. 21.
2. Three recent responses have been by the Texas Advisory Commis-
sion on Intergovernmental relations with its Model Rules for
Peace Officers (1980), Jefferson County, Colorado, with
Arrest and Prosecution Standards (1980) and Boulder County,
Colorado, with Arrest and Prosecution Standards (1983).
3. Egon Bittner, The Function of the Police in Modern Society,
National Institute of Mental Health (Rockville, Md., 1970),
4. Timothy J. Flanagan, David J. Van Lystyne, and Michael R.
Gottfredson, Editors, Sourcebook of Criminal Justice
Statistics -1981 (Washington, D.C., U.S. Government
Printing Office, 1982), p. 4.
5. Joseph Goldstein, "Police Discretion Not to Invoke the Crimi-
nal Process: Low Visibility Decisions in the Administration
of Justice," Yale Law Review, 69 (March I960), p. 545.
6. Burton Atkins, Mark Pogrebin, The Invisible Justice System
(Cincinnati, Oh., Anderson Publishing Co., 1978), p. 1.
7. Roscoe Pound, "Discretion, Dispensation and Mitigation: The
Program of the Individual Special Case," New York Law
Review, 35 (April, 1960), p. 926.
8. Wayne R. LaFave, Arrest: The Decision to Take a Suspect
Into Custody (Boston, Mass., Little, Brown and Company,
9. Wayne R. LaFave, Arrest, p. 75.
10. Kenneth Culp Davis, Police Discretion (St. Paul, Minn.,
1975, West Publishing Company), p. 3.
11. The American Bar Association calls for the management of
discretion in its publication, The Urban Police Function
(see part IV, page 7). The Colorado Commission on Criminal
Justice Standards and Goals issued a call for "every law
enforcement executive" to "set the policy for the use of
discretion in the activities of his agency and also set the
limits of this discretion." See Report of the Colorado
Commission on Criminal Justice Standards and Goals, June,
1977, page 18. The Texas Advisory Commission on
Intergovernmental Relations issued a similar call with its
Model Rules for Peace Officers, October, 1980.
12. Wayne R. LaFave, Arrest, p. 64.
13. Fred Kohler, "Discretionary Arrest The Golden Rule Policy,"
The Blue and the Brass, Donald C. Dilworth, (Editor),
(Gaithersburg, Md., International Association of Chiefs of
Police, 1976), p. 150.
15. Kenneth Culp Davis, Police Discretion, (St. Paul, Minn.,
West Publishing Company, 1975), p. 1.
16. Joseph Goldstein, "Police Discretion not to Invoke the
Criminal Process: Low Visibility Decisions in the
Administration of Justice," p. 543.
17. Roscoe Pound, "Discretion, Dispensation, and Mitigation,"
New York University Law Review, 35 (April, 1960), p. 927.
18. Wayne D. LaFave, Arrest: The Decision to Take a Suspect
19. Ibid., p. 493.
21. Ibid., p. 494.
22. Joseph Goldstein, "Police Discretion Not to Invoke the
Criminal Process, p. 579.
23. James Q. Wilson, "The Police and Their Problems: A Theory,"
Public Policy, 12 (1963), p. 202.
24. Ibid., p. 203.
25. Irving Piliavin and Scott Briar, "Police Encounters with Juve-
niles," American Journal of Sociology, 70 (1964), p. 206.
26. Ibid., p. 208.
27. Donald J. Black and Albert J. Reiss, Jr,, "Police Control of
Juveniles," American Sociological Review, 35 (February,
1970), p. If.
28. Egon Bittner, Larimer Tours (unpublished), University of
Colorado, Boulder, Colorado, 1965.
29. Egon Bittner, "Police Discretion in Emergency Apprehension of
Mentally 111 Persons," Social Problems (Winter, 1967b),
p. 278, and "The Police on Skid-Row: A Study of Peace
Keeping," American Sociological Review, 32 (October 1967),
30. Albert J. Reiss, Jr., The Police and the Public (New Haven,
Conn., Yale University Press, 1971), p. x.
31. David M. Petersen, "Informal Norms and Police Practice: The
Traffic Ticket Quota System," Sociology and Social
Research, 35 (1971), p. 354.
32. David M. Petersen, "Police Disposition of the Petty
Offender," Sociology and Social Research, 36 (1972),
33. James 0. Finkenauer, "Higher Education and Police Discre-
tion," Journal of Police Science and Administration, 3
(1975), p. 450.
34. Lois DeFleur, "Biasing Influences on Drug Arrest Records:
Implications for Deviance Research," American Sociological
Review, 35 (August, 1975), p. 98.
35. Donald J. Black, "Production of Crime Rates," American
Sociological Review, 40 (February, 1975), p. 7T5^
36. Ibid., p. 736.
37. Jerome H. Skolnick, Justice Without Trial, (New York, N.Y.,
John Wiley & Sons, 1975), p. 74.
38. Kenneth Culp Davis, Police Discretion, (St. Paul, Minn.,
West Publishing Company, 1975), p. 1.
39. James P. Driscoll, No One to Count Cadence: The Police
Officer as Law Maker (Ph.D. dissertation, University of
California, Santa Barbara, 1977).
40. Ibid., p. 207.
41. Ibid., p. 217.
42. Ibid., p. 458.
43. Herman Goldstein, Policing a Free Society (Cambridge,
Mass., Ballinger Publishing Co., 1977), p. 93.
44. Ibid., p. 112.
45. Arthur Niederhoffer, Behind the Shield (Garden City, N.Y.,
Doubleday and Company, 1967), p. 59.
46. Ibid., p. 60.
48. James Q. Wilson, "Dilemmas of Police Administration," Public
Administration Review (Sept./Oct., 1968), p. 407.
49. Ibid., p. 408.
50. James Q. Wilson, Varieties of Police Behavior (Cambridge,
Mass., Harvard University Press, 1968).
51. William K. Muir, Police: Streetcorner Politicians (Chicago,
111., The University of Chicago Press, 1977).
52. James W. Doig, "Police Policy and Police Behaviors: Patterns
of Divergence," Policy Studies Journal (1978), p. 436.
53. Michael Lipsky, Street Level Bureaucracy (New York, N.Y.,
Russell Sage Foundation, 1979).
54. Erika Fairchild, "Enforcement of Police and Law Enforcement
Policy," Policy Studies Journal (Special Issue, 1978),
55. Richard J. Lundman, "Organizational Norms and Police Discre-
tion: An Observational Study of Police Work with Traffic Law
Violators," Criminology, 17 (1979), p. 159.
56. Evett vs. City of Inverness, Florida, 224 So. 2d 365 (1969).
57. Everton vs. Willard and Trinko and individually versus
Willard, 426 Southern Reporter, 2d Series, 996 (1983).
58. Lawrence W. Sherman, Richard A. Beck, "The Minneapolis
Domestic Violence Experiment," Police Foundation Reports
(Washington, D.C., The Police Foundation, 1984).
59. Joseph Goldstein, "Police Discretion Not to Invoke the
Criminal Process: Low Visibility Decisions in the
Administration of Justice," p. 543.
60. Frank J. Vandal 1, Police Training for Tough Calls (New
York: Emory University, 19/6). In this work Vandal 1
provided descriptions of enforcement incidents which were
used to train new officers.
This study used a survey instrument to compare the re-
sponses to questions about vignettes by members of the community
and individuals working within the criminal justice system.
Respondents were asked to indicate how they would want law enforce-
ment officers to appropriately resolve the incidents described in
each vignette. Officers were asked how they believe they would
handle each situation in the vignettes.
Dillman's "Total Design Method" (TDM) was used in prepar-
ing the questionnaire and developing the strategy for mailing and
obtaining responses. The Diliman system involves proper packaging
of the instrument, a specific approach, and methods of follow-
up.* Diliman has obtained up to a 74 percent response rate for
The raw data obtained from survey respondents was then
coded and analyzed using the Statistical Package for Social
Sciences (SPSS) computer software package. The specific analysis
techniques are explained in Chapter IV. Details about the
methodology used in this research are discussed in the following
A decision was made early in the design of the project to
use vignettes or case descriptions. The decision was based on
(1) the purpose of the study, (2) the case description method used
by LaFave and Brown, and (3) a review of the literature
relating to the use of vignettes.
The exercise of discretion by law enforcement officers is
difficult to define and even more difficult to measure. In order
to ask an officer what he or she would do in a specific situation,
certain facts and information must be presented. A review of
possible methods of presenting this information led to the use of
vignettes. A factor was the need to prepare vignettes that could
be understood by the diverse groups involved in the study, so the
vignettes needed to contain sufficient information without being
The questionnaire had to be designed in such a manner that
the respondent did not feel that to respond would be too time con-
suming. If the individual vignettes or the overall questionnaire
were too long or too complex, the response rate would be reduced.
The questionnaire which was used was 28 pages, including the front
and back pages. Diliman has found that a questionnaire which is
longer than either 11 or 12 pages or 125 questions will have a
reduced response rate.^ Two differences existed with this
survey: in fact, only 40 questions are included, with only one
question per page for the first 20 pages. It was believed that
the adverse effect of an increased number of pages would be offset
by the reduced number of questions. The actual response rate
(provided in later chapters) tends to support this belief.
Studying the works by LaFave and Brown led to the conclusion
that their ideas could be expanded to survey the diverse groups
included in this project. Brown used vignettes to compare how
officers in various agencies would handle a series of incidents.
He spent considerable time observing how officers from various
agencies handled certain situations, in some cases he would write
a description of an incident and ask the officers in various
agencies how they believed they would handle the situation. This
allowed him to make some comparisons about how various officers
and, to some degree, various agencies would respond in a situ-
ation. Brown also asked a few supervisors how they would expect
their officers to handle the incidents. He found a significant
number of variations among supervisors concerning how they would
expect officers to respond and what the officers said they would
do or what they actually did do.
This study is an extension of Brown's work using descrip-
tions of law enforcement situations (including peace-keeping
functions) to explore the variations among what officers say they
would do and what supervisors, administrators, and others say they
would like officers to do. The use of vignettes to explore such
variations are supported by the literature. The support for such
a use is presented next.
The use of vignettes to examine decisions that involve
complex situations has been proven to provide valuable informa-
tion. For example, Rossi wrote: "The general class of problems
to which the technique is applicable is comprised of issues
involving understanding the principles underlying judgments of
complex circumstances." Alexander and Becker observed that one
problem is that unless questionnaires are concrete and detailed,
respondents will answer in terms of their own picture of the task
or incident. They further note that, "By holding the stimulus
constant over a heterogeneous respondent population, the survey
researcher gains a degree of uniformity and control over the
stimulus situation approximating that achieved by researchers
using experimental designs."^ Alexander and Becker also
completed a series of studies and found that their research
supported "the expanded use of the experimental design and use of
vignettes in the measurement of respondent attitudes and the study
of their determinants."
Rossi, Alexander, and Becker all point to the use of
vignettes to examine topics in the field of criminal justice.
Rossi points to the use of vignettes to examine "whether certain
groups of elites used different judgment principles than others,
for example, was the sentencing behavior of criminal court judges
different from that of prison officials or leading members of the
bar?"* Alexander and Becker point out that vignettes have been
used with success in studies of jury decision-making.^*
Vignettes have also been useful in the study of police
The instrument includes 20 vignettes covering diverse
fields dealing with relatively minor types of crimes in which
officers exercise broad discretion. The 20 vignettes cover
traffic violations, disturbances, drug and alcohol violations,
prostitution, juvenile status crimes, vandalism, and gambling, all
of which are misdemeanors or petty offenses (with the exception of
one which is concerned with the cultivation of marijuana). Each
of the vignettes was reviewed for known biases and for clarity,
pre-tested on a small group of respondents, and then rewritten
based on the results from the pre-test (see the questionnaire in
Appendix A for further details).
Following the vignettes are a series of demographic ques-
tions which provide information in order that comparisons can be
made between persons in the sample and general census data for
Boulder County. In general, the demographic questions dealt with:
sex, age, ethnicity, marital status, residence, education, employ-
ment, income, and political affiliations. These questions were
followed by a series of questions that were used to identify the
specific target groups of the survey in reference to employment in
the criminal justice system, e.g., law enforcement officer, judge,
attorney, or probation officer.
As mentioned previously, the actual design of the question
naire was based on Diliman's Total Design Method (TDM). The
questions were designed to fit on a horizontally-folded eight and
one-half by eleven inch sheet of paper, turned so that the result-
ing fold is to the left (as in a book). As shown in Appendix A,
the actual questionnaire used (but not printed front to back or
folded), shows the 20 vignettes were listed first, followed by the
demographic questions. The procedures used to implement the
survey are described next.
Dillman's method was selected over other design methods
because of (1) success in the response rate, (2) the compatibility
of the instrument design with research needs, (3) the literature
supporting the general design and methodology, and (4) the appear-
ance of the questionnaire and ease of mailing.
Diliman reports an average response of 74 percent, based
on the results of 48 prior surveys conducted using this
method. This is a high response rate, since other mail
questionnaires have an average 25 percent return rate.
Dillman's claims were supported by the 60 percent response rate
obtained with the pre-test for this study.
The literature on the use of mail questionnaires also
supported Diliman's methods.*4 Babbie's suggestions concerning
the use of mailed questionnaires are also included by Dillman in
Finally, the TDM provides a professional-looking package.
The booklet format is easy to handle and assists in creating an
image that the questionnaire is short and easy to complete.
While the survey instrument was being designed, a random
sample of names of Boulder County residents was obtained. This
was done by taking the various Polk Directories for the County,
estimating the total number of people in the book, and generating
a random sample.* The Polk Directory is a directory prepared
by the R. L. Polk Company and is updated on a yearly basis. Each
year personal contact is made with each residence to obtain cur-
rent information about the residents. The Directory has three
sections, listing persons by name, address, and phone number. The
R. L. Polk Company completes directories that provide listings of
most residents in Boulder County. The size of the random sample
selected from a directory listing was based on the relationship of
the number of individuals listed to Boulder County's total popula-
tion. Each person listed in the various directories had an equal
chance of being selected. Once the survey and sampling were
completed, the survey was mailed to the individuals selected to be
included in the study. Two additional follow-up mailings were
sent to individuals who did not respond to the mailings. The
final letter was sent by certified mail.
The individuals selected for inclusion in the study were
from the following groups:
(1) Police Officers (including patrol officers,
detectives, deputy sheriffs, deputy marshals, and others who hold
positions providing direct service to the public). Officers were
included from all agencies which provide direct and full-service
law enforcement to the residents of Boulder County. Eight
agencies were included. State patrol officers, other state-level
enforcement officers, and federal officers were not included in
the study due to the specialized nature of their work.
(2) Sergeants/Corporals (or first-line supervisory offi-
cers). Sergeants/corporals directly supervise the officers
involved in the study. They are the closest to the officers, yet
enforce the policies of each agency's administrators. Twenty-two
corporals and 53 sergeants were included in the survey, for a
total of 75 first-line supervisors.
(3) Lieutenants. The individuals in this position provide
the administrative review of officer actions. In smaller depart-
ments, this position may be absorbed by sergeants or the chief
officer. Twenty-eight lieutenants were included in the survey.
(4) Administrative Officers. This group is made up of
individuals with titles such as Captain, Division Chief, Director,
Chief, Sheriff, and others. Individuals in such positions provide
policy-making, management, and leadership roles. Twenty-two
individuals who hold such positions were included in the survey.
(5) Probation Officers. All 11 individuals who provide
probationary services in the County were included.
(6) Prosecuting Attorneys. All 21 individuals who
prosecute criminal cases in the County were included.
(7) Defense Attorneys. Attorneys who defend individuals
criminally charged in Boulder County were included. While a list
of all police officers (including all ranks) as well as all other
criminal justice system employees could be obtained, names of
defense attorneys were more difficult to obtain. A list of attor-
neys was compiled from advertisements in the telephone directory's
yellow pages and from the members of the Public Defender's Office.
Fifty-two individuals were included.
(8) Judges. All 16 judges presiding in criminal courts in
Boulder County were included.
(9) Appointed and Elected Community Leaders. The Boulder
Daily Camera, a newspaper with County-wide circulation, publishes
a list of elected and appointed community leaders for the munici-
palities within the County as well as County government.^ This
list identified 93 individuals for inclusion in the survey.
(10) Citizens (sample survey). To obtain a sample of
1,183 citizens within Boulder County that closely matched the
County's demographic make-up, the Polk Directory was used. As
stated above, this directory lists all addresses in most of the
County and the names of the individual residents. Thus, unlike
the telephone directory, the directory includes individuals with
unlisted phone numbers or no phones. The R. L. Polk City
Directories contain a list of residents of the communities covered
by the specific directory. The section used for the purposes of
this study was the section which lists residents by street
address. Polk Directories exist for Boulder, Longmont, and
Broomfield. The three directories cover all of the cities and
rural areas in the County with the exception of Nederland and
Lyons. The 1983 edition of the directory was used since it was
the most recent edition available at the time the sample was
obtained. A series of random numbers was generated using a
computer program and each person in the directory was assigned a
number. Only those individuals who had a number which matched a
random number were included in the survey. In the case of the two
small communities not included in the directory, the local
telephone directory was used. This process did eliminate those
individuals with unlisted telephone numbers or without phones in
The sample size chosen was 1,183. This is a little over a
half of a percent of the population of the County of Boulder.
Each of the communities and the unincorporated areas in the County
were assigned a percentage of the total sample based upon the
percentage that the community contributed to the total population
of the County. Simple random sampling was used as detailed in
Babbie. With an expected response rate of up to 74 percent,
this provided an accuracy or confidence level of plus or minus
Each individual was mailed or delivered a personally-typed
and addressed envelope with the questionnaire and a letter signed
in blue ink. Blue ink was used to make certain the individual
knew the letter was personal. The initial mailing included an
introductory letter, a stamped, self-addressed return envelope,
and the questionnaire. A follow-up, thank-you post card was
mailed one week later. Letters similar to the initial letters
were mailed at three-week intervals. The third and last letter
was sent by certified mail. Each of the mailings included an
additional copy of the questionnaire. All letters and envelopes
were on the letterhead of the University of Colorado at Denver,
Graduate School of Public Affairs.
As the questionnaires were returned, the control number on
the first page of the questionnaire was compared with the master
list of names and numbers, and individuals who responded were
removed from the mailing list.
As the questionnaires were being returned, a coding system
was developed. The coding for the vignettes included the listed
possible responses as well as provisions for giving no answer or
multiple answers (see Table 3-1). The comments section for the
vignettes was the most difficult to code. The coding system for
the various comments is contained in Appendix D.
Take No Action 1
Refer to Social Service Agency 3
Issue a Summons 4
Arrest (lodge in jail) 5
No Answer 6
Multiple Answers 7
The coding system for most of the demographic questions
was fairly straightforward. Two exceptions exist, however.
First, with regard to the question concerning occupation, in order
to be able to use the data generated to compare the respondents
with the results of the 1980 census, the answers were coded as
closely as possible to the occupations listed in the 1980
The second exception was the space left for comments on
the last page (or back, outside cover). Each respondent was
asked, "Is there anything else you would like to mention? If so,
please use this space for that purpose." The coding system for
this section is contained in Appendix D.
Once the questionnaires were coded, they were analyzed
using basic descriptive statistics. The next chapters contain a
description of the methods which were used to make the comparisons
of the responses obtained and a reporting of the results.
1. Don A. Dillman, Mail and Telephone Surveys, The Total Design
Method (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1978).
2. Wayne R. LaFave, Arrest: The Decision to Take a Suspect
Into Custody (Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1965).
3. Michael K. Brown, Working the Street (New York: Russell
Sage Foundation, 1981).
4. Earl R. Babbie, The Practice of Social Research (Belmont,
Calif.: Wadsworth Publishing Co., Inc., 1979), p. 331.
5. Don Dillman, Mail and Telephone Surveys, p. 55.
6. Peter H. Rossi, "Vignette Analysis: Uncovering the Normative
Structure of Complex Judgments," in Qualitative and Quanti-
tative Social Research, edited by Robert K. Merton, James S.
Coleman, and Peter H. Rossi (New York: The Free Press, 1979),
7. Cheryl S. Alexander and Henry Becker, "The Use of Vignettes
in Survey Research," The Public Opinion Quarterly, Volume
42 (Spring, 1978), p. 93.
9. Peter H. Rossi, "Vignette Analysis: Uncovering the Normative
Structure of Complex Judgments," p. 185.
10. Cheryl 5. Alexander and Henry Becker, "The Use of Vignettes
in Survey Research," p. 94.
11. A survey conducted in April, 1973, by the Institute of
Government Affairs, University of California, Los Angeles,
entitled "Research on Police Discretion and Organization
Behavior"; Ruth Fitterman, et al., "Discretionary Police
Behavior: Interviews on Street-level Situations from the
Officer's Point of View" (unpublished manuscript, 1983);
Colorado Division of Criminal Justice, Department of Public
Safety, "Judicial Sentencing Survey," unpublished report,
12. Don A. Dillman, Mail and Telephone Surveys, p. 21.
13. James R. Henly, Jr., "Response Rate of Mail Questionnaires
with a Return Deadline," Public Opinion Quarterly (Fall,
1976), p. 375.
14. Arnold S. Linsky, "Stimulating Responses to Mailed
Questionnaires: A Review," The Public Opinion Quarterly.
Volume 39 (Spring, 1975), p. 82; James R. Henly, Jr.,
"Response Rate of Mail Questionnaires with a Return
Deadline," p. 375; Edwin H. Carpenter, "Personalizing Mail
Surveys: A Replication and Reassessment," The Public
Opinion Quarterly, Volume 38 (Winter, 1974-1975), p. 614.
15. Earl Babbie, The Practice of Social Research, p. 331.
16. R. L. Polk, City Directory (Kansas City, Mo.: by R. L.
17. Ronda Haskins, The Boulder County Answer Book (Boulder,
Colo.: Boulder Daily Camera, 1984).
18. Earl Babbie, The Practice of Social Research, p. 177.
19. Ronald Hyu, Douglas Feig, and Robert Regoli, Research
Methods and Statistics (Cincinnati: Anderson Publishing
Co., 1983), p. 88.
20. U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census, 1980
Census of Population, Vol. 1, Characteristics of the
Population, Pt. 7, Colorado, p. 251.
This chapter reports the findings based on the data
collected from the questionnaire. It includes information about
the response rate, how the respondents' demographic characteris-
tics compare with the findings of characteristics of the 1980
census, some basic analyses and some comparisons of the respondent
groups' responses. The conclusions that can be drawn and how the
findings compare with other research are presented in Chapter V.
The latter part of Chapter III provides information about
the total number of individuals who were included in the survey.
A total of 1,749 individuals were mailed the questionnaire; of
that total, 1,077 responded, resulting in an overall response rate
of 62 percent. A breakdown of the responses by group is included
in Table 4-1.
The reduced response rate by the sample survey of citizens is
partially explained by the use of the Polk Directory. Dillman found
that his average response rate was 74 percent, and in this case the
response rate for the sample survey of citizens was 51 percent.'*'
When the first mailing of the questionnaire was made, approximately
15 percent of the questionnaires were returned because the post office
forwarding order had expired. This indicates that some of the
addresses listed in the directory were more than two years old.
RESPONDENTS BY GROUP
Group Number Included in Mailing Number of Respondents Percentage
Police Officers 248 185 75%
Sergeants/Corporal s 75 80 106%
Police Lieutenants 28 27 96%
Police Administrators 22 21 95%
Probation Officers 11 11 100%
Prosecuting Attorneys 21 17 81%
Defense Attorneys 52 30 58%
Judges 16 15 94%
Community Leaders 93 84 90%
Citi zens 1,183 607 51%
Total 1,749 1,077 62%
Note: The most likely explanation for the 106 percent response
rate by sergeants/corporals is based on promotions made by several
agencies between the time that the mailing lists were developed
and the time of the response. Other adjustments were made in the
police ranks during this time period which reduced the police
officer responses and increased the upper ranks' response rate.
The overall response rate for police (including all ranks) was
The age of the list also caused a small percentage of the
individuals who had moved from Boulder County to be included in
the survey. This number does not exceed 40 or 4 percent of the
The questionnaire was structured so that the respondents
could be compared with the 1980 census data for Boulder County.
In short, the demographic characteristics of the respondents were
similar to the findings of the 1980 census with females and never-
married individuals under-represented and married individuals
over-represented. The respondents had a higher income than the
average income found in the 1980 census. The difference in income
is possibly explained by the inflation which occurred between 1980
and 1985. The respondents were older than the census data, being
an average of 42 years of age versus just over 27 for the census.
Appendix C, Table 3 provides greater detail.
The respondents reflect the percentage of Boulder County
residents in each community. One group, unincorporated Boulder County,
is under-represented, but otherwise the population distribution of the
respondents reflects the distribution of the population in Boulder
It is likely that respondents are registered voters with
either of the two major political parties than County voter regis-
tration records show for the general population. Independent
voters are under-represented and non-registered individuals are
severely under-represented. Appendix C, Table 4 provides more
The respondents were also compared with the 1980 census in
terms of occupation. It is clear that some occupational groups
are over-represented, most notably, engineers and other profes-
sionals. Service occupations are under-represented. Appendix C,
Table 5 provides greater detail.
Overview of Findings
Table 4-2 provides an overview of the results of the
study. For the purposes of the overview, the 20 vignettes have
been collapsed into six categories. Appendix C, Table 6 provides
a listing of how the vignettes were categorized. The six cate-
gories are: curfew violations, disturbances, drug (narcotics) law
violations, juvenile cases, traffic violations, and prostitution.
Three of the vignettes were not placed into the categories, but
are dealt with separately. These vignettes include cases of
vandalism, illegal gambling, and minor theft. Several of the
vignettes fit into more than one of the categories. Included are
vignettes dealing with juvenile suspects, cases of curfew viola-
tion, and others. This categorization is used throughout the rest
of this chapter in order to simplify the analysis.
The questionnaire was designed in such a way that the five
options available form a severity scale. The options were: take
no action, warn, refer to a social services agency, issue a
summons, or arrest (lodge in jail). The first option is the least
intrusive, with the final in the the list, jail, being the most
intrusive. While five options are not ordinal and the level of
intrusiveness between each option is unequal, it is useful to view
the results in reference to their level of intrusiveness. For the
purpose of reporting the results each option was asigned a numeric
value (see Table 3-1).
TABLE 4-2. COMPARISON OF VIGNETTE CATEGORIES BY GROUP
Categories General Public (N-607) Conmunl ty Leaders (N-84) Police (N-313) Prosecutors (N-17) Defense (N-30) Judges (N-15) Probation (N-11)
Curfew Violations (2. 19) Refer to social services (411) Hean-3.068] Std. Dev>.B35B Refer to social services (351) Mean-3.0S06 Std. Dev.-.8719 Warn (371) Mean-3.2365 Std. Dev.-1.0033 Take no action (321) Refer to social services (321) Mean-2.7059 Std. Dev.-.6139 Refer to social services (411) Mean-2.8571 Std. Dev.-.869B Issue a sunmons (391) Mean-3.1667 Std. Dev.-.9386 Refer to social services (711) Mean-3.1 Std. Dev.-.6583
Disturbance. (3. 4, S, 8, 9, 12) Warn (401) Mean-3.0457 Std. Dev.*.6110 Warn (311) Hean-3.0959 Std. Dev.-.5871 Warn (361) Mean-3.1289 ?td. Dev.-.5189 Warn (341) Mean-2.9619 Std. Dev.-.3948 Warn (321) Meann3.0529 Std. Dev.-.5229 Issue a sunmons (411) Mean-3.2667 Std. Dev.-.3813 Issue a Simmons (321) Hean-3.3714 Std. Dev.-.4323
Drugs and Alcohol (11. 17, 18) Issue a sunmons (371) Mean-3.6947 Std. Dev.-.8643 Issue a Simmons (381) Hean-3.5974 Std. 0ev.-.9616 Issue a Simmons (SIX) Mean-3.7018 Std. Dev.-.7 Issue a sunmons (471) Mean-3.3438 Std. Dev.-.7409 Issue a sunmons (341) Hean-3.2593 Std. Dev.-.9159 Issue a sunmons (601) Mean-3.4821 Sd. Dev.-.5957 Issue a sunmons (651) Mean-4.0938 Std. Dev.-.3995
Juveniles Involved (2, 17, 19) Refer to social services (361) Mean-3.2775 Std. Dev.-.7781 Warn (311) Hean-3.2208 Std. Dev.-.8282 Warn (341) Mean-3.3139 Std. Dev.-.8927 Warn (481) Hean-2.8542 Std. Dev.-.6203 Refer to social services (411) Mean-2.9167 Std. Dev.-.8395 Issue a sunmons (401) Mean-3.2222 Std. Dev.-.7732 Refer to social services (611) Mean-3.2222 Std. Dev.-.3333
Traffic Violations (1. 15, 1G. 20) Issue a Simmons (521) Mean-2.9364 Std. 0ev.-.6839 Issue a summons (531) Hean-2.9048 Std. Dev.-.6264 Issue a sunmons (571) Mean-3.1044 Std. Dev.-.6875 Issue a sunmons (571) Mean-3.2941 Std. Dev.-.6442 Issue a sunmons (631) Mean-2.9643 Std. Dev.-.7927 Issue a sunmons (681) Mean-3.2444 Std. Dev.-.7608 Issue a sunmons (591) Mean-3.0 Std. Dev.-.4944
Prostitution (6, 10) Issue a Simmons (451) Hean-3.193B Std. Dev.-1.0575 Issue a sunmons (561) Mean-3.2792 Std. Dev.-1.0082 Issue a sunmons (661) Mean-3.9007 Std. Dev.-.7930 Issue a sunmons (581) Hean-3.1333 Std. Dev.-.9904 Issue a sunmons (611) Mean-3.2241 Std. 0ev.-.9598 Issue a sunmons (571) Mean-3.0 Std. Dev.-1.069. Issue a sunmons (761) Mean-3.6 Std. Dev.-.8097
Table 4-2 also provides information about the mean, mode,
and standard deviation of the categories. Each of the statistics
provides some information about the respondent groups and how they
differ one from another. The highest standard deviation (indi-
cating more disagreement) was found in vignette number six, a
prostitution case where a female reported that a male offered to
pay her money in return for performing a sex act. Most of the
respondents expected that the officer would issue a summons
(52 percent). The second highest standard deviation was found in
the other prostitution case, where a male reported that he was
approached by a female who offered to perform a sex act for
payment. These two vignettes are followed closely by vignettes
which describe vice-type violations, gambling, and possession of
marijuana. For more information concerning comparisons between
individual vignettes, see Appendix C, Table 1.
When the standard deviations were compared across group
lines, rather than by vignette, the probation officers had the
lowest combined standard deviation, with the highest standard
deviation within the community leader group. The sample sizes for
the groups (probation11 and community leader84) certainly
confound the results and in some ways limit the use of the
information. It should be noted, though, that 100 percent of the
probation officers in Boulder County responded to the survey.
Table 4-2 also shows that the respondents differed widely
within the groups and among the groups (public, community leaders,
police, etc.). Only in one of the categories, the traffic
violation category, did a majority of the respondents involved in
the study select the same option: issue a summons. The next
highest agreement is in the prostitution category with only the
general public not having a majority select the issue-a-summons
option. This category (prostitution) also has the greatest
difference in the means and the highest standard deviation.
Another way to examine the groups and categories/vignettes
is to examine where the tendencies or patterns developed. All of
the six categories (combined vignettes) and the three vignettes
which could not be categorized (vandalism, gambling, and theft)
had groups which have significant differences from the mean.
Table 4-3 provides the information with those groups having a
significant difference from the mean outside of the horizontal
lines in each of the categories or vignettes. Five of the
categories or vignettes have two groups outside of the mean
(curfew, disturbance, juveniles, traffic, and theft); two
categories/vignettes have four groups with significant differences
from the mean (drugs and alcohol and gambling); one has five
groups with significant differences from the mean (vandalism); and
one has all seven groups significantly different (prostitution).
Prosecutors are significantly different from the mean in all
categories/vignettes while police are not significantly different
from the mean in all but two categories/vignettes (prostitution
and vandalism). The public (the sample of citizens) and the
conmmity leaders are either not significantly different from the
TABLE 4-3., COMPARISON OF GROUP MEAN WITH GRAND MEAN
Curfw Disturbance Drugs end Alcohol Juveniles Traffic Prostitution Vandalise Gaobling Thert
*.5 Police 3.89U Probation 4.18
,4 Probation 4.0938 Prosecutors 3.2941 Judges 3.2444
..2 (3.2(6) Judge. 3.2667 (3.H51) (3.76(9) (3.3557) (3.0223) Prosecutors 3.82 Judges 3.67 Defense 3.86 'Prosecutors 5.98 (3.8742)
el Police 3.2365 Police 3.1269 Police 3.7018 Police 3.31( Probation 3.0 (3.6129) (3.7(60) (3.72(3) Police 3.76
.0 Judges 3.1667 leedera 3.0959 Public 3.69(7 Public 3.2775 Defense 2.9643 Oefense 3.67 Judges 3.67 Police 3.63 Leaders 3.60 Probation 3.64 Leaders 3.63
Hean 3.1012 3.0766 3.671 3.263 2.9(6 3.398( 3.646 3.59( 3.628
-.0 Probation 3.1 Defense 3.0529 Public 3.0457 Judgee 3.2222 Probation 3.2222 Leaders 3.2208 Police 2.9371 Public 2.936V Leadera 2.90(6 Public 3.55 Judges 3.60
(3.0081) (3.1703) (2.6677) (3.2839) (3.557) (3.(671)
-.1 Public 3.0683 leaden 3.0506 Prosecutors 2.9619 leaders 3.5974 Leadera 3.2792 Defense 3.2241
-.2 Judges 3.4821 Public 3.193B Proiecutors 3.1333 Leaders 3.49 Public 3.46 Probation 3.45 Prosecutors 3.35 Pol lev 3.(0
-.3 Defense 2.8571 Prosecutors 3.3438 Oefense 2.9167 Judgee 3.0
-.4 Prosecutors 2.7059 Defense 3.2593 Prosecutors 2.8542
-.5 Defense 3.14
latt: Heavy lint divides significant fron non-slgniflcsnt findings (at tha 97* confidence level)
mean, or where they are (prostitution and vandalism), they are
both on the side of less serious sanctions.
The sections which follow provide more detailed informa-
tion about the six categories. In each case where one-way
analysis of variance found that a significant difference existed,
such tendencies are pointed out. Also, as trends develop, they
are discussed in the category.
The curfew violation classification includes two
vignettes, one involving a group of juvenile males out at
2:30 a.m. on a Saturday morning (V-2), and the other, a lone
juvenile female walking in a shopping center at 2:30 a.m. on a
Wednesday morning (V-19). Table 4-5 provides an overview of the
consolidation of the two similar vignettes.
Three groups would take an action different than the other
four (police--warn, prosecutors--warn, judges--issue a summons).
The police and judges selected referring the juvenile to a social
service agency much less than the other groups16 percent and
21 percent, respectivelyas compared to a range of 35 percent to
71 percent for the other groups.
A difference was found among how police officers would
handle the situations and how their supervisors would expect the
situation to be handled (including corporals and sergeants), as
well as administrators (including lieutenants, captains, chiefs,
etc.). Table 4-4 provides some additional information.
Supervisors seem to expect a harsher treatment while administra-
tors would expect a less harsh treatment. The information is
provided as an example as to how officers, supervisors, and
POLICE RESPONDENT BY RANK
Rank Mean Mode
Police Officer (N=170) 3.2441 Warn 38%
Police Supervisor (N=77) 3.3052 Warn 38%
Police Administrator (N=45) 3.0778 Refer to social service 36%
A review of the answers provided by the officers employ-
ed by the various agencies in Boulder County reveals significant
differences among the agencies. Except for the respondents from
the Boulder Police Department, all agencies were significantly
low (Boulder Sheriff's Department, Louisville Police Department,
and the University of Colorado Police Department), or high
(Longmont Police Bureau, Lafayette Police Department, and the
Broomfield Department of Public Safety). Some very clear differ-
ences exist among the agencies. The members of the Broomfield
Department of Public Safety clearly responded that they would
treat the youthful offenders the most harshly, with 56 percent
of the officers selecting the issuance of a summons as the
disposition (and a mean of 4.125). The Boulder County Sheriff's
Department and the Louisville Police Department would treat the
Group Mean Standard Deviation Ranking of Options
General Public 3.0683 0.8358 Refer to social services (41%) Warn (31%) Issue a summons (15%) Arrest (12%) Take no action (1%)
Community Leaders 3.0506 0.8719 Refer to social services (35%) Warn (33%) Issue a summons (20%) Arrest (10%) Take no action (2%)
Police 3.2365 1.0033 Warn (30%) Issue a sunmons (19%) Arrest (16%) Refer to social services (16%) Take no action (1%)
Prosecutors 2.7059 0.6139 Warn (50%) Refer to social services (35%) Issue a sumnons (9%) Arrest (9%) Take no action (0%)
TABLE 4-5 (cont.)
Group Mean Standard Deviation Ranking of Options
Defense Attorneys 2.8571 0.8698 Refer to social services (41%) Warn (40%) Arrest (14%) Issue a summons (5%) Take no action (0%)
Judges 3.1667 0.9386 Issue a summons (39%) Warn (32%) Refer to social services (21%) Arrest (4%) Take no action (4%)
Probation 3.1000 0.6583 Refer to social services (71%) Warn (14%) Arrest (10%) Issue a summons (5%) Take no action (0%)
youths the least harshly. These two agencies border the
Broomfield Department of Public Safety, and by just crossing a
boundary line from one direction to another the Individual
stands a good chance of being treated differently. Table 4-6
provides further information.
POLICE RESPONSE BY AGENCY
Agency Mean Mode
Boulder Police Depart. (N=79) 3.0253 Warn (37%)
Boulder County Sheriff's Dept. (N=61) 2.5492 Warm (64%)
Broomfield Dept, of Public Safety (N=36) 4.1250 Issue a summons (56%)
Lafayette Police Dept. (N=13) 3.6154 Issue a sumnons (38%)
Longmont Police Bureau (N-52) 3.8793 Issue a summons (46%)
Louisville Police Dept. (N=13) 2.7308 Warn (65%)
University of Colo. Police Dept. (N=28) 2.8036 Warn (55%)
In order to simplify the information, the eight agencies
(including the agencies as other) were combined. The following
agencies were combined as the larger agencies in Boulder County:
Boulder County Sheriff's Department, Boulder Police Department,
Longmont Police Bureau, and the University of Colorado Police
Department. The Broomfield Department of Public Safety,
Lafayette Police Department, Louisville Police Department, and
others were classified as other agencies in Boulder County. Two
notable exceptions to the agency classification were made:
(1) because of the interrelationships that exist between the
University of Colorado Police Department and the other agencies,
this agency was combined with the larger agencies, and (2) the
Broomfield Department of Public Safety serves a population that
resides in three counties, and thus a smaller percentage of the
pouplation served by this agency resides in Boulder County.
Thus, the Broomfield Department of Public Safety was combined
with the other agencies. The agencies were also combined in
this manner because of agency relationships. The results of
combining these agencies showed that the members of the other
agencies tended to treat the youths significantly more harshly
COMPARISON OF COMBINATIONS
Large Agencies Other Agencies (N=226) (N=67) 3.0885 3.6866
One final comparison or breakdown of the police respon-
dents was found to be significant in this area: number of years
of service as a law enforcement officer. It seems that officers
start their career by enforcing the law more fully, then relax in
a few years, and then gradually develop a style of enforcing the
law more fully. Clearly much confounds this finding; for
example, age, place of employment, and so on. Still the tendency
does exist and continues throughout many of the categories.
Officers with six to ten years of experience have a significantly
lower mean while officers with more than 16 years of experience
have a significantly higher mean. Table 4-8 provides greater
YEARS OF SERVICE
Years as a Law Enforcement Officer Mean Mode
0 to 5 years 3.2791 Warn (37%)
6 to 10 years 3.0000 Warn (47%)
11 to 15 years 3.3258 Warn (33%)
16 to 30 years 3.5345 Arrest (30%)
The handling of curfew violations appears to create
disagreements within the police ranks: (1) the police have the
highest standard deviation as pointed out by Table 4-5;
(2) police supervisors have a tendency to expect that violators
be more harshly treated than officers actually treat them (see
Table 4-4); (3) some significant cross-agency tendencies exist
(see Tables 4-6 and 4-7); and (4) some significant variations
exist in how officers with various years of service would handle
the situation (see Table 4-8).
The enforcement style the respondents would prefer the
officers to use was asked after all twenty vignettes were
answered (see question 21). Appendix A provides the exact
wording. In brief, the respondents were asked whether they would
like the officers to enforce fully all laws or selectively
enforce laws. The respondents who chose one of the two options
responded quite differently to the vignettes. Those who would
want the laws fully enforced generally had a significantly higher
mean than the respondents who chose the selective enforcement
option. Table 4-9 provides greater detail that is specific to
Style Mean Standard Deviation
Fully enforce 3.52 1.0846
Selectively enforce 3.04 1.0191
Because the differences between the respondents who
selected full enforcement and those who selected selective
enforcement are consistent throughout the findings, the following
information about these two groups is provided. The group of
respondents who chose the option of fully enforcing all laws was
composed of a small percentage of respondents from each of the
various respondent groups. A higher percentage of individuals
who selected the moderate political option chose the full enforce-
ment option than those who view themselves as conservative. Less
than 5 percent of the officer respondents selected the full
enforcement option. Appendix C, Table 7 provides a description
of respondents who chose the full enforcement option more
frequently than the overall response rate of the groups involved
of 13 percent. Some of the subclassifications of the respondents
produced groups of less than 1 percent and these groups are not
reported in the table.
Few differences are evident in the answer to the question
dealing with enforcement styles between the respondent groups
involved in the criminal justice system. They do, however,
exist. About twice as many non-police criminal justice workers
chose the full enforcement option than did officers, with
community leaders and the general public selecting the full
enforcement option more frequently than all other groups
(Table 4-10 provides additional details).
COMPARISON OF ENFORCEMENT STYLE CHOICES
Group Percentage Selecting Full Enforcement Percentage Selecting Selective Enforcement
Police 4.5% 95.5%
Other Criminal Justice Workers 9.8% 90.2%
Community Leaders 13.4% 86.6%
General Public 18.7% 81.3%
The disturbance classification includes six vignettes.
They are: a domestic disturbance (V-3), trespass (V-4), a fight
(V-5), a minor disturbance (V-8), a disturbance with a third-
party complainant (V-9), and an additional domestic disturbance
(V-12). Table 4-11 provides a quick overview of the six
vignettes after they have been consolidated.
The means range from a low of 2.9619 for the prosecutors
to a high of 3.3714 for probation officers. Five of the groups
selected the warn option most frequently, with judges and proba-
tion officers selecting the issue-a-sumnons option the most
frequently. In the previous classification (curfew), the police
had the highest mean, while in this classification they are
third, behind probation officers and judges. Prosecutors had a
significantly low mean in this category while judges and proba-
tion officers had a significantly high mean. Thus the tendency
for law enforcement officers to have the highest mean established
in other categories does not exist in this category. See Table
4-11 for further details.
As in the previous classification, the law enforcement
agencies vary significantly in how they would handle the cases.
The Lafayette Police Department had the lowest mean and the
lowest standard deviation, while the Broomfield Department of
Public Safety had the highest mean. The Boulder County Sheriff's
Department, Lafayette Police Department, and the University of
Colorado Police Department all had significantly low means while
the Broomfield Department of Public Safety had a significantly
high'mean. The combined smaller agencies had a significantly
higher mean. Tables 4-12 and 4-13 provide additional
Ranking of Options
Issue a sumnons (31%)
Refer to social services (25%)
Take no action (9%)
Issue a sumnons (28%)
Refer to social services (16%)
Take no action (10%)
Issue a sumnons (35%)
Refer to social services (13%)
Take no action (3%)
Issue a sumnons (25%)
Refer to social services (16%)
Take no action (9%)
TABLE 4-11 (cont.)
Group Mean Standard Deviation Ranking of Options
Defense Attorneys 3.0529 0.5229 Warn (32%) Refer to social services (23%) Issue a summons (21%) Arrest (16%) Take no action (9%)
Judges 3.2667 0.3813 Issue a summons (41%) Warn (25%) Arrest (17%) Take no action (12%) Refer to social services (5%)
Probation 3.3714 0.4323 Issue a suimions (33%) Refer to social services (25%) Warn (20%) Arrest (18%) Take no action (5%)
information. Thus a tendency for the law enforcement agencies to
vary in different directions is pointed out by the results.
Consistent with the previous classification, those
individuals who selected the option that officers should fully
enforce all laws selected options that brought about more
sanctions against the individual. The mean for this category for
those who selected the full enforcement option was 3.3168, and
the mean for those who selected the selective enforcement option
The law enforcement agencies involved in this study have
since put into effect a policy that requires officers to place an
individual in jail who has committed an assault against a live-in
partner or a family member. Two of the vignettes, three and 12,
involve assaults by males against present or former marriage
partners. Under the modified policy, the suspect in vignette
three would be arrested and jailed. If vignettes three and 12
are a good indication of what was occurring prior to this change,
then a major change in policy occurred. Both vignettes have a
mean of less than 5 (3.7382 and 4.0282, respectively). Vignette
three involves a physical assault and has a lower mean than
vignette 12, which involves only property damage.
A significant difference among officer responses was
found based on experience. Officers with over 16 years of
service had a significantly higher mean. The trend was estab-
lished in the curfew category of a higher mean for the first five
POLICE RESPONSE BY AGENCY
Agency Mean Standard Deviation Mode
Boulder Police Department 3.1474 .5054 Issue a warning (54%)
Boulder County Sheriff's Dept. 2.9950 .4411 Issue a warning (40%)
Broomfield Dept, of Public Safety 3.5286 .5063 Issue a warning (38%)
Lafayette Police Dept. 2.9870 .4354 Issue a warning (42%)
Longmont Police Bureau 3.1346 .4618 Issue a warning (40%)
Louisville Police Dept. 3.1299 .5801 Issue a warning (42%)
University of Colo. Police Dept. 3.0060 .5011 Issue a summons (48%)
COMPARISON OF LARGE AND SMALL AGENCIES
Large agencies 3.0824
Other agencies 3.2959
years with a drop in the next five years followed by a steady
increase in the mean.
Drugs and Alcohol
This classification includes three vignettes which
involve the possession or use of alcohol or drugs. They are:
possession of marijuana (V-ll), drinking under age (V-17), and
growing marijuana (V-18).
All of the groups generally chose the option of issuing a
summons by a fairly large percentage as compared to the second
most frequently chosen option (a range from a low of 8 percent
for the general public to a high of 35 percent for probation
officers and judges). The warn option was selected the least by
probation officers (3 percent) and the most by prosecutors
(32 percent). Defense attorneys and the general public selected
options which have the least impact on the suspect the most
frequently. Table 4-14 provides additional information. In this
category, defense attorneys, prosecutors, and judges had a signif-
icantly low mean while probation officers had a significantly
As in the previous categories, differences were found
among the members of the involved law enforcement agencies. The
other agencies had a significantly higher mean than the larger
agencies. The highest mean was from the officers of the Broom-
field Department of Public Safety and the lowest was from the
University of Colorado Police Department. The following agencies
DRUGS AND ALCOHOL
Mean Standard Deviation
Ranking of Options
Issue a summons (37%)
Refer to social services (14%)
Take no action (3%)
Issue a summons (38%)
Refer to social services (9%)
Take no action (4%)
Issue a summons (51%)
Refer to social services (6%)
Take no action (1%)
Issue a sumnons (47%)
Refer to social services (8%)
Take no action (2%)
TABLE 4-14 (cont.)
Group Mean Standard Deviation Ranking of Options
Defense Attorneys 3.2593 0.9159 Issue a summons (34%) Warn (24%) Refer to social services (19%) Arrest (15%) Take no action (8%)
Judges 3.4821 0.5757 Issue a summons (60%) Warn (25%) Refer to social services (7%) Arrest (5%) Take no action (2%)
Probation 4.0938 0.3995 Issue a summons (65%) Arrest (20%) Refer to social services (13%) Warn (3%)
had a significantly low mean: Boulder County Sheriff's Depart-
ment, Lafayette Police Department, and the University of Colorado
Police Department (see Table 4-15).
POLICE RESPONSE BY AGENCY
Agency Mean Deviation
Boulder Police Department Boulder County Sheriff's Dept. 3.8333 .8036
Broomfield Dept, of Public Safety 4.2109 .3306
Lafayette Police Dept. 3.3654 .6424
Longmont Police Bureau 3.8348 .5141
Louisville Police Dept. 3.5769 .5626
University of Colo. Police Dept. 3.1923 .6975
The officers with the most experience selected options
that brought about more formal sanctions than officers with less
time on the job. This is consistent throughout the responses as
frequently the officers with more experience chose options with
greater sanctions. The lower mean for officers with six through
ten years of experience is fairly consistent throughout the
officer respondents (curfew violations, disturbance, drugs and
alcohol, juvenile offenses, and traffic). In the case of
prostitution, the more experience, the higher the mean (i.e.,
there is no drop in the mean for the years six through ten). In
this instance (drugs and alcohol), the mean for officers with 16
or more years of service is significantly higher (see
Years Experience Mean Standard Devi ation
0 through 5 (N=89) 3.3933 1.0619
6 through 10 (N=99) 3.1616 1.0173
11 through 15 (N=69) 3.4638 1.0513
16 through 30 (N=29) 4.1379 .3509
Once again a significantly higher mean was found for
those respondents who chose the full enforcement option, a
tendency that continues throughout the categories/vignettes
except for vignette seven, a case of vandalism.
Cases Involving Juveniles
This category includes vignettes which involved juveniles
committing a violation. The vignettes include: a curfew viola-
tion involving males (V-2), a juvenile male consuming alcohol
(V-17), and a curfew violation involving a juvenile female
The means in this category range from 2.85 (prosecutors)
to 3.31 (police). Three of the groups (general public, defense
attorneys, and probation) chose the option of referring the
youths to social services the most frequently. One group,
judges, chose the option to issue a summons most frequently, with
the other three groups selecting the warn option the most
frequently. Two groups indicated significantly lower means:
defense attorneys and prosecutors. When the criminal justice
Group Mean Standard Deviation Ranking of Options
General Public 3.2775 0.7781 Refer to social services (36%) Warn (27%) Arrest (19%) Issue a summons (18%) Take no action (1%)
Community Leaders 3.2208 0.8282 Warn (31%) Refer to social services (29%) Issue a sumuons (22%) Arrest (16%) Take no action (2%)
Poli ce 3.314 0.8901 Warn (34%) Issue a summons (27%) Refer to social services (19%) Arrest (19%) Take no action (1%)
Prosecutors 2.8542 0.6203 Warn (48%) Refer to social services (30%) Issue a sunmons (14%) Arrest (8%)
TABLE 4-17 (cont.)
Group Mean Standard Deviation Ranking of Options
Defense Attorneys 2.9167 0.8395 Refer to social services (4155) Warn (35%) Arrest (16%) Issue a summons (7%) Take no action (1%)
Judges 3.2222 0.7732 Issue a summons (40%) Warn (31%) Refer to social services (21%) Arrest (5%) Take no action (2%)
Probation 3.2222 0.3333 Refer to social services (61%) Issue a summons (19%) Arrest (10%) Warn (10%)
groups are consolidated into one group, except for police, the
comparison of police with the consolidated group shows a signifi
cant difference with a mean of 3.314 for police and a mean of
3.0216 for the others. Table 4-17 provides additional informa-
A tendency exists, as pointed out previously, for
officers to start out fairly strictly, to slack off slightly, and
then to treat the suspects more harshly as they acquire more
years in law enforcement. This tendency continues in this
category. Officers with 16 or more years of service have a
significantly higher mean in this category (see Table 4-18).
Years Experience Mean Standard Deviation
0 through 5 3.3216 .8900
6 through 10 3.1340 .8788
11 through 15 3.3487 .8945
16 through 30 3.7241 .7719
As noted previously in other categories, those who
answered the enforcement style question that they would like to
see full enforcement had a significantly higher mean. This
tendency continues in this category.
Significant differences were found in how the memberships
of the various agencies would expect to handle the situation.
The agency which had the highest mean was once again the
Broomfield Department of Public Safety, with the Boulder County
Sheriff's Department having the lowest mean. The larger agencies
have a lower mean once again, with 3.2012, with the other
agencies having a significantly high mean. The Boulder County
Sheriff's Department and the University of Colorado Police
Department had a significantly low mean (see Table 4-19).
POLICE RESPONSE BY AGENCY
Agency Mean Standard Deviation
Boulder Police Department 3.2436 .8657
Boulder County Sheriff's Dept. 2.7268 .6653
Broomfield Dept, of Public Safety 4.0952 .5021
Lafayette Police Dept.' 3.3077 .6304
Longmont Police Bureau 3.8667 .7820
Louisville Police Dept. 2.8462 .9390
University of Colo. Police Dept. 2.8095 .7225
Officer education levels appear to be significant in
relation to cases involving juveniles, curfew, drugs and alcohol,
and disturbance violations. In each of these categories the
tendencies show a lower mean with higher educational levels.
Most certainly this finding varies by department, years of
service, and other individual characteristics, but the tendency
exists and appears to be significant. A slight increase was
found in the mean in both categories (cases involving juveniles
and curfew violations) among officers who possess a graduate
degree. Tables 4-20 and 4-21 provide more information about this
tendency. It is interesting to note that only one individual of
the 291 respondents had less than a high school degree and that
89 percent of the officers had at least some college. In both
categories (drugs and alcohol and juvenile offenses), the
standard deviation decreases as the officers have more education.
Thus, a tendency towards increased similarity in response by
officers with increased college educations seems to exist.
However, this tendency does not continue in the other categories
(traffic, prostitution, vandalism, gambling, and theft).
OFFICER EDUCATION TRENDS FOR JUVENILE OFFENDERS
Education Mean Standard Deviation
Junior High (N=l) 4.0 0
High School (N=31) 3.6559 1.0128
Some College (N=146) 3.3676 .9154
College Degree (N=76) 3.1404 .7986
Graduate School (N=37) 3.1532 .8035
OFFICER EDUCATION TRENDS FOR CURFEW VIOLATIONS
Education Mean Standard Deviation
Junior High (N=l) 4.0 0
High School (N=32) 3.6719 1.1043
Some College (N=149) 3.2953 1.0381
College Degree (N=77) 3.00 .9032
Graduate School (N=37) 3.0946 .8403
This category includes vignettes involving minor traffic
offenses. They are: a stop light violation (V-l), speeding
(V-15), lane changing with no signal (V-16), and walking against
a red light (V-20).
The means in this category range from 2.9048 (community
leaders) to 3.2941 (prosecutors). All groups selected the option
to issue a summons the most frequently, with the warn option
being the second most popular option. One percent or three of
the groups, general public, community leaders, and prosecutors,
selected the option of referring the suspected violator to a
social service agency. One percent of the prosecutors selected
the option of arrest. The criminal justice agency respondents
would have liked the officers to treat the suspected violator
more harshly than either the general public or the community
leaders. This is the only category in which this occurs. In
other categories the general public and the community leaders
would have the officer treat the individual more harshly than
some groups in the criminal justice system. The prosecutors and
judges had a significantly high mean (see Table 4-22).
As expected, those who selected the full enforcement
option would have the officers treat the suspected violator more
harshly (significantly) than those who chose selective enforce-
ment-^.3381 and 2.8902, respectively. Also, the tendency
concerning officer experience continues with a modest increase in
Group Mean Standard Deviation Ranking of Options
General Public 2.9364 0.6839 Issue a sunmons (52%) Warn (44%) Take no action (3%) Refer to social services (3%)
Community Leaders 2.9048 0.6264 Issue a summons (53%) Warn (43%) Take no action (4%) Refer to social services (1%)
Police 2.9371 0.7715 Issue a summons (57%) Warn (40%) Take no action (3%)
Prosecutors 3.2941 0.6442 Issue a sunmons (57%) Warn (37%) Take no action (4%) Refer to social services (1%) Arrest (1%)
TABLE 4-22 (cont.)
Group Mean Standard Deviation Ranking of Options
Defense Attorneys 2.9643 0.7927 Issue a summons (63%) Warn (33%) Take no action (3%)
Judges 3.2444 0.7608 Issue a summons (68%) Warn (29%) Take no action (4%)
Probation 3.0 0.4944 Issue a summons (59%) Warn (39%) Take no action (2%)
the degrees of harshness of treatment of the suspect when years
of experience are taken into account (see Table 4-23).
Years Experience Mean Standard Deviation
0 through 5 2.8697 .7529
6 through 10 2.7544 .7457
11 through 15 3.0000 .8357
16 through 30 3.5111 .4931
A comparison of the differences among the agencies shows
the Boulder Police Department to have the highest mean and the
Boulder County Sheriff's Department the lowest. The Sheriff's
Department and Louisville Police Department had a significantly
low mean while the Broomfield Department of Public Safety also
had a significantly high mean. No significant difference was
found between the large and other agencies (see Table 4-24).
POLICE RESPONSE BY AGENCY
Agency Mean Standard Deviation
Boulder Police Department 3.5331 .5421
Boulder County Sheriff's Dept. 2.4015 .5528
Broomfield Dept, of Public Safety 3.3162 .5515
Lafayette Police Dept. 3.0769 .4935
Longmont Police Bureau 3.1907 .6130
Louisville Police Dept. 2.8654 .6260
University of Colo. Police Dept. 3.1000 .4146
This category includes two vignettes: prostitution with
a female complainant (V-6) and prostitution with a male
The police were clearly the most punitive in this cate-
gory with a mean of 3.8944 while judges (3.0) had the lowest
mean. The police had the lowest standard deviation of all of the
respondent groups. Table 4-25 provides additional information.
All groups selected the option of issuing a summons most frequent-
ly, indicating a majority agreement in all groups except for the
general public. The following groups had significantly low
means: community leaders, defense attorneys, general public,
prosecutors, and judges. Officers and probation officers had
significantly high means.
When the criminal justice respondent groups, excluding
the police, are consolidated, the results show a significant
difference between the police and other criminal justice workers.
The police have a significantly high mean while the other crimi-
nal justice workers have a significantly low mean (see Table
As expected, and which has been true for all categories,
those who selected the option of full enforcement had a signifi-
cantly higher mean than those who chose selective enforcement:
Ranking of Options
Issue a sumnons (45%)
Take no action (13%)
Refer to social services (8%)
Issue a sumnons (56%)
Take no action (11%)
Refer to social services (2%)
Issue a sumnons (66%)
Take no action (5%)
Issue a sumnons (58%)
Take no action (13%)
Refer to social services (1%)
TABLE 4-25 (cont.)
Group Mean Standard Deviation Ranking of Options
Defense Attorneys 3.2241 0.9598 Issue a summons (61%) Warn (22%) Take no action (14%) Arrest (3%)
Judges 3.0 1.0690 Issue a summons (57%) Warn (32%) Take no action (11%)
Probation 3.6 0.8097 Issue a summons (76%) Warn (14%) Arrest (5%) Take no action (5%)
COMPARISON OF POLICE AND OTHER CRIMINAL JUSTICE WORKERS
Group Mean Standard Deviation
Police 3.8944 .7983
Other criminal 3.2278 1.0026
3.6277 versus 3.3657. This is the only category in which the
mean for the police exceeds the mean of those who selected full
enforcement. Only this category and the category involving theft
(V-14), did not have a significant difference among the members
of the involved law enforcement agencies.
Three of the 20 vignettes were not included in the six
categories; they involve vandalism (V-7), gambling (V-13), and
theft (V-14). These three vignettes were not included because,
based on statistical analysis, they could not be consolidated
with any other vignettes. The findings for each of these
vignettes is presented next, in summary form.
Vignette number seven concerned a vandalism committed
against city property. No complainant was involved since the
officer observed the offense while driving by the building. The
results showed considerable agreement about how the offense
should be handled. A majority of all the surveyed groups agreed
that a sunmons should be issued: 51 percent for the general
public and 88 percent for the prosecutors (see Table 4-27). The
same was true for the law enforcement agencies. The results
ranged from a low of 69 percent (Lafayette Police Department) to
a high of 97 percent (Broomfield Department of Public Safety) who
opted for the issuance of a summons.
The community leaders, general public, and probation
officers had a significantly low mean while police and
prosecutors had a significantly high mean (see Table 4-26). In
reference to the law enforcement agencies, the Boulder County
Sheriff's Department, Louisville Police Department, and the
University of Colorado Police Department had significantly low
means while the Boulder Police Department and Lafayette Police
Department had significantly high means (see Table 4-28).
Vignette 13 concerned a form of illegal gambling called
numbers.M The individual who operated the game was a well-known
and respected member of the community. The means of the
respondent groups ranged from 3.3529 (prosecutors) to 4.1818
(probation). In this case, all groups except the police chose
the option of issuing a summons the most frequently. The police
also had the highest standard deviation. Prosecutors had a
significantly low mean while defense attorneys, judges, and
probation had significantly high means (see Table 4-29).
A significant difference among the involved law enforce-
ment agencies was found. Once again the Broomfield Department of
Group Mean Standard Deviation Mode
General Public 3.4601 .9718 Issue a summons (51%)
Community Leaders 3.4940 .9419 Issue a surmons (56%)
Police 4.0577 .4354 Issue a summons (85%)
Prosecutors 3.8235 .2864 Issue a summons (88%)
Defense Attorneys 3.6667 .7581 Issue a summons (73%)
Judges 3.6667 .8997 Issue a sumnons (71%)
Probation 3.4545 .9342 Issue a summons (73%)