Are shootings at military bases common, or was Fort Hood unusual?

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Nov. 5 2009 8:28 PM

Is There a Lot of Crime on Military Bases?

Not as much as you'd think.

An Army psychiatrist who was about to deploy to Iraq went on a two-gun shooting spree at Fort Hood in Texas on Thursday afternoon. Twelve people died in the attack, and 31 were wounded. How often do soldiers commit crimes on their bases?

Daniel Engber Daniel Engber

Daniel Engber is a columnist for Slate

Not very. Careful study of crime rates at military installations have been made overseas, where local communities may feel threatened by the presence of U.S. military forces. In Okinawa, Japan, for example, American soldiers have been involved in several high-profile rapes and have been accused of more widespread violence. While it's reasonable to expect that a population of young men trained in warfare would commit crimes at higher rates, a recent study found that the troops in Okinawa were less than half as likely to break the law as those in the general population. In Korea, too, U.S. servicemen seem to be arrested for serious crimes far less often than the locals.

A swat team arrives at Fort Hood. Click image to expand.
A SWAT team enters the main gate at Fort Hood
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That said, major crimes have been in on the rise across all bases since 2003, according to a report (PDF) released in July. Rates of arrests for murder, rape, assault, and arson saw an especially large bump between 2007 and 2008. The study, which was commissioned after six members of the same brigade were charged with homicides over a 12-month period, found that soldiers with more combat experience—and whose units had suffered more casualties—were at greater risk than other soldiers of developing mental illness, conduct problems, and criminal behavior. (Decades-old studies of Vietnam veterans came to similar conclusions.)

The responsibility for investigating murders and other major crimes on Army bases generally falls to the Criminal Investigation Command, headquartered at Fort Belvoir, Va. The Army formed its investigative branch in March 1863, after several years of contracting out the work to the Pinkerton Detective Agency and other private firms. About 750 special agents now work for the command, which has the use of a state-of-the-art, $30-million forensic laboratory in Georgia. According to data from 2002, Army investigators manage to solve 95 percent of the murders that occur on military bases.

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AP Video: A witness to the Fort Hood shooting

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