Report: Military Crimes Increase but Punishment Drops

Wednesday, 21 May 2014 08:32 PM

By Cathy Burke

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Despite alarming accounts of crimes or misconduct in the military ranks over the past decade, punishment has dropped dramatically, statistics show.

From 2004 to 2013, courts-martial have dropped about 50 percent, nonjudicial punishments have dipped about 25 percent, and bad-conduct discharges have fallen by more than 60 percent, Military Times reported Wednesday.

The number of military personnel convicted of crimes and jailed in military prisons also has shrunk by 35 percent, the newspaper reports.

The newspaper reports the drops could be linked to a change in the way the military thinks about handling cases — especially low-level infractions like a positive drug test, unauthorized absence, cheating or insubordination — in light of the the demands of two wars, or shifting views about drug use.

"Since 9/11, there is just not as much time to spend on the low-level troublemakers,"  Cmdr. Aaron Rugh, director of the Navy's trial counsel assistance program, told the newspaper.

Military Times noted it was the Navy that showed the biggest drop in courts-martial, down more than 80 percent over the past decade, with nonjudicial punishments off more than 70 percent.

"Clearly, if there is serious misconduct, then we want to get the accountability piece and send them to court-martial," Capt. Robert Crow, director of the Navy's Judge Advocate General, or JAG, criminal law division, told the newspaper.

"But if it's just the lower-level good order and discipline [violations], then [commanders opt for] just the administrative firing of them so we can go ahead and get someone in there who is focused on the mission."

The author of a 2012 report on rising crime and decreasing discipline in the ranks, former Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Peter Chiarelli, said the demands of war changed the way commanders viewed discipline.

"There was a tendency to protect those who, when they are downrange, did such a magnificent job," Chiarelli, who is now retired, told the newspaper. He added that commanders also had quotas: units had to be filled to at least 90 percent capacity before deploying.

"In other times, you would have thrown the book at him, but damn it, you needed . . . this guy to make your numbers," Chiarelli said.

Air Force Col. Mike Lewis, chief of the military justice division at the Air Force Legal Operations Agency, told the newspaper the Air Force has always been aggressive in prosecuting drug offenses.

"The right answer is still going to be a zero tolerance for drug use," he said. "But we do see the number of nonjudicial punishments [for drug offenses] going up."

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