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Posse Comitatus Essay

2189 words - 9 pages

Old English institution consisting of the shire's force of able-bodied private citizens called together to assist in maintaining public order. Originally raised and commanded by the sheriff, the posse comitatus became a purely civil instrument as the office of sheriff later lost its military functions. From time to time, legislation gave authority to other peace officers and magistrates to call upon the power of the county. This is the beginning of posse comitatus, and it would not come to the Americas until the late 1800’s. Still in effect today there are still many changes that have been made to the Posse Comitatus Act and the new threats that are occurring in the 20th century.
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During the local, state, and federal elections of 1874 and 1876 in the former Confederate states, all levels of government chose not to exercise their police powers to maintain law and order. Many acts of violence, and a suppression of the vote of some political and racial groups, resulted in the election of state legislators and U.S. congressmen who halted and reversed political reform in the American South. When the U.S. Representatives and Senators from the former Confederate states reached Washington, they set as a priority the creation of a statute prohibiting any future President or Congress from directing, by military order or federal legislation, the imposition of federal troops in any U.S. state. The original Posse Comitatus Act referred essentially to the United States Army. The Air Force was added in 1956 and the Navy and the Marine Corps have been included by a regulation of the Department of Defense. The United States Coast Guard, when acting in its peacetime capacity, is not included in the Act. (The U.S. Coast Guard was originally part of the Treasury Department, was later part of the Department of Transportation, and is now within the Department of Homeland Security.) However, if, in wartime, a portion of the Coast Guard were subsumed within the Department of the Navy, as it was during World War II, that portion would lose its federal police power authority and responsibility over the federal law-enforcement duties of its civilian mission. This law is often relied upon to prevent the Department of Defense from interfering in domestic law enforcement. The federal courts have had several opportunities to define what behavior by military personnel in support of civilian law enforcement is permissible under the act. The test applied by the courts has been to determine whether the role of military personnel in the law enforcement operation was passive or active. Active participation in civilian law enforcement, such as making arrests, is deemed a violation of the act, while taking a passive supporting role is not. Passive support has often taken the form of logistical support to civilian police agencies. Recognizing that the military possesses unique equipment and uniquely trained personnel, the courts have held that providing supplies, equipment, training, facilities, and certain types of intelligence information does not violate the act. Military personnel may also be involved in planning law enforcement operations, as long as the actual arrest of suspects and seizure of evidence is carried out by civilian law enforcement personnel. The intent of the act is to prevent the military forces of the United States from becoming a national police force or guardia civil. Accordingly, the act prohibits the use of the military to execute the laws. Execution of the laws is perceived to be a civilian police function, which includes the arrest and detention of criminal suspects, search and seizure activities, restriction of civilian movement...

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