Distinctive Roles of UNCIVPOL and Military Forces


By: Gerald F. Witherspoon, Sr. 20141225


Although the military may engage in policing activity, it is the police who are entrusted to carry out the specific functions of police work. That is, policing in the broad sense of the word is much ado about the monitoring or assessment and response to a security situation. However, the contextual specificity, whereby, policing activities are carried out, change in regard to timing and functionality as it relates to the roles and responsibilities of military personnel and civilian police officers and what actually constitutes “police work”.

As stated by Alice Hills, “Of course there are occasions when the military do perform policing as they manage security using minimum force, perhaps through patrolling or protecting an area, but their response to disorder is reactive and their role is fundamentally supportive” (2001, 81).

Hills well clarified the timing element of a military response to disorder by pointing out the reactionary element. Local police are traditionally proactive in maintaining law and order, but when the rule of law has broken down in a particular country (for whatever reason), a military force may be warranted to support efforts to restrain disorder.

This is not intended as a long term solution, but one that will enable police to resume their role as providers of a safe and secure environment. There are many reasons local police may lose their control over the security situation, but the UN Civilian Police officers intend to establish, if necessary, or otherwise monitor, advise, train, and enhance the work of the local police (Langholtz 2009). Again, UN Civilian police officers intend to reoccupy ground once lost, but restored through the efforts of the military, in order to return security functions to the local police.

There are many problems to solve outside of the traditional scope of the military that is reserved to the work of police officers such as criminal investigations, reporting, observations, handling rallies, demonstrations and riot control (Langholtz 2009). That the military can become involved in such activities does not negate the fact that these roles and responsibilities lie within the domain of traditional police forces.

Militaries don’t deploy against five protestors or drop bombs on eight teenagers stealing tennis shoes from a local factory; these matters are handled by the police, and tear gas and pepper spray would undoubtedly be used in place of a nuclear bomb. But when criminal acts occur within a war-ravaged society and atrocities have surpassed the maintenance capacity of local police, a UN military force may very well deploy to enhance the prospects of peace and security, provide a shield for UN CIVPOL to regain civil order, and hopefully return the role of law and order to the local police.


Alice Hills (2001) The inherent limits of military forces in policing peace operations, International Peacekeeping, 8:3, 79-98, DOI:10.1080/13533310108413909

Langholtz, Harvey J. (ed). 2009. United Nations Police: Restoring Civil Order Following Hostilities. Peace Operations Training Institute.


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