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Hullabaloo


Saturday, June 28, 2014

 
Clever authoritarian tricks

by digby

This is a neat trick:
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.
That's very clever, you have to admit.

I think the militarization aspect also has a different dimension here. They probably came to this privatization scheme from the experience of private contractors in Iraq which operated outside the normal military justice system but were also granted immunity from the Iraqi justice system because it was a war zone. When the US attempted to try some Blackwater murderers back in the US it was hampered by the byzantine rules of immunity that were granted in Iraq. The ultimate Catch-22.

The idea here would be to take what would be normal police operations and "incorporate" them so they can benefit from not having to be accountable by the taxpayers as government officials while maintaining the various grants of immunity that are given to government authorities.Very creative.

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