Keep armed forces
out of law enforcement


The Bush administration may seek to assign the armed forces the additional duty of assisting in law enforcement as part of the war on terror.

Former Pennsylvania Gov. Thomas Ridge, the nation's chief of homeland security, has broached the idea of using the armed forces to help enforce the law as the nation mobilizes against terrorists. It is a bad idea that should be rejected if necessary changes in the law are brought before Congress. Senators Inouye and Akaka and Representatives Abercrombie and Mink should vote against it.

The Posse Comitatis law was enacted in 1878, during the nation's westward expansion, to keep the soldiers out of the sheriff's business. That act codified what had been a tradition since the beginning of the Republic, which is that the police protect citizens from internal threats while soldiers defend the nation against external enemies.

It is a good law that has withstood the test of time. Among the reasons Americans are still free men and women is that our armed forces have been kept out of politics and law enforcement, unlike many nations where they have become a law unto themselves.

Moreover, the armed forces of 2002 are one-third smaller than the armed forces of 1990 but have the same, if not more, missions around the world. They are stretched thin, the latest figures showing that more than 30 percent are ashore or afloat outside the continental United States on any given day. They cannot take on more duties without diluting their attention to their primary mission.

Last, military men and women, especially those in elite units like paratroopers and Marines, do not make good cops. They are trained, physically and mentally, to kill people and break things with maximum violence. Turning them around to apply that measured, calibrated use of force that is expected of police officers is asking too much. In its simplest terms, soldiers search and destroy while the police search and capture.

If homeland security requires a militia, which also would accord with American tradition, let it be the members of the National Guard, who already are quasi-law enforcement troops under the control of the state governors. Here, too, a word of caution: The National Guard should be trained in the tactics and techniques of a calibrated application of force. Badly trained Guardsmen can cause tragedy, as witness the four student protesters who were killed and the nine wounded by poorly prepared National Guard troops at Kent State University in Ohio in 1970, during demonstrations against the war in Vietnam.

America does not need that again.


Published by Oahu Publications Inc., a subsidiary of Black Press.

Don Kendall, Publisher

Frank Bridgewater, Editor 529-4791;
Michael Rovner,
Assistant Editor 529-4768;
Lucy Young-Oda, Assistant Editor 529-4762;

Mary Poole, Editorial Page Editor, 529-4790;
John Flanagan, Contributing Editor 294-3533;

The Honolulu Star-Bulletin (USPS 249460) is published daily by
Oahu Publications at 500 Ala Moana Blvd., Suite 7-500, Honolulu, Hawaii 96813.
Periodicals postage paid at Honolulu, Hawaii. Postmaster: Send address changes to
Star-Bulletin, P.O. Box 3080, Honolulu, Hawaii 96802.

E-mail to Editorial Editor

Text Site Directory:
[News] [Business] [Features] [Sports] [Editorial] [Do It Electric!]
[Classified Ads] [Search] [Subscribe] [Info] [Letter to Editor]
© 2002 Honolulu Star-Bulletin --