As the terror grew in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area this weekend, with a possible 12th victim in the sniper-related shootings that range from the capital to Richmond, Va., federal law enforcement officials have turned to the U.S. military to help them track down this vicious serial killer.
The only problem with this is the possible violation of the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878, a law that prohibits the military from operating domestically in a law enforcement role, the idea being that nobody, especially Americans, likes the idea of a national police state.
Said Washington Times columnist Gene Healy, “the Army is a blunt instrument: effective for destroying enemy troops en masse, but ill-suited to fight on the home front, which requires subtler investigative and preventative skills.”
However, under the circumstances, this inclusion of military personnel is the right thing to do. The military possesses some of the most technically superior equipment, men and surveillance techniques in the world. Their expertise is something that may help bring these killings to an end. The military has also managed to avoid violating the Posse Comitatus Act, because of their singularly diminished role in this investigation. They will operate surveillance equipment but not take part in any questioning or arrests of potential suspects.
They will be operating several aircraft reconnaissance flights but only under the direction of FBI personnel in search areas they indicate. FBI spotters will also ride in helicopter surveillance flights, deciding which cars to follow and which areas to search.
The search for the D.C. sniper must come to a quick and just conclusion as soon as possible, to bring a sense of normalcy back to the region. Using the military’s experience and equipment is a smart idea by civilian law enforcement agencies.