Monday, July 23, 2012

Military Police actually aren't like civilian police

Marine Corps Warfighting Publication 3-34.1: Military Police in Support of the MAGTF states:
The MP mission and capabilities include support for AT/FP operations, maneuver and mobility support operations, area security, law and order, and internment operations. 
So the United States Marine Corps has law enforcement battalions now (or, rather, again). Three of
them to be exact. The linked article talks about how
Marines have been increasingly taking on the role of a street cop along with their combat duties over the past decade in Iraq and Afghanistan, where they have been in charge of training both countries' security forces. [...] 
The war on terror has also taught troops the importance of learning how to gather intelligence, secure evidence and assist local authorities in building cases to take down criminal networks. Troops have gotten better at combing raid sites for clues to help them track insurgents. 
They also have changed their approach, realizing that marching into towns to show force alienates communities. Instead, they are being taught to fan out with interpreters to strike up conversations with truck drivers, money exchangers, cellphone sellers and others. The rapport building can net valuable information that could even alert troops about potential attacks.
According to the commander of the 1st Battalion, a Major Jan Durham, "no group of Marines is better at that kind of work than the Corps' military police, who graduate from academies just like civilian cops". I am a huge fan of the Military Police (seriously), but let's not kid ourselves: they are not like "regular police". Their main wartime functions (and therefore training time) are spent on internment ops, force protection, and route and rear-area security in high intensity conflict. They have done a bunch of mentoring to host nation police forces in Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait, Panama, etc. But they are not police.

Their law enforcement functions are seriously limited to maintaining the peace and preventing crime, specifically around the Uniform Code of Military Justice and Federally-owned jurisdictions. Yes, they do have different authorities in different places, but this is rare. Traffic tickets and investigations, domestic disturbances, putting drunkards in the tank, and the occasional drug bust are all most MPs do on any regular basis - outside of the special investigative services such as CID or NCIS. I am sure that most MPs would love to do what civilian cops do, but that's just not their job as it's more important for them to prepare for and execute their wartime functions. But they do not gather intelligence, conduct community policing, or bring down criminal or terrorist networks. They are not the FBI.

Even their use as mentors for host nation police forces has had problems historically. Because they do not deal with the issues civilian police do - and certainly not the issues police in current or post-conflict nations face - they have little they can provide to the host nation, outside of seasoned non-commissioned officers, warrants, and officers due to lack of experience (outside of internment operations).

This is not to bag on MPs - they are a vital element of any task force. But let's recognize what they are: they are military police, not police who happen to be military. They are not going to be a quick reaction NCIS to solve terrorist or drug cartel crimes in far reaches of the globe. Particularly with only three battalions to go around. I think forming them into battalions is a great idea (and not just because the Army does it this way) - it gives commanders a greater force, with more flexibility, to address his military police objectives. Which are force protection, area security, maneuver support, some personnel protection, some tactical site exploitation, and a whole lot of internment ops. Three battalions of Marine police are not going to suffice as the world police force, in spite of what some of the article suggests.

(And please ignore the Thompson quote at the end - I don't know what he thinks Marine MPs do differently than Marine grunts to contain threats. Escalation of force is escalation of force.)

(Also, if you can identify the little piece of USMC doctrine I helped write on this topic, I'll buy you a drink or something - but not those of you who I told about it.)


  1. (Also, if you can identify the little piece of USMC doctrine I helped write on this topic, I'll buy you a drink or something - but not those of you who I told about it.)

    Ha! I'm curious about this....

  2. This issue just won't go away. Funny thing is, at the COIN conference a couple months back, it was an Army MP who was emphasizing that MPs are not trained to do expeditionary civilian policing (or whatever we're calling it these days). Not in a 'we don't want this to be our job' way, but rather a recognition that they aren't trained for it.

    As you say - MPs are great. They're just not the same as civilian cops.

    It does beg the question though, whether it would be possible to do an inventory of the professions of reservists, identify personnel who are cops in their civilian life, and deploy them with that purpose in mind when/where appropriate. I know this was being looked at re the USMCR, but not sure it went anywhere.

  3. You know, MK, this topic of cataloging the civilian jobs of Guardsmen comes up often. On it's face it's not a bad idea, but there are some practical and legal problems with it. Or I should say, I've heard there are some legal problems with it (activating soldiers for something outside of what they do for DoD, etc).

    Practically speaking, it would be difficult to cobble units together from across the country based on the fact that individuals have police backgrounds. I don't know that you can activate these guys long enough to turn them into an actual military organization in the sense we all understand that to mean. A number of law enforcement organizations also oppose the idea because in some cases it could decimate local police forces, rendering them ineffective.

    There's more to it, but those are the highlights of the arguments I've heard against the idea.

  4. Thanks for bringing this issue up. I saw the article in the Washington Post about these Marine units. It seems to be a recurring theme. As the wars wind down and budget cuts loom everyone is looking for ways to stand out and show capabilities. One problem here is that as individual services continue to develop stand alone capabilities like this, joint operations may suffer.

    The AF has also pursued standalone, multi-role security/policing units. Most notably is the development of the 820th (I should say re-activation) Security Forces Group. Much like the Marine Corps experience the need for this capability continues to raise its head but the services seem reluctant to sustain them through times of peace. The 820th has three line squadrons, a support squadron and a deployable group HQ. Their full reactivation just before 9/11 was (unfortunately) good timing. I fear that without the events of the last decade they would not have survived. These capabilities can not be created over night.

    For an example of a recent deployment by the 820th check out this story on the squadron that deployed to Haiti following the 2010 earthquake.

  5. Maybe interesting: in France, there is the National Gendarmerie. A branch of the French Armed Forces, in charge of public safety, with police duties among the civilian population

  6. If I may throw my two dinars into this discussion, from the perspective of a retired civilian Law Enforcement Officer (LEO), and current USAR CID Special Agent...
    Army Reservist CID SAs are almost all active or former civilian LEOs. The majority of us who have deployed will strongly agree with your point, that the Military Police Corps (Army, USMC) is not suited for a civilian police training mission. There have been a few exceptions, such as when my former civilian police chief (retired MP O-6) returned to active duty in order to serve as senior advisor to the Baghdad Police College...but folks like that are few and far between. The other approach to building Iraq's/Afghanistan's civilian policing capacity, the ubiquitous Dyncorp (and others) police training contractors, have by most accounts also failed to get the job done. None of my friends and colleagues who worked for these organizations, or the now-defunct International Police Training Mission of Kosovo/East Timor vintage, had anything positive to say about their effectiveness.
    In my opinion, it's unrealistic to even attempt to replicate US policing strategy/tactics/culture in places still in upheaval. Heck, it's tough enough to successfully employ community policing in most US communities!

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