In response to failures of leadership around sex crimes and recent murders at Fort Hood in Texas, the Army is hiring a civilian to co-head its criminal investigation division.
The move is the first step in a break from the traditional chain of command structure handling crimes, which has been wavering in recent years as sexual assaults have risen and criminal offenders have not been held accountable for their actions.
“Maj. Gen. Donna Martin led an intensive five-month structural redesign to create an organization with enhanced capabilities and capacity, organized with and led by civilian and military agents, military officers, and enlisted soldiers,” said acting Secretary of the Army John Whitley in a Thursday statement. “We are very confident these organizational changes address the committee’s criminal investigations division-related recommendations and lead us into the future.”
The dual position of the Army provost marshal general, and commanding general of the Army criminal investigations division, will now be split and shared with a civilian leader.
“This will add continuity,” Don Christensen, president of Protect Our Defenders, told Federal News Network. “The general officers move so fast through their positions, that it’s very difficult to have continuity. I think it’s sending the right message to the agents below them that this is something that is going to be dealt with more professionally.”
The Army provost marshal general is in charge of law enforcement, criminal investigation, criminal intelligence, and corrections.
“The restructured criminal investigations division will feature a higher ratio of civilian criminal investigators to military special agents in order to increase investigative experience and grow effective partnerships with local and regional law enforcement agencies,” Army officials said in a statement.
The lower level reorganizations will happen in phases starting with Fort Hood, Fort Bragg in California, and Fort Carson in Colorado.
The changes are part of the recommendations from the independent review of Fort Hood, which was commissioned after the sexual harassment and murder of Spc. Vanessa Guillén.
In addition to the organizational changes, Whitley signed a directive to better protect and inform victims of sexual assault and harassment.
“While we continue our work to redesign the current program, these policy changes will help to ensure that a soldier’s report of sexual assault or sexual harassment is always met with a timely and effective response,” said Whitley. “Soldiers must be confident that they can raise allegations of sexual assault or sexual harassment, quickly receive the protection they need, and be treated with dignity and respect throughout the process.”
The directive improves the issuance of military protective orders and the process for victims to receive case notifications. Earlier this year, the Army required that sexual assault investigations must be conducted by someone outside of the brigade where the action in question happened.
All of this comes as there is a major push for the Defense Department to take the prosecution of sex crimes outside of the chain of command.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley dropped his opposition to creating an independent prosecutor last week.
It seems like Congress will likely pass a measure to take sexual assault prosecutions outside the chain of command.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) released a bill to do just that, which has 46 co-sponsors and support from prominent Republicans.
“The Military Justice Improvement and Increasing Prevention Act takes important, commonsense steps to deliver justice for survivors of serious crimes and prevent sexual assault in our armed forces,” Gillibrand said last week. “I am proud to introduce this new, bipartisan legislation and I thank all of my colleagues on both sides of the aisle for being my partners in this fight. With strong support in Congress, the Pentagon, and the White House, this is a defining moment for passage and I’m confident we can get it done.”
The Pentagon’s independent review commission on sexual assault also recommended that sex crimes be prosecuted independently.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said that he is open to all options.
“I’m going to have an open mind about what they come up with and the recommendations that they make,” Austin said Thursday at the Pentagon. “You’ve heard me say this before, but sexual assault is a problem that plagues us. It is a readiness issue, it is a leadership issue. We’re going to lead real change for real results.”