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In the post-9/11 world, military and police merge in the fight against terror

The Marine Corps’ Combat Hunter Program and the broken windows concept of policing are both about taking action to prevent future undesirable action


Whether acting to win hearts and minds in wartime or cleaning up crime on American streets, the police and the military are also linked by the perceptions of the very people they hope to protect.

Photo/In Public Safety

By Andrew Bell, Faculty Member, Criminal Justice at American Military University

As a member of the Army Capabilities Integration Center (ARCIC) and as a former police supervisor who is familiar with crime prevention, community policing and school resources, I am familiar with both military service and law enforcement. I have seen firsthand the policies and programs in Afghanistan that seemed interchangeable between police work and military operations. In our post 9/11 world, the military and police have definitely merged.

Using the Combat Hunter Program and Broken Windows Concept to Prevent Crime and Violence

Recognizing changes in the environment and understanding what is occurring is important for both military and police. To help with this, the Marine Corps created the Combat Hunter Program, which includes combat profiling. The goal of the program is to get to the “left of bang,” a military term for taking action to prevent extreme violence before it occurs.

Broken Windows is a neighborhood crime prevention concept that is used by police; it emphasizes recognizing changes in the environment. This concept is based on the idea that broken windows that remain unrepaired in public buildings encourage vandalism and lead to more serious crimes.

Combat Hunter and Broken Windows are about recognizing change, understanding its impact and taking action to prevent future undesirable action.

Ways to Win over People and Communities

While I was in Afghanistan, I attended the Counter-Insurgency (COIN) Academy, where instructors taught us how to win the hearts and minds of the Afghan people. The themes and aims sounded eerily familiar to the ideas I used when I instructed a Community-Oriented Policing (COP) class.

I said the very same things, but instead of “COIN,” I spoke of “COP.” Instead of references to the “Afghan people,” I talked about American citizens.

The COIN doctrine was about targeting activities to address the Afghan people’s concerns, rather than relying on our biased assumptions about their problems. Even the application and obstacles of the COIN strategy sounded similar to the problems of crimefighting at home.

The major problem of applying most strategies to police crimefighting is “traditional police thinking,” which puts the cart before the horse. In other words, departments try to make the problems fit the strategy. The opposite of that should be finding strategies that are “crime-specific” or “war-specific” in relation to the people and areas where we operate.

In its police application, the Broken Windows theory is one of the guiding forces behind community policing and crime prevention in high-crime neighborhoods. It involves encouraging the community to take an active interest in the physical appearance of their neighborhoods by keeping their properties clean, painting houses and buildings, and making timely repairs.

House and yard improvements indicate that people care about where they live. Just as important, they give the impression that people are vigilant about potential criminal activity. They know what is going on in their neighborhoods and they know when things are amiss.

The “Broken Windows” theory could also be extended to a war zone. For example, insurgents watch us and adapt to our techniques, tactics and procedures to catch us off guard. They look for openings where coalition forces are lax or inattentive. Unclean and disorderly areas that contain garbage or the results of the destruction of war are perfect grounds for insurgent activities.

Even more telling is our application of technology to indicate when something is not right. We are investing in video technology to defeat IEDs through change detection. If we have a baseline of what the terrain looked like earlier, we can recognize when something in the terrain has been changed or tampered with.

The U.S. military has many high-tech and costly solutions to identify, protect against and defeat IEDs. Cleaning up an area and keeping it clean and orderly is a low-tech solution that usually costs little and has a greater impact in a combat area.

Police and the Military Linked by Perceptions of the People They Hope to Protect

Whether acting to win hearts and minds in wartime or cleaning up crime on American streets, the police and the military are also linked by the perceptions of the very people they hope to protect. Many Americans and foreign non-combatants question whether the U.S. military is a liberating or an occupying force. The same can be said of the police in America.

Some people link “traditional policing” and aggressive police tactics from COP as a cause of anti-police sentiment. Traditional policing is responsive; officers enter communities to answer calls and enforce the law. Community policing is integral to the community and works to solve problems. When that policing is done improperly, the police and military are blamed for anti-police, anti-military and anti-U.S. sentiment. There is fear on the part of the general public.

Past efforts to alleviate that fear have often failed; we have learned that the one-sided approach does not work well. This new proactive approach (COIN and COP) includes a change in citizens’ perception of those in authority. Authorities facilitate that change by showing they care and by their attempts to fix problems by seeking the opinions of those within the affected community.

The Role of Partnerships and Predictive Analysis

Walking through the Joint Operations Center in Afghanistan one day, I noticed a new sign that read “Fusion Center.” It consisted of Intel, Fires, Public Affairs, Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations (PSYOP) under a command structure.

Fusion Centers and Joint Task Forces have become a more permanent fixture in combating enemy and civilian criminal issues. The civilian police equivalent of military task forces and fusion centers is commonly called “intelligence-led policing.”

There are common issues that plague both military and police. The FBI has joined forces with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) to create the Terrorist Explosive Device Analytical Center, which is the expert on explosive devices worldwide. The FBI also supports what Gary Bald calls “DOD’s Combined Explosive Exploitation Cell (CEXC) mission with Special Agent Bomb Technician (SABT) rotations through both Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Law enforcement agencies do not just support the war effort. They are part of that effort, using biometrics including DNA, fingerprints, retinal scans and signatures to identify criminals in the war and at home.

The military and some police departments now use technology in sophisticated algorithms to stay on top of criminal behavior. Researchers are now partnering with law enforcement agencies to use predictive analysis and sophisticated computer algorithms to identify potential criminal networks and graphically display the information to prevent criminal activity.

Cloud Computing and Predictive Analysis Are Part of Police and Military Operations

The Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI) is a real-time battlefield information system. Cloud computing, predictive analysis, big data, algorithms and machine learning are important tools to both military and police. JEDI promises to bring the information and decision-making to the soldier on the battlefield, just as predictive analysis has helped police track and prevent specific criminal activity and apprehend criminals.

Police have been dabbling for years in the use of big data – combined with more community-focused strategies – as part of a cure for policing’s problems. Big data and real-time information could also revolutionize police allocation and deployment, which usually lags behind what is happening on the street.

Equipment Crossover and the Militarization of Police in America

While the militarization of law enforcement is not new, it is in the news and more visible now that military surplus equipment has flowed freely to police agencies, especially after 9/11. However, the dynamics of policing are constantly changing to meet the needs of police and citizens.

One game-changing example was the FBI being outgunned in a shootout in Miami in the 1980s, where one of the shooters used a mini-14 military-style weapon. Another example was the LAPD’s gun battle in the late 1990s with robbers wearing ballistic armor and carrying automatic weapons. In both cases, the police had inferior weapons.

Those incidents, coupled with the change in police tactics after the Columbine school massacre and the growing threat of terrorism in cities, have escalated the desire of police departments to obtain military equipment.

When Mine Resistant Armored Personnel (MRAP) carriers and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) showed up at local police departments, they sparked a debate over whether the post-9/11 era had obscured the lines between soldier and police officer.

The question for both military and police is: Do police departments in America need military equipment and what message does that equipment send to citizens? Use of force is a major issue in America today. Just because surplus military equipment is free to police departments does not necessarily mean they should accept it and use it.

Several issues come to mind with these new weapons:

  • Will they be used only when necessary?
  • Will they work when needed?
  • What does the training cost?
  • What is the cost to keep up the maintenance of these weapons?
  • Do cities need 50-caliber machine guns and grenade launchers?
  • Can this equipment eventually get into the wrong hands?

Even though Congress has asked the Defense Department to scrutinize the program, some police departments are selling or pawning military surplus items. How does the militarization of police look to citizens? That concern has prompted some departments to give back or drop requests for military surplus.

In light of the publicized acquisition of military equipment after 9/11 and the potential police use of that equipment, some people might think that influence flows in one direction – from the military to the civilian police. Others with a longer historical view might point out that the U.S. military has been “policing the world” for many years.

Whichever side you choose, it’s clear that after 9/11, the police and the military became closer than ever in combatting world terror.

About the author

Andrew Bell has more than 20 years of law enforcement experience and 25 years in the U.S. military and civilian service. He served as a patrol officer, detective, patrol sergeant, community-policing supervisor, school resource supervisor and detective supervisor. He was called to active duty with U.S. Army Reserve after 9/11 and completed a tour in Afghanistan. Bell also worked for the U.S. federal government in Army intelligence, Army capabilities unit and emergency operations. He holds a master’s degree in public administration and a Bachelor of Science degree with a concentration in criminal justice. Andrew has been a faculty member with American Military University since 2004. He has recently written a book, Cops of Acadia, which is available on Amazon. To reach him, email For more articles featuring insight from industry experts, subscribe to In Public Safety’s bi-monthly newsletter.

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