” 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.”
This is arrogance of the highest order . For any organizations funded by the taxpayers to claim to be private corporations is beyond the pale .
” From the ACLU of Massachusetts’s report on police militarization in that state:
Approximately 240 of the 351 police departments in Massachusetts belong to an LEC. While set up as “corporations,” LECs are funded by local and federal taxpayer money, are composed exclusively of public police officers and sheriffs, and carry out traditional law enforcement functions through specialized units such as SWAT teams . . .
Due to the weakness of Massachusetts public records law and the culture of secrecy that has infected local police departments and Law Enforcement Councils, procuring empirical records from police departments and regional SWAT teams in Massachusetts about police militarization was universally difficult and, in most instances, impossible . . .
Police departments and regional SWAT teams are public institutions, working with public money, meant to protect and serve the public’s interest. If these institutions do not maintain and make public comprehensive and comprehensible documents pertaining to their operations and tactics, the people cannot judge whether officials are acting appropriately or make needed policy changes when problems arise . . . “
This situation cannot be allowed to stand . ALL public servants MUST be held accountable for their actions or are we to believe that these “mercenary” SWAT units are merely rogue privateers issued Letters of Marque ? If such is the case then they are no more than pirates and as such must be fought with all possible means .
Food for thought: If the SWAT teams are private corporations/private contractors , ala Blackwater , then they do not enjoy the legal immunities offered to employees of the State and thus should be subject to civil lawsuits and thus the discovery process … Let the flood gates open .
Read the rest from Radley Balko at the Washington Post.