- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 13, 2001

Police officers at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, their law enforcement powers cut significantly under a new order from their commander, have had to release back onto Washington streets more than a dozen suspects in misdemeanor and felony cases over the last two weeks.
Two persons in possession of marijuana and as many as 15 persons driving with suspended and revoked licenses have been released by the Walter Reed Department of Defense Police.
Previously, the Walter Reed police, operating under a cooperative policing agreement with the District's Metropolitan Police Department, would apprehend people accused of committing misdemeanors or minor felonies. They would process individuals for their crimes before transporting or releasing them to the custody of the Metropolitan Police Department. But not anymore.
"Our new [provost marshal] chief of police has told us not to process individuals or report traffic violations or violations of any kind in our jurisdiction because of the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878," said Officer Patrick Hayes, vice chairman of the Walter Reed Fraternal Order of Police labor committee.
The Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 prohibits members of the U.S. armed forces or employees of the U.S. military from enforcing laws on civilians. In other words, U.S. military police officers cannot perform searches and seizures or arrest civilians or enter into any prosecution cases unless a specific exception is made by Congress.
Before Provost Marshal William J. Bolduc decided his officers were bound by the 1878 law, the Walter Reed police force had been acting as an extension of the Metropolitan Police Department under "memoranda of understanding" signed in July 1997.
The memoranda officially sanctioned something Walter Reed police had been doing anyway: apprehending and processing suspects caught in the act of committing minor felony and misdemeanor crimes on the federally owned land.
Under the new regulations, the Walter Reed officers will not be allowed to do any paperwork on anyone and can be nothing more than be material witnesses when minor felonies or misdemeanors are committed on the hospital grounds. This includes any officers working in the Silver Spring annex of the Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
Officer Hayes said the 1878 law should not apply to the Walter Reed force because all 60 officers on the force are civilian Department of Defense police, not Army personnel security guards or military police. According to documents obtained by The Washington Times, "DOD police officers have the authority to apprehend persons committing crimes against U.S. laws under warrant and not under warrant if the crime is committed in their presence. The police force is to protect life, property and civil rights of persons."
They are also empowered to investigate accidents and crimes, as well as provide aid and comfort in emergency situations. The document states that the secondary responsibility of DOD police is to protect government property.
In addition, the advertisement for positions at Walter Reed on the Office of Personnel Management Web site states the job title as "police officer."
Some members of the Walter Reed officers' union suspect officials may be attempting to reclassify the police force rank-and-file in order to save money on pensions and benefits, but Lou Cannon, president of the D.C. Fraternal Order of Police chapter, said such a reclassification would not affect any of the officers financially.
Walter Reed spokesman Jim Stueve, asked earlier this week about the matter by a reporter for The Times, seemed flabbergasted by the question. The officers, he assured The Times, are DOD police. "They wear DOD police badges, DOD police uniforms, and they drive DOD police vehicles," he said.
But after speaking with Chief Bolduc, he called The Times back and changed his story. "They [Walter Reed police] are not DOD police. They are Department of the Army police with limited police duties assigned to them by the commanding general," he said.
Chief Bolduc refused to speak directly to The Times, but, according to a spokesman, he has said the officers at the hospital are not and have never been DOD officers.
Under Chief Bolduc's interpretation, his officers fall under the Posse Comitatus Act and cannot process civilians for other police agencies.
D.C. police officials were disappointed with the changes.
"This will put a strain on an already understaffed D.C. police force, because now they will have to do all the work when it comes to crimes on the Walter Reed campus," Officer Hayes said.
Fourth District Cmdr. Cathy L. Lanier said she has no knowledge of people with narcotics violations or anyone else being released.
"If they call us and have someone with drug possession or any other minor felonies, we will not let them go," Cmdr. Lanier said.
The next step, she said, could involve updating the cooperative policing agreement to address Chief Bolduc's concerns.
"If we make changes to the memoranda we need to be able to make it work for everyone involved," Cmdr. Lanier said.


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