June 7, 2013
According to an article published on Tuesday in the Long Island Press, the Pentagon has “has quietly granted itself the ability to police the streets without obtaining prior local or state consent, upending a precedent that has been in place for more than two centuries.” The story, by Jed Morey, refers to recent changes made by the Department of Defense to a U.S. Code titled “Defense Support of Civilian Law Enforcement Agencies.” The changes, Morey argues, are the latest in what he calls the “militarization of domestic law enforcement” and further blur the lines between police SWAT teams and the military.
These changes, which have attracted media little attention, bring with them the worrying potential for greater involvement by the U.S. military in domestic affairs.
The changes clarify the rule for the involvement of military forces in civilian law enforcement and establishes “DoD policy, assigns responsibilities, and provides procedures for DoD support to Federal, State, tribal, and local civilian law enforcement agencies, including responses to civil disturbances within the United States.” According to Morey, the most worrying part of the recent changes is the inclusion of vague-sounding language which permits temporary military intervention in the event of “civil disturbances”:
“Federal military commanders have the authority, in extraordinary emergency circumstances where prior authorization by the President is impossible and duly constituted local authorities are unable to control the situation, to engage temporarily in activities that are necessary to quell large-scale, unexpected civil disturbances because:
(1) Such activities are necessary to prevent significant loss of life or wanton destruction of property and are necessary to restore governmental function and public order; or
(2) Duly constituted Federal, State, or local authorities are unable or decline to provide adequate protection for Federal property or Federal governmental functions.”