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Massachusetts SWAT Teams Claim They're Private Corporations, Immune To Oversight 534

Posted by Soulskill
from the you-can-trust-us dept.
New submitter thermowax sends a report on how Massachusetts SWAT teams are dodging open records requests by claiming to be corporations. From the article: 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. ... 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.
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Massachusetts SWAT Teams Claim They're Private Corporations, Immune To Oversight

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  • Private entities? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 27, 2014 @08:55AM (#47331813)

    So, if they're not government entities, then they're private entities, and as such not entitled to qualified immunity for their actions, right? So if they damage a house or hurt an individual, they're on the hook for damages (and criminal actions), and can't claim immunity from the courts...

  • by Sockatume (732728) on Friday June 27, 2014 @08:57AM (#47331833)

    Not a libertarian, but to play devil's advocate for a moment: the problem is that they're a state-appointed-and-run agency, so this isn't properly privatised. You have the bad half of privatisation, but not the good half. You could argue that if the system was actually an open market with private security firms competing for the government's business then you'd have open-ness.

    Now as far as I'm concerned, history has proven that it'd never actually work out that way, but there you go.

  • by jcr (53032) <jcr@NoSPaM.mac.com> on Friday June 27, 2014 @08:57AM (#47331835) Journal

    Libertarians should love this

    What's your next guess, asshole?

    Libertarians are against the initiation of violence, whether the perps are government thugs or quasi-private organizations like this. You can shove your smug little digs right back up the hole it came from.

    -jcr

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 27, 2014 @08:58AM (#47331837)

    They want the monetary and security advantages of being paid with taxpayer money without having to comply with the legal requirements of a taxpayer funded government organization. If they are allowed to get away with that, would anybody here like to guess here where it will go next?

  • by Lumpy (12016) on Friday June 27, 2014 @08:58AM (#47331839) Homepage

    FBI raid and arrest everyone in the SWAT team, put them in prison and charge them with Racketeering. Do it very public, invite the media and make these scumbags a lesson to cops across the country that they work FOR the citizens and must act as "public servants" and not a street gang.

  • by qbast (1265706) on Friday June 27, 2014 @09:02AM (#47331871)
    You are joking, but I can see something like 'number of arrests per dollar spent' becoming a way to compare and select LEC.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 27, 2014 @09:03AM (#47331879)
    that will create a private army paid for by the rich, right here on US soil. The simple solution is, no open records = no policing powers.
  • by i.r.id10t (595143) on Friday June 27, 2014 @09:06AM (#47331907)

    Better, possession of un-taxed NFA items.

    Especially if anything is select fire and made after '86 since the only non-mil and non-LEO that can possess such are FFL holders with the SOT to deal in NFA stuff....

  • by gstoddart (321705) on Friday June 27, 2014 @09:15AM (#47331965) Homepage

    So, they're vigilantes then?

    Sorry, but if it looks like a cop, and shoots people like a cop, and can arrest people like a cop, it needs oversight like a cop.

    If people think police departments are terrible at investigating their own wrong doing now, wait until they're private corporations and can simply say "piss off".

    If these clowns want to be private corporations, fire them all, and then tell them they're only legally allowed to be mall cops.

    If they want to be cops, they're part of whatever level of government gives them the legal authority to operate, and subject to the applicable laws.

    Any refusal to hand over the records should lead to dismissal, or criminal charges.

  • by CanHasDIY (1672858) on Friday June 27, 2014 @09:15AM (#47331969) Homepage Journal

    Well, no, libertarians in the current erra are against 3rd party public oversight of initiated violence.

    It never stops entertaining me when someone who's not a member of a group feels compelled to explain to people who are members of the group how the aforementioned group thinks.

  • by bill_mcgonigle (4333) * on Friday June 27, 2014 @09:15AM (#47331977) Homepage Journal

    That means they should also forfeit the right to sovereign immunity. So fuck these assholes.

    Correct. They can be prosecuted for breaking and entering, assault with a deadly weapon, involuntary restraint, kidnapping, etc.

    Your move, Mass Gestapo, err, I mean SWAT.

  • by SJHillman (1966756) on Friday June 27, 2014 @09:15AM (#47331979)

    Well, he never said that he was a Libertarian.

  • Shill (Score:0, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 27, 2014 @09:16AM (#47331983)

    If you are not a cop then I'm toto the flying fluffy dog.

  • by MobSwatter (2884921) on Friday June 27, 2014 @09:17AM (#47331993)

    Automatic weapons in the hands of corporate employee's protected by a shield? Anyone else see the potential for drama here? I cannot fathom that a ride along will justify this in my mind.

  • by DarkOx (621550) on Friday June 27, 2014 @09:18AM (#47332007) Journal

    Except that at the federal level we have an FBI and DOJ that spend much of their time advising local law enforcement to if not outright lie, at least not to advertise their capabilities and methods. Then we have all kinds of federal money being appropriated at the federal level and handed to the Homeland Security to distribute to local law enforcement specifically to help them militarize.

    In short I don't really really see what you suggest happening, not unless in a surprise upset Gary Johnson is elected president in 2016. Its much more likely the FBI will help intimidate and silence anyone who makes to much noise about this issue.

  • by CanHasDIY (1672858) on Friday June 27, 2014 @09:19AM (#47332009) Homepage Journal

    My thoughts precisely.

    Since they're saying they aren't a government entity, then they do not have governmental authority to supersede the law, which makes them nothing more than brigands.

    Also, as a private entity, that means they can be sued into bankruptcy. Which I, for one, would love to see.

  • by gstoddart (321705) on Friday June 27, 2014 @09:22AM (#47332027) Homepage

    No, this is a government entity which has decided it isn't a government entity, but still has the right to operate as if it were.

    Sorry, but a government entity doesn't get to declare independence from the part that gives is legitimacy.

    If these guys are a corporation, they can pay their own salaries, and operate under the sames rules as private security firms. Which means they're no longer police officers.

    If they want to be law enforcement, well, that means they aren't private corporations, and they are subject to oversight.

    Especially when they have a history of playing fast and loose with the law, 'using fictional informants to obtain warrants ', and other shady activities.

  • by itzly (3699663) on Friday June 27, 2014 @09:27AM (#47332061)
    It is about as entertaining when a member of a group feels compelled to explain how other members of the group think.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 27, 2014 @09:32AM (#47332091)

    "They put up with massive amounts of shit so they should be allowed to get away with this..."
    That is your defense?

  • by sycodon (149926) on Friday June 27, 2014 @09:33AM (#47332101)

    No, he's right.

    SWAT is out of control and needs some serious reigning in. They should be limited to being deployed only where there is solid information that a suspect is armed and dangerous. Addresses should be checked by no less than three people...one on the team, the team supervisor, and upper level supervision. Targets should be observed and confirmed to be present and all attempts made to apprehend them outside of residences.

    Further, team members should be criminally and civilly liable for the injury and deaths of innocents at their hand.

    Too many innocent people are being killed and maimed by SWAT raids, too many SWAT raids are occurring, and too many times there is no repercussion for fucking things up and blowing a hole in little kid's chest. [ajc.com]

    If, during an interaction between law enforcement and the public, someone dies, the best option is that it's the bad guy killed by a cop. Second best option is it's a cop killed by a bad guy, the worst option and one that should be avoided at all costs, even the cost of the life of a cop, is an innocent civilian being killed by a cop.

    You can't have representatives of the State killing innocents and then just saying "Whoops, my bad" and then throwing money at the family.

  • by msauve (701917) on Friday June 27, 2014 @09:33AM (#47332103)
    Cops working for private corporations (e.g. sidelining as concert security) are not performing as public servants, and are personally liable for their actions. This should be no different.
  • by Required Snark (1702878) on Friday June 27, 2014 @09:39AM (#47332159)
    Remember when VP Cheney said he didn't have to comply with record requests because he not in the Executive, Legislative or Judicial branch of government? This is copy of his playbook.

    It's become a rather common excuse. These days it is typically mixed up with corporate claims of privacy. Essentially corporate secrecy is used as a way if short circuiting the rule of law. That's how the police departments that use Stingray cell phone interception technology to shred constitutional protections avoid admitting what they are doing: they have a confidentiality clause with the company who makes the device. Same thing with fracking chemicals: they can pump any toxic crap that they want to into the ground because it's a business secret.

    So where were all the right wingers when this was going down during the Bush era? You know, the ones who are now claiming that Obama is destroying the constitution? Massive amnesia and/or massive hypocrisy?

    (Personally I am furious with Obama because he has continued the blatantly unconstitutional policies of the Bush years, but at least I am not lying through my teeth and supporting one executive while screeching like a stuck pig when a democrat does the same kind of crap.)

  • by Jane Q. Public (1010737) on Friday June 27, 2014 @10:08AM (#47332377)

    The corporation stance is stupid legal wrangling.

    It's not even that. It's unthinking shooting themselves in the foot.

    Private corporations might not be subject to oversight, but they also lack legal authority to conduct SWAT raids on citizens. In fact, that should net them a pretty good number of years in prison.

    On the other hand, I'd never become a cop due to the incredibly ridiculous amount of liability, red tape, blatantly lying "news" channels and papers

    You should send thanks to the heavens for every one of those things.

    and blame for having to enforce bad laws.

    But not that one.

  • by stenvar (2789879) on Friday June 27, 2014 @10:09AM (#47332383)

    Almost right, but you got your ideologies mixed up a little.

    If they voluntarily pool their resources to protect themselves, that is libertarianism.

    If they are prevented from pooling their resources and government forces them to pay for the protection through an unaccountable private corporation, that is progressivism.

    As this case illustrates.

  • by swb (14022) on Friday June 27, 2014 @10:16AM (#47332431)

    Sunshine laws need to be updated. Regardless of whether the JPA entity owns anything or not, it provides ample opportunity to hide and obfuscate information, whether physically in JPA controlled offices or by misdirection ("We don't have that, contact XYZ county." "No, that information is controlled by the Joint Fubar corporation, we don't keep those records."). And more often than not such situations would probably result from general bureaucratic morass as much as malice.

    I also find it curious that someone would even *ask* whether they were exempt from data practices laws. Why ask if you don't intend to disobey them? The intent of data practices laws is to promote open government, any organization controlled by the government should follow the rules as if they were a governmental organization.

    The government should not ever have the ability to form organizations they can delegate authority to that are immune from laws regulating the government.

  • by goodmanj (234846) on Friday June 27, 2014 @10:19AM (#47332449)

    I strongly disagree. The military, including the national guard, has lots of training in killing, but little training in hostage recovery, preservation of criminal evidence, the rights of suspects, and protecting the safety of bystanders.

    The police fall down on these things a lot, but at least they know how they're *supposed* to work. The national guard are the people you send in when you intend to kill citizens and you don't intend to have a trial afterward. (This is why the "peaceful" deployments of the guard in the civil rights era ended with dead citizens: that's their job.)

    There is a time and a place for military suppression of unrest, but the SWAT team is an absolutely necessary middle ground between the beat cop and martial law.

  • by sjbe (173966) on Friday June 27, 2014 @10:29AM (#47332527)

    This is simply a contracting issue. The state can put disclosure and transparency requirements in the contract, the private company can agree or not get the contract.

    Whether or not they put it in a contract is irrelevant. A contract is void if it contradicts the law and the argument they are making pretty clearly contradicts the law in all likelihood. The argument this company is making is that they are not subject to rule of law, specifically the oversight that applies to law officers and their activities. Essentially they are arguing that the law doesn't apply to them because the check is from a private company even though the activities are unambiguously on the behalf of the government.

    Basically if their argument is correct then they are private citizens engaging in vigilante activities and they should be in jail. If their argument is wrong then they are in violation a host of other laws and they should be in jail. Either way it has nothing to do with contract law.

  • Re:Shill (Score:5, Insightful)

    by B'Trey (111263) on Friday June 27, 2014 @10:30AM (#47332535)

    Actually, this may not be so bad. If they're not government agencies, then they're not immune to lawsuits and when they bust in the wrong house, that person can sue the hell out of them, right?

  • by bigpat (158134) on Friday June 27, 2014 @10:35AM (#47332593)

    In its purest ideological form, Libertarianism is about promoting Liberty and the limitation of the use of force by the government for police and common defense not the privatization of the use of force. "Privatizing" by merely contracting with corporations instead of individuals to act as police or government agents has nothing to do at all with libertarianism. Privatizing in this sense is just a form of contract with a group of individuals instead of individuals directly. Similarly to contracting with a labor union that represents public employees.

    In this sense "privatizing" in general has nothing to do with libertarianism if it means that government is still paying with taxpayer money which is collected by the use of force. Police and Military are fundamentally the only legitimate use of government's taxing authority and even then taxes should be considered a necessary evil, but only necessary if the government can't collect sufficient money with a voluntary system.

    In this case I think an important line would have been crossed if the SWAT team direction, oversight and management is coming from a private corporation. To abdicate the police powers of the government to a private corporation would be very much anti-libertarian. Very anti-libertarian. And regardless of ideology I hope people will recognize it as a bad idea that should be reconsidered.

    I think liberty is a worthwhile ideal to work towards, but first you have to understand what it means.

  • Re:Shill (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Firethorn (177587) on Friday June 27, 2014 @10:48AM (#47332719) Homepage Journal

    The problem with suing them is that you can only target the corp's assets. Structuring it in such a way that the 'company' doesn't actually have any is pretty standard.

    I'm thinking that the BATFE needs to come inspect them to make sure they're in full compliance with the NFA. The regulations are completely different between being a government agency like a police department and a commercial company like a 501(c)(3). I'm also willing to bet that they use government letterhead to purchase restricted stuff.

    BATFE: Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives
    NFA: National Firearms Act. Federal law regul

  • Re:Shill (Score:4, Insightful)

    by sumdumass (711423) on Friday June 27, 2014 @10:58AM (#47332809) Journal

    Sue? Where is the law that gives them criminal immunity and how is it remotely constitutional?

    If they are a private company, they should be subject to the same laws every other company and citizen or person is subject to.

  • by causality (777677) on Friday June 27, 2014 @11:00AM (#47332833)

    Such a coincidence, just today I read this: http://www.zerohedge.com/news/... [zerohedge.com] "10 Facts About The SWATification Of America That Everyone Should Know" "The number of SWAT team raids in the United States every year is now more than 25 times higher than it was back in 1980."

    The best way to change that is to legalize all personal drug use. If the War on Drugs was successful at accomplishing any of its stated goals then we could have a debate about this, but it isn't, and no honest person who looks into the matter would conclude otherwise. Anyone who wants to do drugs can easily obtain them.

    The only things we can control are whether criminal gangs or legitimate businesses will profit from this, and whether law enforcement gets to keep its single biggest excuse for militarizing itself. The idea that we can stop people who want drugs from using them is a dangerous fantasy with staggering social costs and always has been.

    If you really want to minimize the impact of the portion of drug users who are irresponsible, a small fraction of what we spend now could be put towards treating it as a public medical/mental health issue, not a criminal/law-enforcement issue. Treatment can be offered to those who need it. Legal drugs would be cheap, plentiful and unadulterated, making their use safer and removing the incentive for the worst of addicts to rob and steal to obtain them. It would also go a long way towards creating the expectation that people should be responsible adults who do not need to be told how to live by a paternalistic government that parasitically profits from their problems.

  • by Dishevel (1105119) on Friday June 27, 2014 @11:03AM (#47332865)
    Security guards have the same powers that anyone else has.

    They have no more power than any normal citizen.

    Oh. And Fuck Cops. The ones that murder and violate our rights and kill our dogs, and the ones that stand by while they watch their buddies break the law they were sworn to protect.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 27, 2014 @11:43AM (#47333265)

    Go do some ride-alongs with your local police to see what they put up with.

    Boo fucking hoo. Being a cop is a shitty job. Guess what? LOTS of jobs are shitty. Is it risky? Not compared to being a fisherman, a lumberjack, a farm hand, a ranch hand, a truck driver, a steelworker, a pilot, or a garbageman-- all of whose per-capita workplace fatalities in the US are far higher than cops.

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