Massachusetts SWAT Teams Insist They’re Private Corporations With No Public Accountability
At a time where our police force is better armed than the actual armies of small countries, the idea of a “corporate” police force that has the ability to arrest, detain or kill American citizens with no oversight is absolutely horrifying.
Massachusetts Police Form Private Corporations
SWAT teams in Massachusetts are claiming that because they are incorporated, they’re immune to the state’s open records law. “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.”
Some departments in Massachusetts are not able to form their own SWAT teams so several departments would get together and organize a “law enforcement council.” This organization can be incorporated as a non-profit.
One such organization is NEMLEC, the North Eastern Massachusetts Law Enforcement Council, it claim 3975 members: 3275 sworn officers and 700+ Sheriff’s officers. According to their web site, they cover 930 square miles and a population of 1.6 million people.
These organizations have existed for many years. Their original purpose was to promote cooperation among police and sheriff’s departments. That role has expanded over time. They now apply for government grans, maintain military vehicles, run SWAT teams and other kinds of rapid response units.
Let’s be clear. These are public agencies, government employees, and clearly by the current rules, any LEC acts under color of state law.
Is this a Business Ethics Issue?
Yes, by organizing supra- corporations over their individual law enforcement agencies have clearly moved from the public to the private. By denying access to their records on the ground of their incorporation, they are exerting corporate rights. When Massachusetts Police form private corporations, they are taking a step away from public control.
As a 501C’s, they are incorporated non-profits. This transforms these law enforcement agencies into hybrid public/private organizations able to act as public agencies, for instance, in exerting their immunities while acting under state authority and as a private corporation when wishing to evade their responsibilities as servants of the public interest. For the agencies, it is an ideal situation. For a democratic society, it has definite downsides. A large organization composed of thousands of armed personnel, equipped with armored cars, automatic weapons and secure bases are claiming the right to escape state supervision.
And if their claim to immunity from the state open meetings law is upheld, what other rights can they claim? What keeps them from making policy both formal and informal? What stops them from collecting revenue or “encouraging” the cooperation of public officials, other state agencies or the citizens? What about shared information, Internet, city and municipal surveillance cameras as well as license plate scanners?
There is nothing inherently wrong with police departments sharing information, building common resources or perform civic activities like annual golf tournaments. But we expect in a government by the people that public organizations be subject to the rule of law. A private police force has a different set of goals than a public one.
It is to be hoped in this country that those who serve in the defense of the public have the interest of the public in mind.
On The Same Subject
Like the Post’s Radley Balko and the ACLU I do not soley blame LEC’s like the one in Central Mass; an army of so-called honest and impartial public officials in the Commonwealth, from Gov. Deval Patrick and Attorney General Martha Coakley to lawmakers, who make the policy and direct taxpayer money to these bogus nonprofit entities must be held accountable.
“NEMLEC can’t have it both ways,” said Jessie Rossman, a staff attorney with the ACLU of Massachusetts. “Either it is a public entity subject to public records laws, or what it is doing is illegal.”