Helms School of Government


Doctor of Philosophy in Criminal Justice (PhD)


Joshua Adams


Proposition 47, defelonization, discretion, decision-making, deterrence, rational choice theory


Public Affairs, Public Policy and Public Administration | Sociology


The purpose of this transcendental phenomenological study was to explore how law enforcement officers in Los Angeles County described their lived experiences of engaging in discretionary enforcement behaviors when policing narcotics crimes. Rational choice theory provided the theoretical framework for the study. The two research questions asked the following: 1) What does Proposition 47 mean to law enforcement officers in Los Angeles County in relation to their self-efficacy to police narcotic offenses? 2) What do law enforcement officers in Los Angeles County share as challenges when policing narcotic offenses in their communities after the ratification of Proposition 47? Purposeful sampling was used to recruit 15 law enforcement officers in Los Angeles County for this study. Data were collected through open-ended surveys, semi-structured interviews, and reflexive memos. The data were coded utilizing thematic analysis with the assistance of NVivo 12 Plus. Five primary themes emerged from the data: 1) negative reinforcement-demotivators, 2) positive reinforcement-motivators, 3) capacity to enforce the law, 4) justifications for reduced narcotics enforcement, and 5) methods of reduced enforcement. The findings revealed that law enforcement officers, much like offenders’ criminal behaviors in the rational choice theory, can be dissuaded from discretionary enforcement behaviors with adequate negative reinforcement. Implications of the study’s findings, limitations, and recommendations for future research are also discussed.