Military Training of Civilian Police Steadily Expands: Congress Has Paved Way with Legislation

By Scarborough, Rowan | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), September 9, 1999 | Go to article overview

Military Training of Civilian Police Steadily Expands: Congress Has Paved Way with Legislation


Scarborough, Rowan, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


The military has dramatically increased training and weaponry for civilian law enforcers over the past 20 years, raising fears among some criminal justice experts that neighborhood police have become too militarized.

The Defense Department has provided everything from tanks for the 1993 siege at Waco, Texas, to explosives experts to blow out a prison door, to special forces training for the FBI and small-town cops.

One military organization alone, Joint Task Force Six (JTF-6), a nationwide anti-narcotics force based in southwest Texas, provides 500 training missions to local law enforcement each year.

Federal law bars the military from direct law enforcement roles, such as searches, seizures and arrests. But JTF-6's own guidelines in 1993 - the year it trained agents for the Waco raid - stated that "legal and policy barriers to the application of military capabilities are gradually being eliminated."

In 1996-97, the Pentagon issued more than a million pieces of equipment to police departments. Requests keep pouring in as even small-town police forces take on more of a paramilitary look, from hard-toe boots to armored vehicles for SWAT teams.

Now, some experts are sounding the alarm. The experts say an increasingly militarized civilian police force threatens civil liberties and can spur excessive force.

At the same time, Congress is taking a new look at the federal siege at Waco and will again examine the military's extensive role.

"Police and soldiers do different things," said Diane Cecilia Weber, a graduate student in criminal justice. "A soldier doesn't think. A soldier kills on command."

The Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, recently published a study by Ms. Weber titled "Warrior Cops: The Ominous Growth of Paramilitarism in American Police Departments."

Ms. Weber writes: "The problem is that the actions and values of the police officer are distinctly different from those of the warrior. The job of a police officer is to keep the peace but not by just any means. . . .. They are expected to use minimum force and to deliver suspects to a court of law. The soldier, on the other hand, is an instrument of war."

A study by two Eastern Kentucky University instructors, "Militarizing American Police: The Rise and Normalization of Paramilitary Units," states that of 459 rapid-response SWAT teams in the United States, 43 percent received training from active-duty military experts in special operations. But program advocates say closer military-police contacts are needed to combat better-armed and organized criminal elements, hostage situations and domestic terrorism threats.

Assistant Chief Rudy Rodriguez of the U.S. Border Patrol's Marfa, Texas, district, said the military's involvement in the drug war is crucial.

Joint Task Force Six, he said, cleared and patched a road along the Rio Grande that now allows four-wheel-drive patrols much faster access to infiltration points for drugs and illegal aliens. The military also helped citizens quell a fire three years ago that threatened to destroy the small town of Candelaria.

JTF-6 also has provided reconnaissance flights and trained his men in combat emergency care, analyzing intelligence and conducting patrols.

"Their helpfulness, it's outstanding," Chief Rodriguez said. "We've always had a good rapport with the military. Keep in mind, they are not here as law enforcement officers. They are here as trainers or here on engineering projects."

A law more than a century old - the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 - was intended to protect Americans from an overreaching military. The law prohibits the armed forces from directly enforcing civilian laws. Personnel may not arrest people, conduct search and seizures, or play an operational role in police actions - unless the president signs an executive waiver.

But since 1981, Congress and the White House methodically have widened the military's role, especially in the war on drugs, also in equipping and training neighborhood patrolmen. …

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