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Back to Archives | Back to February 2004 Contents 

Civilian and Military Law Enforcement Cooperation

By John F. Awtrey, Director, Office of Law Enforcement Policy and Support, Department of Defense, and Jeffery Porter, Office of the Provost Marshal General, Department of the Army, Pentagon, Arlington, Virginia

Civilian and Military Law Enforcement Cooperation

Criminal activity and increased threats to public safety are the concerns of both civilian and military law enforcement agencies. Resources such as money and people are strained in both environments. And both civilian and military agencies seek innovative ways to meet increasing demand for services.

Working together can help civilian and military police agencies make the most of available resources and provide the expected level of services to their communities. This article focuses on the differences and similarities of civilian and military law enforcement and describes ways to improve cooperation.

Key Differences
The Department of Defense and its component military services maintain installations and facilities across the country. Each has a population of active duty personnel, family members, and civilian employees who depend upon their civilian neighbors and businesses. Military communities have many of the same infrastructure elements and services as their civilian counterparts. But although the provision of law enforcement services appears similar, there are some key differences.

Military Law Enforcement Culture: The first cultural element is jurisdiction. Military law enforcement agencies can have exclusive, concurrent, or proprietary jurisdiction for police and criminal investigative activities involving the following:

  • Criminal activities on domestic and foreign military bases

  • All military personnel regardless of location

  • Security and terrorism interests worldwide

  • Fraudulent activities involving military procurement worldwide

  • Other special interests unique to the military environment
This means that although military law enforcement's jurisdiction is generally limited to military installations and facilities, its interest may also follow military personnel and Department of Defense special interests wherever they are found.

Military Authority: The second key element is authority that is governed by Title 10 and Title 18 of the United States Code, which establishes the law enforcement authority and responsibility for the military.

Under Title 10 of the United States Code, military police, security forces, and Department of Defense criminal investigative organizations enforce the provisions of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). The UCMJ is the military's criminal code. Frequently, civilian agencies regard the UCMJ as applying only to "military offenses" such as absent without leave or desertion. The UCMJ is essentially a complete set of criminal laws. It includes crimes punished under civilian law, such as murder, rape, drug use, larceny, drunk driving, and writing bad checks, but it goes beyond that to punish other conduct that affects good order and discipline in the military. To help civilian agencies understand the UCMJ, it is available on the World Wide Web at html.

Under Title 18 of the United States Code, the Assimilative Crimes Act provides that many local and state criminal codes may be assimilated for law enforcement and criminal investigation purposes. For example, Department of Defense policy authorizes the assimilation of state traffic codes for enforcement on military facilities, thereby reducing the need to enforce and learn two different codes that affect both communities.

Military Operations: Military police, security forces, and Department of Defense criminal investigators perform duties that are common among all law enforcement personnel. But they may have the additional responsibility of being the warriors who attend the national defense mission of the U.S. government. That defense mission is an "additional duty" of military law enforcement, but one that makes them different from their civilian counterparts. These military law enforcement cultural elements should be kept in mind as you read this article.

Similar Characteristics
Although there are differences, military and civilian law enforcement agencies are similar in many respects. The similarities enable cooperation between military and civilian law enforcement agencies.

Civilian and Military Law Enforcement Cooperation
Law Enforcement Culture: The provost marshal, the chief of security forces, and the director of public safety are the chiefs of police on their respective military installations. Personnel assigned to these chiefs may be active-duty military members, Department of Defense civilian police officers, or contract employees, but they are, by and large, organized to provide community-based police services to the military installation. Patrol operations, special operations (tactical, canine, and so on), and administration and support operations (fleet, property, and records management) are just as you would find them in the surrounding civilian community agencies. Community policing, crime prevention, traffic control and management, and domestic violence response are but a few of the ongoing programs that mirror their civilian counterparts.

In addition, the Department of Defense law enforcement community includes discrete criminal investigative organizations in the Army, the Navy, and the Air Force and at the Department of Defense level. These organizations are collectively known as the Defense criminal investigative organizations, or DCIOs. The DCIOs most closely resemble state bureaus of investigation in form and function but have a span of interest and jurisdiction akin to those of federal investigative organizations. They also mirror the role of the detective cadre of a typical police or sheriff's department. In this way, a 911 call to the scene of a homicide on a military installation would elicit a first response from base police, with subsequent referral to the appropriate DCIO, which would also likely have a local presence.

Of note, the Department of Defense has made a great effort to civilianize its business policies and practices. This trend enjoys great support from the military law enforcement community and is strengthening its ties to the common goals, values, and practices of civilian law enforcement agencies in the United States and around the world.

How to Start Cooperation
Having examined some of the differences and similarities between military and civilian law enforcement, and understanding that military bases do not exist in a vacuum but rather as a part of civilian communities-it becomes apparent that the two parallel structures can build and enhance their cooperation efforts to better serve their total local community and address common concerns.

Whether in a civilian jurisdiction or on a military installation, each day will bring new challenges. In order to start the cooperation process between the local law enforcement agency and military counterpart, it is necessary to reach out and get to know and understand each other.

Find out who your counterpart is. This first step seems simple and obvious, but it is not always done. The IACP can help identify civilian and military law enforcement executives. American Military Law Enforcement Links, a Web site available at, is another good starting point.

Meet your counterpart. Make an appointment to introduce yourself and meet them for coffee. Get comfortable on a first-name basis. Take the other to lunch. Spend a little time together. Discuss and identify what each of your roles is professionally. How do they overlap and how can you help each other? Where do they diverge and how can that be accommodated?

Working Together
Once you have met with your military counterpart and established a professional relationship, focus on the major common areas of policy, planning, communication, exchange of information, and training. Although this list of common areas is far from all-inclusive, experience has shown that they are the basis of building and maintaining organizational bridges between your respective agencies. Among the issue to consider are the following:

  • Memorandums of understanding: Do the agencies have in place the MOUs or memorandums of agreement (MOAs)? If there are none, should an agreement developed?

  • Incident planning and response: Is there a value in sharing policies or operational plans?

  • Define any legal process that affects jurisdictional issues between your agencies. If a legal process divides the agencies and affects both communities, what can be done to amend the situation?

  • Create and share a phone listing of important joint contacts within your respective agencies.

  • Discuss how you should handle information and coordination on military dependents and dependent juveniles who live off base.

  • Are there special handling rules if military members are arrested off base or civilians are arrested on the base?

  • Clarify what forms of identification for law enforcement personnel are acceptable to each agency, if common access is needed.

  • How and when do your staffs communicate with each other? Who should call whom and when?

  • Establish information exchange mechanisms. Both formal (blotters, reports, councils, meetings, and so on) and informal (contacts, networking). Would regular meetings be of value? If so, set it up to rotate hosting the meetings between your agencies. If your area has a metropolitan or regional chiefs council, is your counterpart a member?

  • Identify and know the process for mutual aid.

  • Address issues of specific common Interest. The need to identify common issues among law enforcement agencies is of paramount importance.
Immediate, at the top of the list, is to exchange information on specific crimes or police intelligence that protect law enforcement personnel and the citizens they serve. Persons serving in the military and residing on or off military facilities have the same potential for becoming victims of crime. A small group of this same population also has the potential for becoming the offender. It is especially vital to the military to be informed when military members are involved in incidents of driving while intoxicated, domestic violence, and other serious offenses. The exchange of information is an empowering tool for law enforcement agencies, and all Department of Defense components have programs to facilitate the exchange of information with their civilian law enforcement counterparts.

Department of Defense components have the same reporting requirements as civilian agencies for persons disqualified from possessing arms and ammunition under the Brady Handgun Violence Protection Act, sex offenders required to register under the Jacob Wetterling Act and state registration laws, and the suspension or revocation of driving permits. Other areas of mutual concern are identifying trends in criminal activity that occurs on the military facility and surrounding communities. Early information on such activity as increased juvenile offenses, introduction of new drugs or methods for their illicit delivery, or disruptions to normal activity that could signal criminal activity, are all examples of police intelligence information that should be exchanged. The military community understands and safeguards the information received from their civilian peers.

Many military members return to cities and counties where they resided while serving on active duty. These individuals are full private citizens who now have even greater dependency on living and working in their new civilian community. The military interest in reporting offenses by this portion of the population no longer exists. Nevertheless, in the event that the retired or former military population does come into contact with civilian law enforcement agencies, the Department of Defense law enforcement components have the ability to retrieve historical records on serious misdemeanors and all felonies. Contacting the local military law enforcement office and maintaining liaison will facilitate retrieval of information that can be useful in law enforcement activity.

Cementing Partnerships
Once personal and organizational ties have been established, here are things to consider that can enhance a positive working relationship.

  • Become involved in each other's communities. Seek support and ideas from each other. Attend military and civilian activities together, and join groups that serve both agencies' interests.

  • Conduct joint training. If you are having training, consider opening it up to your civilian or military counterpart and their staffs, when laws and regulations allow.

  • Discover the capabilities and resources that each other can offer locally. For example, at the Department of Defense level, the Defense Logistics Agency's Law Enforcement Support Office (LESO) manages a program that transfers excess Department of Defense personal property to federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies, with special emphasis given to counterdrug and counterterrorism efforts. More than 17,000 local law enforcement agencies have taken advantage of this program.

  • What are the limitations and process for offering each other local assistance?

  • Understand and be involved in civilian and military command changes.
The Key to Cooperation and Building Relationships
The key to improving your civilian and military law enforcement relationship is understanding and taking the initiative: understanding the difference in cultures and how and why each agency operates, and then taking the initiative to make contact with your counterpart and develop a working relationship that will benefit public safety for both the civilian and military communities. If initiated at the local level, this important work will spread to the national level and will help ensure success in protecting our communities and the varied population of those communities.

The IACP and its committees are available to provide you assistance. The IACP Civil Law Enforcement and Military Cooperation Committee, for instance, has a broad range of resources available to aid you in enhancing your partnership with your nearby civilian and military law enforcement agency. The committee's IACP staff liaison is Larry Haynes, 800-THE-IACP, extension 234, or


For a copy of A Guide for Better Relationship:
Civil Law Enforcement and the Military, call
Larry Haynes at 800-THE-IACP,
extension 234, or write him


From The Police Chief, vol. 71, no. 2, February 2004. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.

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