The militarization of law enforcement – and vice versa

Many (including myself) have pointed out the dangers inherent in the ‘militarization’ of law enforcement in the USA.  However, I wasn’t aware (until recently) that some Special Forces units were being called upon to conduct more operations in a law-enforcement-type role as well.

I recently came across a very interesting report on this subject from an organization called Public Intelligence.  It describes itself as follows:

Public Intelligence is an international, collaborative research project aimed at aggregating the collective work of independent researchers around the globe who wish to defend the public’s right to access information. We operate upon a single maxim: equal access to information is a human right. We believe that limits to the average citizen’s ability to access information have created information asymmetries which threaten to destabilize democratic rule around the world. Through the control of information, governments, religions, corporations, and a select group of individuals have been able to manipulate public perception into accepting coercive agendas which are ultimately designed to limit the sovereignty and freedom of populations worldwide.

This site is an attempt to compile and defend public information using software and methods which are open source and available to the public at large. It is our hope that by making such information available and demonstrating the power of a public resolved to inform itself, we may engender a more informed and proactive populace. Within our first two years of operation, we have already received more than twenty threats and takedown notices from government agencies and corporations around the world for publishing documents discovered via open source methods available to any member of the public. No information has ever been removed or censored.

We provide documents, detailed analyses, and a host of other open-source intelligence products from the private and public sector.

There’s more at the link.

Public Intelligence has made available a ‘Joint Special Operations University Report on Convergence of Special Forces and Civilian Law Enforcement‘.  (The full report can be downloaded in Adobe Acrobat format at the link.)  It suggests that the militarization of law enforcement has a corollary in the US armed forces – namely, the ‘law enforcement-ization’ (to coin a phrase) of some military functions.  Here are some extracts from Public Intelligence’s summary of the report’s contents.

In recent years there has been an apparent convergence of the operations conducted by Special Operations Forces (SOF) and those of civilian law enforcement agencies (LEAs), especially Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) units, in what were formerly separate and distinct missions. The requirements to obtain warrants prior to execution of raids for high-value targets, collect and preserve evidence for criminal prosecution, and on occasion present testimony in courts of law are new missions for SOF. They are not relatively simple changes in the rules of engagement or comparable techniques. As far as can be determined, previously no U.S. military combat arms unit has ever been tasked with such a mission during combat operations. The thesis is straightforward; if such missions are to continue, then consideration must be given to adequate training for them.

In addition, the dangers faced by civilian LEAs in the U.S. have been constantly escalating. Many criminals are equipped with fully automatic weapons and in some areas conducting small-unit operations. The response to these threats requires additional SOF-like civilian units within LEAs. As such, SOF and LEAs will be competing for personnel from a limited subset of the American population.

. . .

An important issue surfaced while conducting interviews with special operations personnel from various elements concerning assigned missions. That topic was how many of them reported being asked to conduct functions in Iraq that were very similar to those found in U.S. civilian law enforcement. These assignments were found at various operational levels from those involved in direct action and capture of high-value targets to liaison with Iraqi law enforcement at varying levels of headquarters. It is noted some officers believe such tasks and constraints to be inappropriate for SOF; however, that discussion is not relevant to this monograph. The missions have occurred, are ongoing, and likely to represent a trend for the future.

. . .

The merging of law enforcement and combat operations is producing a fundamental change in how the Department of Defense (DoD) is conducting combat operations. The global war on terrorism (GWOT) is forcing combat soldiers to collect evidence and preserve combat objectives as crime scenes in order to prevent captured enemy forces from returning to the field of battle. The military has been slow to codify the doctrinal and equipment changes that support the incorporation of law enforcement techniques and procedures into military operations.

Again, more at the link.  Bold print is my emphasis.

The Joint Special Operations University is certainly an authoritative source for such a report, and as such lends credibility to its contents, IMHO.  I highly recommend downloading and reading the full report.  It’s one of the most comprehensive overviews of this field that I’ve yet read, and is very informative, particularly in the light of previously-expressed concerns over the ‘militarization’ of US law enforcement.  As to whether or not such military units might ever be asked to conduct law-enforcement-type operations inside the US . . . I don’t know whether Posse Comitatus would make that illegal – or, even if it did, whether an increasingly and already disturbingly authoritarian government would simply disregard that.  Definitely food for thought!

(While you’re at it, spend some time going through the other information released by Public Intelligence.  It’s very interesting, and potentially very useful.)



  1. Since when does our government follow the law? That's for us peons.

    If the present government were to violate Posse Comitatus, the most likely things to happen would be:
    1. The Attorney General would ignore, stonewall and delay.
    2. The House would dither for a couple years, then maybe pass a resolution, which would get stuffed in the Senate.
    3. The government would decline to be sued in the courts.

  2. Yeah. Posse Commitatus. Ask the Branch-Davidians how well THAT worked…..JohninMd(help)

  3. "Many criminals are equipped with fully automatic weapons…"
    This is the little factoid I always have a problem with in people's articles (usually the Brady Bunch). Is it really that easy to acquire fully automatic weapons? I thought one had to get a federal license to even be a collector.

  4. @Jon: Along the Mexican border, this is getting to be a real problem. The criminals can get stolen military full-auto weapons in Mexico – many of them donated by the USA! It's much less of a problem (so far) elsewhere in the States.

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