I was reading a book(fiction) recently and a kidnapping happened. A woman escaped and ran into several people. One of them being a soldier with his wife. As the kidnapper tries to find the escaped woman, he also runs into these people. The wife wants to call the police, but the soldier says he doesn't want the guy leaving before they get there. Then he said "I'm on active duty and I'm tasked with upholding federal law".

Is this in any way true? Can a soldier act as a law enforcement officer in a situation like this? I'm aware there is a law that states the military can't operate on U.S. soil, but I feel like the author of the book knows something I don't.

  • 3
    I'd say rather that you know something the author of the book doesn't.
    – phoog
    Commented Sep 24, 2019 at 0:32
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    "Soldier" traditionally means army. In this case branch of service matters. For example, Coast Guard is a federal law enforcement agency. Commented Sep 24, 2019 at 12:09
  • Were these fictional events in the US? I suppose so, from the wording. Commented Sep 24, 2019 at 16:36
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    No, no, no, no, no! The military is NOT a police force. The police are NOT a military force. (And @GerardAshton - perhaps so, but the reference was to "the military", and the Coast Guard is not a branch of the military. They are part of the Department of Commerce (if memory serves), although they may in time of war be transferred to the Department of Defense, as was done in WWII). Commented May 4, 2020 at 0:02
  • @BobJarvis-ReinstateMonica The Coast Guard is a branch of the armed forces at all times. They are not part of DOD in peacetime, but that has nothing to do with whether they're part of the armed forces. See 14 U.S. Code § 101.
    – cpast
    Commented May 4, 2020 at 15:41

2 Answers 2


Under US law, any citizen may hold a person caught in the process of committing a felony (which kidnapping surely is) for the police. A soldier has no special authority. Indeed under the Posse Comitatus Act, the military has more restricted authority in such matters than citizens in general. However note that the book doesn't say the soldier was justified. I do not find it implausible that a soldier might have believed that the military had such authority.

  • 1
    This applies in England and Wales too (without the detail about Posse Comitatas of course). Commented Sep 24, 2019 at 16:15
  • Given that U.S. soldiers do take an oath to uphold the constitution, it is particularly plausible that a soldier who wasn't too bright and wasn't paying attention in basic could have that misapprehension. Also, the offenses described aren't federal crimes, something that soldier also didn't know.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Sep 24, 2019 at 23:19
  • As a child I thought a "citizen arrest" would be a fairly common occurrence. Sigh.
    – Pete B.
    Commented Sep 25, 2019 at 11:42

In certain situations, military personnel can enforce federal law. For example, MP's enforce laws on military bases and often have agreements with local jurisdictions to do so a short distance around bases. Some other military agencies (Army CID, etc.) also enforce laws, though they generally don't stray into civilian matters. And the National Guard can be authorized to enforce laws. The vast majority of military personnel, though, are certainly not "tasked" to "uphold" (in the sense of "enforce") federal law.

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