Let’s show them how that would work

June 28, 2014

Radley Balko points out something interesting in an ACLU report:

Massachusetts SWAT teams claim they’re private corporations, immune from open records laws

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.

How clever of them, eh? I think we should let their claim stand and then start working out the consequences of that claim. Here’s a start:

1. SWAT companies give up all public funding and have to sell their "services" in an open market. No more police payroll and pensions. As my friend Paul said, we could hire the Keystone SWAT company.

2. SWAT companies give up their qualified immunity and become financially responsible for violating victims’ rights, destroying property and blowing holes in 2-year-olds.

In short, they’d have to provide commercial liability insurance to protect their clients (i.e., governments that hired them). Why not? Any other contracting company does.

Here’s a short video by the ACLU about using SWAT teams on drug raids.

Here’s the ACLU page on militarization: War Comes Home: The Excessive Militarization of American Policing.

Weren’t unreasonable searches and seizures part of the reason we rebelled against British rule? Just sayin’.

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