Police militarisation in the United States has seen some police forces in the US as heavily armed as army units anyway. So, why can’t the army help out?
Well, the thing is, they actually can, but under very specific and limited circumstances. It’s a common misconception by some that the US Armed forces cannot enforce the law under any circumstances. Under times of insurrection, armed revolt or extreme lawlessness. One example of this was how members of the 1st Marine Division, 7th Infantry Division and the California Army National Guard were drafted in to respond to the 1992 Los Angeles Riots. The reason we rarely see the US Army help out with police work is because it is only under very extreme circumstances that they are actually legally allowed to restore order.
Why is it so difficult for the Army to help?
To answer this we have to look at how and why a soldier is trained the way they are compared to a Law Enforcement officer. A soldier is trained primarily to kill or maim to achieve an objective against an enemy of their country. A police officer is trained to maintain the law of their own country within their own country and with their fellow citizen. This means that killing must only be used when theirs or someone else’s life is under real and genuine threat.
From this we can deduce logically that generally a soldier, while still a soldier, cannot possibly understand the doctrine of “reasonable force” because the only force they know how to use is lethal. It therefore seems good sense to restrain military policing unless absolutely necessary. In the United States this is enshrined in the coupling of the Posse Commitatus Act and the Insurrection Act which herein set out the parameters needed for soldiers to be deployed to do police work.
From 2006 to 2007, it was actually a lot easier for the President to make use of the armed forces on US soil. An amendment to the Insurrection Act allowed the President to deploy federal troops in the case of a terrorist attack on domestic soil to restore law and order. However this was repealed the year after as it was seen that it was unnecessarily simple for the President to wield the power of the armed forces.
Why were these laws created?
The foundation of these laws come behind the inherent American fear of a tyrannical executive in control of the US Federal Army. It restricted the President’s ability to deploy US Troops (under the President’s control as Commander-In-Chief) on US Soil to a set of parameters. An example of the legislative branch, driven by a fear of the executive, limiting what it can do.
Furthermore, one element of the restrictions of Posse Comitatus is that for National Guardsmen, called up for active federal duty by the President, or federal US Troops to be deployed onto US soil the permission or request of the relevant state governor is required. Although this is not necessarily true in all cases, if a state is acting unconstitutionally, as was the case during the 1957 Little Rock school crisis, the President can use federal troops to enforce the constitution. As President Dwight D. Eisenhower did with the 101st Airborne Division.
It’s all a little complicated, isn’t it?
Well, yes. Nearly every single restriction of the Posse Comitatus Act and the Insurrection Act has exceptions associated with it. But it serves a purpose. It serves the wider idea that the Armed forces of a liberal state should not intervene with Police work as a matter of routine. It serves to ensure that, without a good and proper reason, the executive cannot deploy the armed forces against US citizens. An underlying theme that is sustained across the US Constitution and statute book – that no individual branch should wield too much power without the consent o the other two branches.
What happens if soldiers are deployed illegally?
Well it can be assumed that any President who orders soldiers be deployed in violation of the two acts would be liable for impeachment. In regards to the soldiers, section 15 of the Posse Comitatus Act states:
“any person willfully violating the provisions of this section shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor and on conviction thereof shall be punished by fine not exceeding ten thousand dollars or imprisonment not exceeding two years or by both such fine and imprisonment”
This was applied in 2009 when members of the U.S. Army military Police Corps were deployed to a town in Alabama in response to a murder spree. The Governor of Alabama did not request assistance nor did President Obama authorise their deployment, and as such the soldiers deployed were in violation of the Posse Comitatus Act and received ‘Administrative Actions’ against them.