Coast Guard is Seeking Broader Authority to Make Arrests on Land
Enforcement Powers Remain Murky as Port Security Duties Add to Service’s Mission
By PATRICIA KIME
Sea Power Correspondent
In August 2002, the U.S. Marshal Service deputized 79 Coast Guardsmen, giving them and their immediate subordinates the authority to make arrests on shore. That trial program was an attempt to boost the service’s legitimacy on land as a U.S. law enforcement agency.
It is also indicative of a fundamental change under way in the Coast Guard. The service is seeking broader law enforcement authority as a means to carry out its mission of protecting the nation’s ports.
Federal statute gives Coast Guardsmen the authority to make arrests on the high seas and in U.S. jurisdictional waters, but unless the Coast Guard is in “hot pursuit” — chasing a suspected criminal from the water onto land — arrest authority on terra firma is less clear. With passage of the 2002 Maritime Transportation Security Act, the Coast Guard was charged with overseeing security at the nation’s ports and harbors. Yet without specific land arrest authority, service members said they were not certain their enforcement operations in and around shore would hold up in court.
“We saw a gap in a clear authority for us to conduct law enforcement on shore. There’s absolutely no question that when we are on the water, we have the authority, and we might have the authority onshore as well,” but the Coast Guard wants to clear up some lingering uncertainties about its authority on land, said Louis Orsini, a law enforcement specialist at Coast Guard Headquarters in Washington, D.C.
The Coast Guard’s legal authority in U.S. territorial waters is delineated in U.S. Code. But its authority on land and the high seas is a matter of international law, based on treaties and past cases. Under international law, the service has legal authority when actively engaged in a law enforcement mission, for example, a “hot pursuit.”
The trial program was viewed as a success, and the U.S. Marshal Service is now deputizing up to 1,000 members. These individuals can carry firearms, make arrests and conduct search-and-seizure operations on land. The deputizing effort is just one of many changes the Coast Guard is making to its law enforcement mission. To meet post-Sept. 11, 2001, security demands the Coast Guard is examining its current policies and training requirements and seeks to expand its law enforcement capabilities.
Among the changes, the Coast Guard plans to:
¨ Adjust training requirements so personnel can earn law enforcement qualifications and specialize in law enforcement;
¨ Examine the current ratings system and determine whether the service needs a law enforcement-specific rating;
¨ Expand law enforcement training capability and co-locate it with a portion of the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Charleston, S.C.;
¨ Ask Congress for legislation that gives the service land-based law enforcement authority without the need to go through the U.S. Marshal Service.
The Coast Guard also is reorganizing personnel, putting highly trained security, safety and law enforcement teams near critical U.S. ports, and continuing a program to place maritime safety officers on high-interest vessels when they enter or leave U.S. ports.
“We did some specialization. The Marine Safety and Security Teams that are out there doing specifically port security and marine safety security missions free up the larger assets, the more resource-intensive ones, to be able to go offshore and do traditional law enforcement,” said Capt. Kevin Quigley, chief of the Office of Defense Operations at Coast Guard headquarters in Washington, D.C.
The Coast Guard historically has enforced U.S. maritime law, dating to the late 1700s when the Revenue Cutter Service enforced tariff and trade rules. As the only federal military service to reside outside the Defense Department, it is not restricted to conduct law enforcement operations by the Posse Comitatus Act, which expressly prohibits the Army and Air Force from engaging directly in law enforcement. (The Navy and Marine Corps comply with Posse Comitatus by Defense Department directive).
This duality, as a military service and a law enforcement force, gives the Coast Guard a unique role in homeland security.
“We have our feet planted in both camps and, depending on the needs of the nation, we can adjust,” Quigley said. “The greatest need following Sept. 11 was the dual authority to operate as a military service and law enforcement agency. It made us more visible than we had been in the past.”
The Coast Guard’s maritime law enforcement missions include counterdrug and migrant interdiction operations, fisheries enforcement and port security. Before Sept. 11, roughly 1 percent of the service’s law enforcement budget went to port security. Immediately following the attacks, that allocation of assets spiked to 90 percent; it has slowly fallen to about 25 percent of overall law enforcement resources.
To meet demand, the service has expanded its law enforcement budget, created new law enforcement teams for domestic port security operations, added a security boarding and positive control program to monitor, board and oversee high-interest vessels in the United States, and expanded the number of deployable reserve port security units from six to eight.
The Coast Guard also is working more closely with its fellow Homeland Security agencies, federal law enforcement, intelligence, and state, local and private entities to improve security coverage along the nation’s 95,000 miles of shoreline.
“The proper approach is an all-hands effort, and the law enforcement community is not doing this alone. The [search-and-rescue] folks are out there, the regulatory side of the house is out there. Across the spectrum, there is local and state law enforcement. A lot of what we do is just knowing what is out there every day. We couldn’t do it without interagency cooperation,” said retired Coast Guard Capt. Tony Regalbuto, of the service’s Policy and Planning Port Security Directorate.
Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Thomas H. Collins announced Dec. 31, 2003, that the service would create a law enforcement qualifications program to take training to a higher level. Coast Guardsmen earning the specialized qualifications title will serve as unit law enforcement experts, coordinating unit level training and assisting commanding officers in maintaining unit level readiness in law enforcement.
“We must improve law enforcement proficiency and provide for continuity of assignments for law enforcement professionals,” Collins said in a Coast Guard-wide message.
Collins stopped short of creating a law enforcement (LE) rating — a proposal that has been studied for at least the past five years. But he left the door open for that possibility down the road. “An LE rating could negatively impact LE professionals rather than provide needed improvements,” Collins wrote. “It would be extremely difficult to implement at many small units with LE responsibilities where LE competencies are critical. It would require resources currently not available.”
The service also aims to improve its law enforcement training opportunities by consolidating it at a Coast Guard Maritime Law Enforcement Academy, co-located with the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center branch in Charleston, S.C. The service is creating the academy from a school in Petaluma, Calif., and another in Yorktown, Va. The relocation will allow the service to expand the school and give Coast Guardsmen access to additional federal law enforcement training.
“We expect there will be a lot of synergy between us and the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center,” said Dave Walts, in the Coast Guard Office of Training, Work Force Performance and Development.
The service also is pressing Congress to give it the legislative authority to make land arrests. During a January hearing before the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Terrorism, Technology and Homeland Security, Rear Adm. Larry Hereth implored Congress to give the service that capability. “Gaining this authority is a top legislative priority for the Coast Guard. … We would greatly appreciate the committee’s support in this matter,” he said.
Such authority would improve the nation’s maritime security, Coast Guard officials said. Even without it, however, the changes to the Coast Guard’s law enforcement programs have increased security greatly along the nation’s shores, they said.
“We are bringing a more robust security operation online that we’ve haven’t done before,” Quigley said.