Military Police

Photograph of African-American shore patrolmen in training

National Archives #80-G-294878

Military police were soldiers who were trained, equipped, and organized to perform police duty in combat zones or in areas under military law. In areas where civilian courts and police were operative, the jurisdiction of U.S. and Commonwealth military police was limited to military personnel in uniform. Their function was largely to maintain order among troops on leave. Military police had full jurisdiction in military facilities and in occupied territories that were under martial law. The Navy had shore patrols that performed the same functions as military police for Navy personnel and facilities. Curiously, a considerable number of U.S. Navy shore patrolmen were African-Americans.

The Japanese military police, or Kempeitai, theoretically had similar restrictions on their jurisdiction. However, they had power to enforce draft and "anti-defeatist" laws, and they operated in Japan with relatively few restrictions. The corresponding Navy force was the Tokkeitai.

In forward areas, a major role of military police was directing military traffic over lines of communication.

Use of military police for civilian law enforcement in the United States was restricted by the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878, which prohibited any use of regular Army troops for law enforcement within the United States without express authorization by a provision of the Constitution or an act of Congress. However, following the attack on Pearl Harbor, considerable pressure was put on the Army to assign large numbers of military police to protect defense industries, an activity that fell under national defense rather than law enforcement.The Army had planned to raise 54 military police battalions for internal security in the event of war, but the actual number peaked at 89 in late 1942. The Army disliked this diversion of resources from what it viewed as its offensive mission overseas and much preferred leaving guard duty to the civil authorities. A compromise was reached under which guard battalions were raised that were nominally civilian, but were under Army control. These formed a militia to take the place of the National Guard, which had been federalized and incorporated into the Army of the United States prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor.


Conn, Engelman, and Fairchild (1961; accessed 2012-11-10)

Lamont-Brown (1998)

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