HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, Mass. – The coronavirus pandemic is putting pressure on everything from hospitals to grocery stores, as well as first responders who continue working in to keep the public safe.
While countless police departments across the country are feeling the impact of the coronavirus, some are particularly hard-hit. The 2,800-member Detroit Police Department had 180 officers test positive and over 1,000 people quarantined by mid-April. The Boston Police Department has endured dozens of infections as well, with one 29-year veteran officer recently succumbing to the virus.
Massachusetts has a resource that is assisting law enforcement during this crisis. By using specially trained Massachusetts National Guard members to augment local police, the Commonwealth is providing some relief to departments in need.
“In times of emergency, we have a pool of highly trained personnel with statewide law enforcement authorities that can be drawn upon to assist civilian law enforcement and help ensure public safety and security,” said Lt. Col. Bryan Pillai, 211th Military Police Battalion commander.
“It’s sort of a civics lesson, but every state maintains the ability to conduct internal law enforcement, and the National Guard is directly subordinate to each state governor,” he said. “In fact, using the National Guard to support law enforcement is ingrained in our history and the exact opposite of martial law, where forces would answer to federal authorities.”
The Massachusetts National Guard developed a special unit, called the National Guard Reaction Force, several years ago to provide exactly this type of support. Under the leadership of the 211th Military Police Battalion, the NGRF is comprised of the 747th, 772nd and 972nd Military Police Companies; the 102nd and 104th Security Forces Squadrons; and a specially trained infantry company. The past few weeks, NGRF personnel have been augmenting local police forces across Massachusetts.
“When asked, we generally integrate our personnel into the police department and provide them direct assistance,” said Pillau. “The point is that we’re not coming in and trying to take over anything; we’re looking to augment the departments and take direction from civil authorities. Whenever practical, we prefer to use the supported department’s own policies and procedures, operate on their radio frequencies, and so on.”
The Massachusetts National Guard has a long history of working and training alongside local police. Although the Boston Marathon is postponed this year, in previous years the Guard partnered with police departments all along the route, in every city from Hopkinton to Boston, to help keep the public safe. Similarly, each year the Guard partners with the Massachusetts State Police to support Boston’s Fourth of July celebration on the Esplanade, which draws hundreds of thousands of spectators.
The National Guard has supported and performed local law enforcement since its inception in 1636, well over 200 years before the Boston Police Department, credited as the nation’s oldest police department, was founded.
“The NGRF’s mission today is firmly rooted in our militia tradition as the country’s original community-based solution to public safety in times of need,” Pillai said.
Military Police and Security Forces from the Massachusetts Guard also have a capability no other state can claim.
“All Military Police Soldiers and Security Forces Airmen graduate from police training programs that receive federal law enforcement training accreditation, which is the same accreditation all federal law enforcement services receive, including the Secret Service and the marshal service,” Pillai said.
The Commonwealth then takes it a step further, providing additional instruction on the differences between the military’s FLETA-certified programs and the training standards for Massachusetts civilian police officers. The intent is to certify as many Military Police and Security Forces as possible on the Massachusetts standards.
“This training enhances the capabilities of Soldiers and Airmen in their federal mission in case they are sent overseas, better prepares them to serve the Commonwealth in emergencies such as the current pandemic response and saves money for cities and towns who decide to employ our personnel. The real winner here is the taxpayer,” Pillai said.
This whole-of-government approach that pays for training once and counts it twice is also a recruiting and retention tool.
“It makes part-time service members, the very core of the National Guard, extremely competitive for civilian employment as a police officer,” Pillai said. “Not only are our personnel trained to the standards required for civilian police officers, which gets them on the street faster, they are also physically fit and culturally attuned to disciplined community service.”
One Soldier helping law enforcement in the fight against COVID-19 is 1st Lt. Joshua Griffith from Beverly, who is supervising Military Police operations at the Boston Convention and Exposition Center in support of the Boston Police Department. Griffith is responsible for ensuring public safety and security for the 1,000-bed medical facility named Boston Hope.
“It’s an honor to serve our community in the National Guard, especially when our help is most needed,” said Griffith. “There’s a lot of emotion around this pandemic, and we’re able to draw on our law enforcement training to de-escalate situations and provide comfort to those we come in contact with. We’re here to keep patients and health care workers safe, and it’s a mission I take very seriously.”