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In the State of the Union address this year, President Bush joined calls for a U.S. civilian reserve corps. In mid-2006, USIP convened federal law enforcement officials and chiefs of police from across the United States to examine the range of choices for creating the police component of a civilian reserve corps that could rapidly deploy to states emerging from conflict.

In mid-2006, USIP convened federal law enforcement officials and chiefs of police from across the United States to examine the range of choices for creating the police component of a civilian reserve corps. Robert Perito, Michael Dziedzic, and Beth Cole, senior program officers at the Institute, led the workshop and wrote this summary outlining the options discussed in that workshop. This USIPeace Briefing reflects the opinions of the authors and does not necessarily represent the views of the U.S. Institute of Peace, which does not take policy positions.

In the State of the Union address this year, President Bush joined calls for a U.S. civilian reserve corps that could rapidly deploy to restore public order and begin reconstituting the institutions of governance so desperately needed in states emerging from conflict. The Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization (S/CRS) at the U.S. Department of State was created in part for this purpose, but it has never received adequate resources. The current challenge of locating qualified and willing civilians to join Provincial Reconstruction Teams in Iraq and Afghanistan has given renewed impetus to initiatives aimed at overcoming this chronic shortcoming.

In any reserve corps a large portion will necessarily reside in the police component, since coping with disorder is certain to be a priority at the inception of a peace or stability operation. Disorder may stem from the total incapacity of the state to protect its citizens. In many cases, however, the "public security" apparatus itself has been the instrument of massive public insecurity, sometimes to the point of being implicated in war crimes or genocide. An intervening military force will always be a blunt instrument when used alone in either of these contexts. International police must be mobilized to oversee restoration of public order and safety. 1

Military forces have a capacity to deploy rapidly, but police organizations do not. The lag time between the arrival of the two forces creates a deployment gap. If soldiers use excessive force when confronted by the turmoil that inevitably accompanies initial deployment, the mission can be placed in jeopardy because local consent may be withdrawn. Inaction, on the other hand, risks the loss of credibility. One requirement that a civilian police reserve must satisfy, therefore, is the ability to deploy hundreds of qualified police in a matter of weeks to reduce or eliminate the deployment gap. One of the arguments for the development of a federal police reserve is that the current practice of using commercial contractors to recruit mostly retired police officers after the need has been identified requires months to effect and is therefore incapable of closing this gap.

Peace missions have also been acutely challenged by rampant lawlessness, revenge killings, and civil disturbances. Only highly specialized, gendarme-like "stability police" units have the training and resources required to engage in robust policing activities aimed at bringing the obstructionists involved to justice. With the exception of military police units, military forces are not trained to deal with civilians by using non-lethal force, crowd and riot control techniques, special weapons and tactics for high-risk arrests, negotiating techniques, or de-escalation of conflict. To develop a "stability police" unit requires time, training, and experience. These units also require specialized vehicles, heavy equipment, less-than-lethal as well as lethal weapons, communications, unit cohesion, discipline, and chain of command. This is not a capability that can be effectively mobilized on an ad hoc basis. Another reason a federal police reserve is considered necessary, therefore, is that commercial contractors are particularly ill suited for meeting this requirement.

Only by addressing both military and policing tasks coherently can persistent internal conflict be stabilized and a sustainable peace evolve. Since the intervention in Kosovo in 1999, the United States has maintained about 1,000 -1,500 police in the field. This will likely continue given long-term requirements in Iraq and Afghanistan. To provide replacements and a surge capability, at least 3,000 personnel would be required for a U.S. police reserve corps. A range of options exists to build such a reserve cadre. They vary in cost, responsiveness, and likely impact on local police forces. All, however, are designed to assure a more rapid response, provide a higher degree of accountability, and be more cost effective than the current approach, which relies solely on recruitment through commercial contractors.

A Roster of Deployable Police Personnel

One proposal is to develop a roster of police personnel with a full range of skills and levels of seniority who would be assembled and maintained for rapid call-up. Assuming 1,000 police were to be routinely deployed, another 2,000 would be required for routine replacements and contingencies. Thus, a roster containing many times that number would need to be maintained in order to ensure the requisite numbers would be available when required. The roster would be managed by S/CRS.

Advantages: This method of recruitment would avoid competition with domestic police forces for scarce personnel because it would likely consist primarily of recently retired police. It would actually reduce demand by satisfying the requirement for international personnel without poaching from currently serving police. (The current approach involving the use of contractors to recruit police for international service is strongly criticized for this reason.) Utilizing recently retired personnel would also meet the important need for seasoned professionals who are able to provide mentorship for the leadership of indigenous police forces.

Disadvantages: Reserve rosters require continuous maintenance, as changes in personal circumstances over time inevitably reduce the number of those who are actually available for service. There would be little assurance that the government could actually obtain the numbers that might be required when they are most needed--in the chaotic aftermath of a violent internal conflict. Given that the roster would probably be populated primarily with retired personnel, it also might not provide adequate numbers of younger officers who are fit enough to serve in specialized units, such as stability police units that perform crowd control, high-risk arrest, VIP protection, and other robust policing functions. (A proposal to meet this requirement is provided below.)

Federally Funded Positions in Local Police Forces

Proposal: The federal government would provide funding for state and local police organizations to hire the required number of additional police (estimated to be 3,000). This cadre of "over strength" personnel would be called upon as required for international service. Federal funding would be provided for billets (as opposed to providing personnel). Reservists would have a guaranteed right of return to their police force. The program would be jointly managed by S/CRS and the local police forces involved.

This proposal has parallels with the Community Oriented Policing Service (COPS) program that operated from 1995 to 2004. The purpose of the COPS program was to deploy more police officers on the streets to combat rising crime rates. Under the program, the federal government paid for 75 percent of each officer's salary (for the first three years only), while localities funded the remaining 25 percent. (The exact nature of the cost-sharing arrangement for an international police reserve remains to be determined).

Advantages: By creating a pool of actively serving police officers to draw upon, the professional caliber of the contingents fielded by the United States for international duty would be assured. Owing to the immunity granted international police, the only consequence for misconduct under the current contractor model is repatriation to the United States. Under this option, it would be possible, at a minimum, to fire those guilty of serious abuses from the federal reserve cadre. The adverse impact of deployment of reserve personnel would be minimized by the establishment of a recruitment and rotation system managed by participating police departments. This approach would also mitigate problems that arise under the current "contractor model," under which officers who leave for service abroad may not be welcomed back to their former departments. (If they are able to return, there may be complications with pensions; while they are away there may be gaps that arise in care for family members.) Police reservists could provide both a foreign and domestic crisis response capability. When not deployed internationally, individuals could be detailed to local agencies in response to a major catastrophe. Dual use would be more likely to attract public support.

Disadvantages: Participation in this program would only be attractive for those police departments that are experiencing no difficulty recruiting new hires. Many police forces would be unable to participate since they are currently under strength and unable to hire sufficient additional personnel in spite of offering substantial incentives. Participation might also be constrained because of concern about long-term federal commitment to funding, owing to the termination of the Community Oriented Policing Services program in 2004.

A Federal Contingency Police Reserve

Proposal: A Federal Contingency Police Reserve of 3,000 personnel would be created at the federal level. Management would be assigned to a federal law enforcement agency with international experience and domestic operations. The U.S. Marshal Service is one possibility since it is accustomed to working with courts and local authorities and is currently operating in Iraq. The State Department would manage the deployment of police reserve members to international missions. (The division of responsibilities between the State Department as the user and the federal law enforcement agency managing the reserve force remains to be determined).

When not needed for international service, members of the reserve cadre would be assigned to federal, state, and local police forces. Reservists might also be "swapped" for police from state or local agencies to meet special needs in an international police mission. Unlike the second option described above, the federal government would provide personnel rather than funding to local police forces.

Advantages: Since the number of personnel involved is relatively small, there would be little impact on individual police departments, especially if preference is given to recruiting recent retirees. Establishing the reserve at the federal level would entail uniform administrative requirements and remove problems related to conditions of service, insurance, pensions, and so on that result from dealing with disparate local departments. Police reserve members would be available for dual use: foreign and domestic. When not deployed internationally, individuals could be detailed to local agencies to provide both crisis response and longer-term assistance (e.g. to provide security for the southwestern border, major public events (e.g. Olympics), natural disasters (Katrina), and counter terrorism. Dual use would be more likely to attract public support.

Disadvantages: Locating the force at the federal level would require a "cultural" change in the federal agency selected. This agency would have to broaden its expertise to include the full range of local police functions such as traffic control and community policing. The federal agency would have to increase its headquarters staff to manage a complex force that could be involved in multiple foreign and domestic operations. Locating the force in an existing federal law enforcement agency would raise issues concerning coordination with the State Department, since the latter would retain overall responsibility for utilization.

Stability Police Units (SPU)

Proposal: To develop a civilian capacity to deploy Stability Police Units (company-sized units of 125 personnel for crowd and riot control, high-risk arrest, and other specialized police functions)2 would require a variation of the second option described above (Federally Funded Positions in Local Police Forces). Owing to their requirement to respond to the public security gap between military combat units and individual police, SPUs require a discrete approach to recruitment, organization, training, and equipping. The federal government would provide funding for major city or large state police departments to hire personnel who would train together to form a Stability Police Unit. An entire unit, or even a substantial number of officers, could not be located in a single police department owing to the impact their simultaneous departure would have. Accordingly, no more than 10 police officers would be drawn from any department. Members of each unit would be assigned regionally to police forces in proximity to each other. The chief and deputy chief of each unit should be permanent U.S. government employees, with other positions filled by reservists. The unit would be brought together periodically for training as a cohesive unit on essential tasks: crowd control, high-risk arrest, VIP protection, and so on. Prior to international deployment, a few weeks of additional unit training would be required. If the 50 largest police departments were allocated ten slots each, 500 personnel would be available to form four SPUs. This would be in addition to the 2,500 individual members of the police reserves provided by the first three options above. (Note: This discussion does not consider military alternatives for this purpose).

Advantages: This proposal has the same advantages as the Federal Contingency Police Reserve. It would not tax the overall law enforcement system and would provide additional resources to the local communities involved. Local agencies would benefit from the SPU's capabilities for homeland security missions.

Disadvantages: Pulling even 10 people out of a specialized force might create a strain on the local agency. The needs of the department and the personal and professional requirements of the individual members might militate against maintaining a cohesive unit over time.


The requirement for an internationally deployable police reserve corps will almost certainly continue for the next decade or more. The public security gap that chronically debilitates international peace and stability operations cannot be addressed effectively if the response continues to be ad hoc. That has proven in the past to be a formula for a hard and endless slog or a failed intervention. Qualified and properly trained police personnel must be mobilized and deployed in a timely manner. To do this, the instruments of international policy need to be adapted to the demands involved in transforming internal conflicts. Both police and military capabilities are required to respond effectively, and they need to be prepared in advance. Organizational structures need to be created to field and employ civilian capabilities effectively. Neglect is not a strategy. It is instead a guarantee that the price of intervention will inevitably become prohibitive.


1. Policing the New World Disorder: Peace Operations and Public Security, eds. Robert B. Oakley, Michael J. Dziedzic, and Eliot M. Goldberg, (Washington D.C: National Defense University Press, 1998).

2. See "Bridging the Public Security Gap: The Role of the Center of Excellence for Stability Police Units in Contemporary Peace Operations".



This USIPeace Briefing was written by Robert Perito, Michael Dziedzic, and Beth Cole in the Center for Post-Conflict Peace and Stability Operations. The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the Institute, which does not advocate specific policies.


The United States Institute of Peace is an independent, nonpartisan institution established and funded by Congress. Its goals are to help prevent and resolve violent international conflicts, promote post-conflict stability and development, and increase conflict management capacity, tools, and intellectual capital worldwide. The Institute does this by empowering others with knowledge, skills, and resources, as well as by directly engaging in peacebuilding efforts around the globe.

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