Prior to the ACLU report on the increasing militarization of police, Massachusetts police offices replied to requests for information saying the SWAT teams in the state are private corporations, exempting them from open records laws.
These SWAT teams are supervised by what are called Law Enforcement Councils, or LECs. The LECs are overseen by an executive board of police chiefs from various local police and sheriff’s departments and funded by the various law enforcement offices in the surrounding area. Sometimes, the offices which fund these LECs are headed by the same chiefs who sit on the board.
Funding for an LEC is collected from the departments which make up the LEC, in the form of an annual membership fee. This fee grants the department access to information gathered by other member departments, and also allows the departments the use of a regionalized SWAT team as opposed to a localized team.
The Tewksbury Police Department, for example, paid a $4,600 fee in 2012 to be a part of the North Eastern Massachusetts Law Enforcement Council, or NEMLEC. Currently, NEMLEC consists of over 50 police and sheriff’s offices in Middlesex and Essex Counties in Massachusetts.
Because of the pooled funds to support these LECs, some have incorporated 501(c)(3) organization status. This status, according to the LECs who have claimed such, grants them the privilege to refuse requests to their records.
The problem is, these LECs employ officers who, according to the Washington Post, “carry guns, wear badges, collect paychecks provided by taxpayers and have the power to detain, arrest, injure and kill.” The SWAT teams of the LECs also perform raids on private residences.
Given their status as “private corporations,” this would be akin to private security firms who work independent from the sphere of law carrying out raids on residences.
Jessie Rossman, an ACLU staff attorney in Massachusetts, told the Washington Post, “You can’t have it both ways…The same government authority that allows them to carry weapons, make arrests, and break down the doors of Massachusetts residents during dangerous raids also makes them a government agency that is subject to the open records law.”