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.
via – Massachusetts SWAT Teams Insist They’re Private Corporations With No Public Accountability.
Massachusetts Police Form Private Corporation
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.” These 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 significantly. 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.
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.
4 thoughts on “Massachusetts Police Form Private Corporations”
James, I can’t imagine anybody not recognizing this as an ethics issue. If these SWAT teams shoulder responsibilities and protections as wards of government, which is clearly identified as “by the people” in the primary document guiding this government, they cannot claim exemption from public scrutiny. I can’t imagine any court ruling that would support such a supposition. But then, we’ve seen a number of outlandish court rulings in recent years, so this is very worrisome to say the least.
The more I look at law enforcement councils, the more troubled I become. In New York State, they have a legislative agenda they present each year. I don’t like the public and the private so intermixed. Thank you for your kind comments. I have been following your blog for a while now and enjoy your work. jp
Thanks, James, I appreciate your interest. I think we’ve seen this current trend building for some time, now. We know there has virtually always been corruption in law enforcement at one level or another. Still, it seems (note the word “seems”) to have become more brazen recently. We saw it during the Occupy peaceful protests. Those incidents were reminiscent of the union busting incidents we’ve seen historically. There is an undeniable undercurrent of something undemocratic occurring at an increasing rate.
The more I read about it, the more disturbed I become. What is public and private is becoming blurred, and that distinction is critical to our basic freedoms. If a corporation can have a religion, can a police department working through a private corporation exert rights of their own?
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