U.S. Army Military Police Civil Disturbance and Martial Law Training Course

United States Army Military Police School

  • 71 pages
  • March 1994


Civil disturbances may be riots, violent uprisings, or unlawful actions. As a member of the military forces, you may be ordered under certain conditions to help restore law and order and protect property. The National Guard is likely to face most of the violence during demonstrations. To gain successful control of a civil disturbance, it will require an understanding of the reason for social unrest and basic human behavior patterns. Planning control strategy depends on knowing why people behave as they do. Group behavior sets the scene for civil disturbances. However, it is individual behavior which in the end is the most important.

A study of past civil disorders shows that civil disturbances will follow
definite stages. Understanding individual attitudes and behavior factors
which influence these basic stages will be helpful in stopping civil

Behind all disturbances is a cause which can be traced to one or more
existing problems in a particular community. Causes change with the times.
For example, economic and nuclear control are the main new issues for the
80’s. It matters little whether the problem is real or imagined. The impact
is the same. Problems can be divided into two basic categories: politicalideological
and socioeconomic.

1. Political-ideological. Protests and demonstrations can be traced to the
political spectrum. (See Figure 1-1.) The people not represented in
government are from the left or right of the spectrum. To gain
representation, such groups must bring about sympathy and support for their
cause. Political-ideological causes are associated with frustration or when a
certain group feels threatened by changes in society.

Leftist anti-war groups who actively supported North Vietnam during the
war have reorganized. New issues have been adopted. Many of the leaders of
these groups are now the leaders of groups supporting economic and antinuclear

2. Socioeconomic. These causes may include substandard living conditions,
i.e., housing, health care, and education. Unemployment, poverty, poor
educational facilities, police brutality, and under representation in the
political arena, all provide for disorder.


1. Disaffection. Disaffection is the attitude or state of mind of persons
who are concerned about, alienated from, or dissatisfied with the operation of
socioeconomic and political systems. This disaffection produces a desire to
change the system itself. These individuals believe in and have faith in the
present form of government and the present values of American society. Their
desire may be for some small or major change of a wrong that they believe
exists within the social structure. Still having faith in society, they
believe that their concerns can be achieved through the proper channels or
through lawful protest activities. These people still support the system,
i.e., the establishment, democracy, and capitalism. Since their attitudes
develop over a number of years, it is thought to be a changing process.

2. Radicalism. Some elements of our society feel that reform will only take
place as a result of hostile action, forcing society to change the system.
Within this radical group, there are those who do not want to change the
system, but want to destroy the system completely in order to build a new
system. Radicalism can be explained as a extreme extension of disaffection.
Radicalism and disaffection are useful tools, or concepts, to help us
understand the difficult social problems which are happening within our


1. Collective Behavior.

Collective behavior refers to the actions of a group of persons in
situations where normal standards of conduct may not be practiced. The crowd
is the most common form of collective behavior.

2. A crowd.

A crowd is defined as a large number of persons gathered temporarily
together. There are many types of crowds which are based on their reasons for
getting together.

a. Causal crowds. This type has no common bond other than the immediate
reason for being present. An example would be a football game or a symphony
orchestra performance where the only bond is enjoyment.

b. Planned crowds. Planned crowds are likely to be more organized. A
leader will call a meeting to establish a goal in which members have a common


Crowds tend to change the normal behavior pattern of a person which is
usually different when that person is alone. Both psychological and outside
conditions will influence this type of behavior.

1. Anonymity. As an individual in a crowd, one loses his own identity and
assumes the faceless role of the crowd. He is protected from recognition by
the number of people around him. This loss of identity gives a person the
feeling that he will not be recognized and cannot be blamed or punished for
his actions, since he feels moral responsibility has been shifted from him to
the crowd.

2. Impersonality. Group behavior is impersonal. Each member of a certain
group is considered to be as good or as bad as other members of the same race,
ethnic, or interest group. In this regard, individual acts of violence on the
part of a single person in a crowd may well cause an unnecessary act by a

3. Suggestibility. In group situations, certain persons will likely look to
others to justify their actions, especially if a suggestion is made by a
person(s) who speaks with authority. These suggestions are often carried out
without thinking about the end result. Only a strong willed person can resist
the need to go along with the group.

4. Emotional Contagion. The emotional build-up which members give to one
another is a dynamic feature of group behavior. A continuation of stimulation
occurs. One excited person stimulates excitement in another person, who in
turn, stimulates a third person, who may in turn stimulate the first person to
a higher degree of excitement. Individual self-discipline tends to be low;
the release of inner feelings is encouraged and ordinary behavior is not
permitted or encouraged by elders and stronger members of the crowd.
Emotional contagion provides the crowd with psychological unity. This unity
is based on common emotional responses, but it may be the only momentum a
crowd needs to turn into a mob.

5. Released from Repressed Emotions. The prejudices and unsatisfied desires
of a person, which are normally controlled, are readily released in a mob.
This temporary release is a powerful motive for a person to participate in a
crowd because it gives him an opportunity to do things which he has always
wanted to do but would not try to do alone.

1. Domestic Areas of Conflict.

Domestic areas of conflict include those areas most likely to become the
main point for disturbances.

a. Urban areas. Community problems in low socioeconomic areas and the
vast ethnic make-up of various residents.

b. Nuclear power plants. Three Mile Island and Diablo Canyon.

c. Federal Installations. Seneca Army Depot and Rock Island Arsenal.

d. Refugee camps. Fort Chaffee, Arkansas and Fort McCoy, Wisconsin–
Cuban, Haitian, and Vietnam Boat People. We must also be careful to not only
relate the word “refugee” to person(s) from other countries.
disasters such as hurricanes and tornados can result in American citizen’s
becoming “refugees.”

e. Other government facilities.

Civil disturbances in the US did not start with the racially inspired
riots of the 1960’s or the anti-Vietnam protest demonstrations. Civil
disturbances have been widespread since the founding of this nation.
Religious differences were, in fact, a prime factor which caused the Puritans
to leave England. The following historical events demonstrate civil
disturbance in this country.

The Boston Tea Party (1773)
Shay’s Rebellion (1787)
The Pullman Strike (1894)
Newark Riots (1967)
Kent State (1970)
Antioch College (1973)
Miami’s Overtown District (1983)
Los Angeles (The Verdict) Riots (1993)

As a member of the control force, you should understand the legal issues
surrounding civil disturbances.


1. General.

Federal military forces have been needed when civil disturbances exceeded
the power of local civil authorities to keep order. The Constitution and
various statutes provide for the use of federal military forces at such times.
But, the use of federal military forces is also limited by Federal law.

2. Constitutional Requirements.

The Constitution imposes on the President the duty to see that the laws of
the United States are faithfully executed (Article II, Section 3). The
Constitution requires the United States to protect every state against
domestic violence (Article IV, Section 4). The Fourteenth Amendment to the
Constitution forbids the states from denying equal protection of the laws to
any person.

Congress has enacted laws to enforce the constitutional requirements
mentioned above.

a. 10 USC Section 331 authorizes the President to use the Armed Forces to
suppress an insurrection if the legislature or the governor of a state
requests assistance.

b. 10 USC Section 332 authorizes the President to use the Armed Forces to
enforce the laws of the United States when unlawful combinations or assemblies, or rebellion make it impractical to enforce the laws through the
normal use of the courts.

c. 10 USC Section 333 authorizes the President, if unlawful actions are
depriving a person of a right under the Constitution and the State cannot or
will not protect the person’s rights, to use the Armed Forces to protect these

3. Posse Comitatus and Exceptions. There are limits to the use of the
Federal Armed Forces. The Posse Comitatus Act (18 USC Section 1385) forbids
the use of the Army or the Air Force to enforce civilian laws. The act was
passed in 1878 in reaction to the use of Federal troops to guard polling
places during Reconstruction. The act is a general prohibition against the
military acting in a civilian law enforcement role. There are exceptions to
this general prohibition.

a. The act itself excepts cases and circumstances expressly authorized by
the Constitution or Acts of Congress. So, actions taken under the provisions
cited above (Article II, Section 3; Article IV, Section 4; the 14th Amendment;
and 10 USC 331-333) are not violations of the act. There are three statutes
that come up frequently in this area.

(1) 10 USC Section 371. This allows the military to pass information
to civilian law enforcement officials if the information was collected during
the normal course of military operations.

(2) 10 USC Section 372. This allows the military to make equipment,
base facilities, or research facilities available to civilian law enforcement

(3) 10 USC Section 373. This allows the military to train civilian
law enforcement officials in the use and maintenance of equipment and to
provide them with expert advice.

b. Another exception to the act is the United States’ inherent right and
power to maintain order and to carry out its responsibilities. The federal
government must be able to act quickly to maintain order and to keep the
government functioning. Emergencies, whether natural or caused by man, are
situations where quick action is taken to protect life and or property and to
keep the government functioning. The federal government can always act under
this inherent power to protect federal property and functions.

c. The final exception is that of a military interest. When Armed Forces
personnel are being used to pursue a valid military purpose, there is no
violation even though an incidental result may be the enforcement of civilian
law. Be careful! The courts will look at the whole situation. If the courts
feel that the military purpose is a sham, they will find a violation of Posse

2. Federal Arrest Authority.

Federal military personnel have no statutory authority to arrest civilians
during a civil disturbance. They are not acting in a private civilian
capacity. This does not mean that federal military personnel have no powers
of arrest. Though no statutes give arrest powers to soldiers in a civil
disturbance, they must do the task they were sent to do. Several legal
writers have said that federal forces sent to help local officials in a civil
disturbance have arrest powers similar to those of local law enforcement
officers. Yet, whenever possible, civilian police should arrest civilians.
If it is necessary for the military to act, the soldier will immediately seek
a civilian police officer to take custody of the civilian.
In a civil
disturbance, identifying an arrested person is hard. It is especially hard if
he is being arraigned by someone who did not actually witness the criminal
act. Many answers have been suggested. They include photographing the
accused and the arresting officer and the use of detention forms by the

3. Stop and Frisk.

The Supreme Court expanded the authority of law enforcement officers to
exercise control over other individuals. The decision gives police the
authority to “stop and frisk” suspicious people under certain conditions based
on reasonable suspicion. This extension of the fourth amendment was justified
by the police officer’s need to protect himself in confronting possible
criminals. During a civil disturbance, the need for self-protection is even
greater than in normal police activities. The Supreme Court has ruled that a
police officer may stop an individual if a police officer feels criminal
activity is in progress and that there is a well-founded belief that a person
is armed and dangerous, the officer may temporarily stop and frisk the
individual for weapons. The two requirements, stated above must be met before
the police can “stop and frisk.”


1. Facilities. During a civil disturbance, many people are arrested. Some
cities have had as many arrests in 1 week of rioting as in a 6-month period of
normal activity. The May Day disturbance in Washington, 1971, witnessed
12,000 arrests in 1 week by the Washington Police Department. Any civil
disorder may mean setting up emergency jails; however, existing jails should
first be filled to capacity. If possible, regular inmates and arrestees of a
riot should be separated. Most civil disturbance arrestees need only minimal
security facilities. It is important that possible civil disturbance
facilities be checked out in advance. The following factors should first be

– Make detention facilities accessible.
– Rapid mobilization of personnel.
– Adequate communication facilities.
– Availability of supplies to meet minimum standards of comfort and
– Transportation.
– Inspection by community leaders.
– Detention centers are the responsibility of the local, state, and
federal (Department of Justice – Bureau of Prisons) authorities, in that

2. The Booking Process. Before a person can be jailed, he must be booked.
Booking at the precinct station doesn’t work for mass arrests.
Therefore, facilities must be provided near the temporary detention centers.
Mobile booking vans could house the necessary personnel and equipment. After
the booking, arrestees can be moved to the jail or detention facility.

3. The Arraignment Process. Next the arrested person must be brought before
a judge or magistrate for arraignment. The defendant must learn the precise
charge(s) against him. His bail must be set at this time and a preliminary
hearing is scheduled. During mass arrests, several potential problems must be
taken care of to see that the process runs smoothly. This would include more
courthouses, clerks, security, and judges. Extra judges may be obtained from
other areas or by requesting temporary judges from the local bar association.
From prior planning, you will know that state laws allow the temporary
appointment of judges, prosecutors, bailiffs, and supporting personnel. If
not, laws should be written to permit this.

4. Prosecuting and Defense Attorney. Prosecuting attorney’s offices are
staffed for an average number of cases. Help may come from public attorneys
and the aid of private attorneys may be required also. While many former
prosecutors may be available for emergency volunteer duty, detailed planning
is called for. In large scale civil disorders, there is usually a shortage of
lawyers who are skilled in the defense of criminal cases as past civil disturbances have shown, The extreme confusion of civil disturbances strains
the quality of justice through sheer numbers. The source of extra defense
counsel is the local bar association. The profession has always felt bound to
provide representation for each accused person, with or without money. Local
planning prior to emergencies would help both lawyers, who volunteered their
services and the accused.


1. Looters. During civil disturbance, looters present a big problem to law
enforcement officials. One problem is telling how much force to use in
preventing crimes or making arrests. State law enforcement officials are
familiar with the rules and policies of the phrase “use of force.” These
rules provide that deadly force will only be used to stop a felony or prevent
an escape as a last resort. There is no typical looter, sometimes women and
children are involved. Looting is usually followed by the burning of
buildings so that all records of stolen goods will be destroyed. The federal
military forces may use force “reasonably necessary” to prevent arson, but
under no circumstances will they fire on looters. Warning shots will NOT be
fired because of the potential danger to innocent bystanders. When shooting
is necessary, shots will be aimed to wound, not to kill.
Riot control agents
followed by an arrest is one of the best ways to stop looters.

2. Snipers. Snipers also pose a problem. They threaten lives and slow down
other police operations. The well-trained combat soldier responds to sniper
fire with a mass of fire power. In a civil disturbance, this endangers other
people more than snipers. The best way is to isolate the area and use a
special reaction team (SRT). A well trained SRT will have the best chance to
neutralize the sniper with minimum danger to all involved.


Another problem may be the friendly citizens who should be removed and
separated from the rioters. However, removal cannot be mandatory because
“friendly citizens” have the right to remain to protect their property. Since
many will be armed, the law enforcement agency should tell them where its
officers are located.

PART F – MARTIAL LAW (Also see Appendix A)

1. General. Martial law depends on public necessity. The extent of the
military force and the measures taken will depend upon the actual threat to
order and public safety. The decision to impose federal martial law is
normally made by the President. (See Appendix A for details of martial law.)

2. Legal Effects of Martial Law. In an area where martial law is maintained
by federal military forces, the local civil and criminal laws will continue.
Their actual enforcement may be suspended because of the inability of the
civil authorities to function. Laws may also be suspended by order of the
President or by order of the military commander acting under authority of the
President. Under martial law, the President may cause military agencies to
arrest civilians charged with offenses against special rules and regulations
issued by the military commander. They may stay in military custody until
they can be released safely or delivered for trial.

3. General Restrictions on Civilian Population in the United States. In
martial law, the military commander manages the local government. He may have
to protect civil officials. He may also provide for emergency public service
to prevent or relieve human suffering. Proclamations and restrictions on the
rights of citizens or on the civilian economy are normally issued by the
commander through the media.


Federal troops of federalized National Guard units in civil disturbance
operations are acting as agents of the federal government. It may be
necessary to detain civilians involved in the civil disturbance. However,
civilians arrested by military personnel should be restricted to serious
offenses. This includes incidents involving destruction of property or injury
or death. The detention is made under the authority of the Executive Order or
on instructions from the commander. Civil authorities (police, sheriff, US
marshal) should make the arrest. When this is not possible, the detained
person must be quickly turned over to local, state, or federal civilian
authorities. If force is required, it must be reasonable and prudent under
the circumstances.



a. Purpose. Except in the event of an overwhelming enemy attack, it is
unlikely that federal martial law would be imposed. Circumstances may never
justify federal martial law in a civil disturbance. However, in an extreme
emergency where the nation’s existence is threatened, federal martial law
would be justified in the national interest. This annex is a guide for the
administration of martial law.

b. Basic Authorities.

(1) Article I of the United States Constitution gives Congress the
power to declare war and to raise and support armies.

(2) Article II of the United States Constitution provides that the
executive power is vested in the President. He is the Commander in Chief of
the Armed Forces. The President has to make sure that the laws are faithfully

(3) Article IV, section 4, of the United States Constitution provides
that each state may have a Republican form of government and will be protected
by the United States against invasion.

c. Definitions.

(1) Martial law. Martial law is the exercise of federal military
power to preserve order, and ensure public safety in domestic territory in
time of emergency, when civil governmental agencies are unable to function or
their functioning would itself threaten the public safety (AR 500-50).
Martial law may be declared by governing executives–mayor, governor, or
president, or in their absence, the military commander. Usually federal
martial law is proclaimed upon, and by express direction of the President
except that in circumstances involving an extreme emergency, commanders of
troops may make the decision to impose martial law in accordance with the
provisions of AR 500-50.

(2) Domestic Territory. Domestic territory is an area entitled to
the protection of the United States Constitution.

(3) Necessity. Necessity, as used in the field of martial law,
indicates a need for military force to repel or contend with the results of
force exerted by action of a hostile person.

(4) Writ of Habeas Corpus. The writ of habeas corpus is a writ
issued by a civil court upon proper cause to inquire into the legality of any
restraint upon the liberty of a person.

(5) Military Commander. Military commander refers to the military
authority who has been named as the person responsible for exercising
immediate martial law powers. The term military commander also applies to
commanders of troops who, acting without prior permission from higher
authority, declares martial law (AR 500-50).

(6) Martial Law Tribunals. Martial law tribunals (military
commissions and provost courts) are courts employed by the military commander
to try violators of martial law proclamations, orders, rules, and regulations,
and in addition thereto to try violators of federal civil and local laws, when
civil courts are not open and functioning.


a. General. Martial law declared because of an enemy attack would
require the military to control the civilian population, to restore law and
order, provide for the relief and rehabilitation of the people, the resumption
of industrial production, and restoration of a shattered economy, the
protection of life and property, the control and evacuation of traffic, and
the prevention of sabotage and other crimes.

b. Nature of Martial Law.

(1) Basic Concepts. Martial law is the right of the public to defend
itself. When ordinary civil authorities cannot deal with a public danger,
extra military forces may be used. Martial law depends on public necessity.
Necessity creates it, justifies it, and limits it. How much military force
depends on the size of the disturbance. When dealing with a major disaster,
the force and the means are greater than when dealing with a small riot.

(2) Distinguished from Military Law. Martial law is different from
military law in that it is temporary government by military forces over
civilians in domestic territory.
Military law is the jurisdiction by military
forces over their own members to promote good order and discipline. Confusion
must be avoided.

(3) Distinguished from Military Government. Military government is
concerned with control of foreign territory. When the Army controls civilians
in domestic territory under martial law, it is limited by the Constitution as
well as the limits in the declaration of martial law. Military government
operations over civilians in foreign territory are not limited.

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