Army to put civilian in command of criminal investigations after Fort Hood woes

WASHINGTON, DC — U.S. officials said the military plans to put a civilian in command responsibility for conducting criminal investigations, in response to widespread criticism that the unit is understaffed, overwhelmed and filled with inexperienced investigators.

The decision, expected to be announced Thursday, reflects recommendations made by an independent commission following violent crimes and murders in Fort Hood, Texas, including the death of Vanessa Guillén, whose remains were found about two months later. his assassination.

Officials say the Army’s Criminal Investigations Command, or CID, will be separate from the provost general’s office and, instead of being headed by a general officer, it will be overseen by a civilian director who has yet to been appointed. This move is intended to improve command capabilities and respond to the findings of the Fort Hood commission.

The CID will be responsible for criminal investigations and the Provost Marshal’s Office will continue to perform separate functions.

The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the decision before it was made public, said immediate changes would be implemented at three Army installations considered high risk to increase personnel qualified and help improve relationships with local law enforcement. It is not known which facilities will be affected.

Longer-term changes would focus on how to improve criminal investigations to better deter crime.

More than two dozen Fort Hood soldiers have died in 2020, including multiple homicides and suicides. Guillén’s death and other cases prompted the independent review, which found military leaders were failing to adequately address high rates of sexual assault, harassment, drug use and other issues at the base. The review also concluded that the Army CID was understaffed, poorly organized, and had too few experienced investigators.

Members of the independent review panel told members of Congress in March that CID investigators lacked the insight needed to identify key leads and “connect the dots.”

Christopher Swecker, chair of the review board, said the officers were “victims of the system”, which he said failed to train them and often burdened them with administrative tasks. And he said base leadership focused on military readiness and “completely and utterly neglected” the sexual assault prevention program. As a result, he said, lower-level unit commanders did not encourage service members to report assaults and, in many cases, shamed the victims or were in fact the perpetrators themselves.

During the hearing, lawmakers questioned the CID commander, who told them she was “seizing this moment” to correct staffing and resource issues within her agency that had led to significant failures in the case follow-up and resolution.

“We can and we will do better,” Maj. Gen. Donna Martin told the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Military Personnel at the time. She said the military is working to restructure and modernize the CID and plans to add more civilian investigators and create special teams that can respond to major criminal cases when needed at any base. . Martin leaves work, in a routine rotation.

The change in the Army mirrors a similar change in the Navy in 1992, following the Tailhook scandal, when Navy and Navy officers sexually assaulted dozens of women at a Las Vegas hotel. Following the sweeping condemnation of the Navy’s investigation of the case, the leadership transformed the Army-run Naval Investigative Service into the Navy’s Criminal Investigative Service and appointed a civilian director.

Mark M. Gagnon