Friday, April 29, 2011

Military on Patrol in Columbus, GA

Frank Borelli

In a recent news article out of Columbus, Georgia, we learn that senior NCOs (non-commissioned officers) from Ft. Benning joined Columbus Police Department in patrolling the “uptown” are of the city. Oddly, “uptown” is actually the downtown area and before we get upset about having soldiers patrolling our streets, we need to also know that it’s only TWO senior NCOs and they are acting in support of Columbus PD. Is this anything new? or anything to worry about?

The reality is this: servicemen (and women) in downtown Columbus are a common sight. Personnel from nearby Ft. Benning often head “into town” on the weekends to relax and get a break from their military duties. In fact, to some extent, the city depends on the financial benefit it receives from those service members coming into town and spending their dollars in bars, etc. That said, some service members - like any other segment of today’s society - can behave in a less than model fashion when too many drinks have been consumed, or when disagreements break out.

According to the news report, there were two incidents in April that involved service members from Ft. Benning, and in an effort to work better together for the safety and peace of the citizens of Columbus, the Mayor got together with the Commanding General at Ft. Benning and they worked out this program. Before I go any further, I feel the need to commend them both for that. In today’s world where too many leaders of any given place tend to have “rice bowl thinking” mentalities and only worry about their own little piece of the world, I’m impressed and heartened to see two leaders who communicate and work together to find solutions to real world problems.

I also need to mention that the two senior NCOs are wearing armbands that say Courtesy Patrol and that they have no arrest powers within the city. So why are they there? How can they help?

As one soldier who was interviewed said, seeing a fellow soldier in uniform and in the company of the civil authorities makes any other soldier think twice before acting silly. Additionally, if the NCOs witness a soldier acting in a fashion that is unacceptable, they can order that soldier back to base, ending the “night out on the town”. If that’s not sufficient, they can summon MPs (Military Police Officers) from the base to come and “fetch” that soldier - who is under the authority of the Universal Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) 24/7/365.

What can be scary about having soldiers “on patrol” with civil authorities (police) is the potential misunderstanding that can occur. It’s all too easy for some citizens to see a soldier with a law enforcement officer and THINK that the soldier is acting as a police officer. Posse Comitatus specifically prohibits that - granting soldiers arrest authority over citizens.

what we need to recognize - as has been demonstrated in the past - is that soldiers can act in SUPPORT of the civilian authorities, just as National Guard units have been doing for years, and as various military branches and members did after the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001. In my view, having those soldiers on the street, helping to maintain peace by serving as a filter against unwanted behavior on the part of military members, is a good thing. I think it’s a fine example of what can be accomplished if leaders in different communities put their egos away and work together for the benefit of all involved.

What do you think?

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