MA SWAT Teams Claim to Be Private Entities


Friend of Dispatches Radley Balko found something rather disturbing in the ACLU’s recent report on the militarization of law enforcement. SWAT teams in Massachusetts are claiming to be private entities rather than government ones in order to not comply with open records requests.

As part of the American Civil Liberties Union’s recent report on police militarization, the Massachusetts chapter of the organization sent open records requests to SWAT teams across that state. It received an interesting response.

As it turns out, a number of SWAT teams in the Bay State are operated by what are called law enforcement councils, or LECs. These LECs are funded by several police agencies in a given geographic area and overseen by an executive board, which is usually made up of police chiefs from member police departments. In 2012, for example, the Tewksbury Police Department paid about $4,600 in annual membership dues to the North Eastern Massachusetts Law Enforcement Council, or NEMLEC. (See page 36 of linked PDF.) That LEC has about 50 member agencies. In addition to operating a regional SWAT team, the LECs also facilitate technology and information sharing and oversee other specialized units, such as crime scene investigators and computer crime specialists.

Some of these LECs have also apparently incorporated as 501(c)(3) organizations. And it’s here that we run into problems. According to the ACLU, the LECs are claiming that the 501(c)(3) status means that they’re private corporations, not government agencies. And therefore, they say they’re immune from open records requests. Let’s be clear. These agencies oversee police activities. They employ cops who carry guns, wear badges, collect paychecks provided by taxpayers and have the power to detain, arrest, injure and kill. They operate SWAT teams, which conduct raids on private residences. And yet they say that because they’ve incorporated, they’re immune to Massachusetts open records laws. The state’s residents aren’t permitted to know how often the SWAT teams are used, what they’re used for, what sort of training they get or who they’re primarily used against.

The word “ludicrous” barely covers that argument. The ACLU has filed suit over this and I can’t imagine how they could possibly lose it.

Comments

  1. gopiballava says

    If the ACLU loses and thus the employees of the corporation lose immunity and all other police related legal privileges, it might not be a bad outcome.

  2. sundoga says

    Hmm, I wonder if they’ve really thought this out. If these people are employed by someone other than a government (even a local government), surely they aren’t really police officers, but private security officers. Who don’t get the kind of conditional immunities that government employed police do…

  3. Dweller in Darkness says

    I mentioned this a few days back – local papers, including the Boston ones, are basically a giant ball of, “What? Really?” Very little support for this move from SWAT, even among police groups, so far at least.

  4. Trebuchet says

    I first learned of this a couple of days ago, when, in response to the SOTUS decision requiring warrants for cell phone searches, these SWAT morons claimed it didn’t apply to them. Good luck with that in court.

  5. says

    This is good news! I have many man-traps designed to kill and/or maim SWAT members who enter my house. I will sleep so much easier knowing I am not killing any police officers or other government agents!

  6. says

    This is nothing! Do you know what’s next?

    Well, I’m gonna tell ya.

    Colorado and Washington now have RKW* available and they’re gonna be policin’ the fields, the barns, the processing plants and sales outlets with private security, Bongwater (who might, depending on much of the product they’re sampling, wind up being, “Zzzzzzzzzzzzz”.

    Fasten you seatbelts and grab the Twinkies; it’s gonna be a wild ride!

    * Recreational Killer Weed

  7. busterggi says

    “The ACLU has filed suit over this and I can’t imagine how they could possibly lose it.”

    Really? Really? Really? Have you ignored you own posts about our fun SCOTUS?

  8. zmidponk says

    I seem to remember that, in Robocop, the Detroit police force was actually a division of the OCP Corporation. These guys in Massachusetts do know that was supposed to be fiction, right?

  9. whheydt says

    I wonder is someone could final a criminal complaint against one the the incorporated LECs over the ownership and/or control is weapons and equipment that aren’t permitted for civilians to have….

    (Nice machine gun you got there. Got a Federal license in YOUR name to have it?)

  10. fmitchell says

    Private corporations, all of whose members are paid employees of city, county, or state police departments?

    Sorry, no.

  11. says

    @sundoga #4 – I would love to see that. I can already hear one of the Law and Order judges telling a defendant, “Either your team is a police force, subject to public disclosure law but permitted broad immunity from prosecution, or you are a private force, exempted from public disclosure but stripped of all prosecutorial immunity. Your choice — your ONLY choice — is to decide whether to turn over the records of your misconduct, or face the plaintiffs’ legal suit over said misconduct. Which will it be?”

  12. wscott says

    a number of SWAT teams in the Bay State are operated by what are called law enforcement councils

    I have no problem with this part. Many small jurisdictions don’t have the money, or frankly enough work to justify their own SWAT team, so it makes sense for them to pool their efforts to field a regional team. And you’d need some sort of board structure to manage it. Incorporating as a 501c3? OK, I can kinda see why there might be organizational advantages to working it that way. Claiming that makes you exempt from open records requests? Umm…points for “thinking outside the box” I guess…
    .
    A quick look at Mass’ open record laws shows that it applies to records “made or received by any officer or employee” of any Massachusetts governmental entity. So whether the LEC is public or private wouldn’t seem to be relevant if the officers themselves are all government employees. If the request was for something like minutes of LEC board meetings, then maybe they might have an argument. But records of actual deployments, trainings, etc? No chance.

  13. says

    wscott “Many small jurisdictions don’t have the money, or frankly enough work to justify their own SWAT team…”
    What?!! This is America!

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