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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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  • by hubang (692671) on Friday June 27, 2014 @07:56AM (#47331821)
    If that's how they want to play it, the solution is simple. No taxpayer funding.

    Wasn't "No taxation without representation" coined in (what became) the Commonwealth?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 27, 2014 @07:56AM (#47331823)

    Charge 'em with breaking and entering, assault and battery, and conspiracy to do those things. Guys, are you sure you're not with the government?

  • Re:Private entities? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by jythie (914043) on Friday June 27, 2014 @08:04AM (#47331885)
    When that comes up they are magically government entities again. I would guess that their employees are public but the management team is private, so documents and records are in private hands while all actions which could lead to litigation are being preformed by public servants.
  • by putaro (235078) on Friday June 27, 2014 @08:04AM (#47331887) Journal

    Government officials and organizations have immunity from lawsuits for the most part, however private corporations are not. I'm sure there are any number of potential lawsuits that could be brought against them. I'd say it would be fun to watch them try to dance around the subject but it's not, really. It's sickening.

  • Wait, what? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by gstoddart (321705) on Friday June 27, 2014 @08:07AM (#47331915) Homepage

    Now they're private police forces and not subject to oversight?

    Fine, then they're not law enforcement officers, and have far fewer room to operate legally, and any deaths and the like means they go to jail, right?

    "You can't have it both ways," Jessie Rossman, a staff attorney for the Massachusetts ACLU, told me in a phone interview. "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."

    Exactly. If you're private corporations, you're not cops, you're vigilantes and operating outside of the law. If you're officers of the law, you're subject to oversight.

    The argument that the LECs in Massachusetts are private corporations and therefore immune to the state open records law was made by Jack Collins, the general counsel for the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association.

    And, once again, the 'police' have no interest in upholding the law, just covering their own asses.

    If this doesn't get tossed out by a court or the law makers, this is a terrible precedent. They're asking for the right to do anything they want without oversight or responsibility.

    And it sounds like they've got a long history of doing things which they'd prefer to keep hidden from oversight -- like accidentally killing people.

    In the immortal words of NWA ... Fuck tha police.

  • by DarkOx (621550) on Friday June 27, 2014 @08:08AM (#47331923) Journal

    I think most libertarians would say there is nothing wrong with government outsourcing law enforcement; but there is something wrong with doing so as a way to skirt legal requirements.

    In this example the PEOPLE have enacted records requirements for state and local law enforcement. If the various municipalities want to outsource that is fine but whoever they hire needs to be subject to the same legal requirements. If they are working for the 'state' they are state actors and should be expected to follow the same rules the state is subject; that should be in their contract and if they don't want to agree to those terms then they can't bid on the job. Just like if I want my house painted, anyone is welcome to bid on the job but if you won't make it the color I want than I can't hire you. If the LEC can't follow the records rules for all activities related to their working for law enforcement they can't be hired or that is how it should work.

    As a libertarian though my main issue is really with the state having to much power in the first place. Private security forces are just fine, but they should work for private groups. Your home owners association should be hiring security to keep your neighborhood safe for example, they naturally don't get the legal protection and police powers a 'state' agency would have, which is a powerful and important check on them and you.

  • Plot of Continuum (Score:4, Interesting)

    by GiMP (10923) on Friday June 27, 2014 @08:09AM (#47331929)

    This is basically the plot of Continuum [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Continuum_(TV_series)], which is currently in its third season.

    I know this is a tangent, but there is a pretty good intersection of interests here on Slashdot between science-fiction and rights of the people versus government. The show makes it interesting because the viewer is meant to basically hate both sides, plus it has time-travel.

    *shrug*

  • by OneSizeFitsNoone (3378187) on Friday June 27, 2014 @08:24AM (#47332037) Journal
    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."
  • by DUdsen (545226) on Friday June 27, 2014 @08:25AM (#47332041)
    It's strangely enough not the first time America was under corporate rules, The original Boston tea party did not actually target the British government but "The Company" an organization that looks a lot like the modern multinationals with the exception that it actually employed mercenary armies and ran most of the British Colonies. But then again modern megacorps are getting closer to the same power and structure as the East India Companies" as time progresses and will be even more powerful and even more entangled with the government then the old East India Companies if the trend continues.

    Another strange detail of history is that Adam Smith's "Wealth Of Nations" were written to explain exactly how dangerous those kind of organizations were. And yet those now advocating a return to Mercantilism claims to be followers of Adam Smith ideals.
  • by DarkOx (621550) on Friday June 27, 2014 @08:52AM (#47332257) Journal

    Honestly there should be no such thing as a SWAT team at all. The police are supposed be a safety force.

    If a situation really requires "Special Weapons and Tactics" than I would argue its not merely a criminal enterprise anymore but a rebellion. Its not a job for police at all its a job for the Governors Office and the State Militia (National Guard).

    There needs to some serious accountability, and management by real professionals not Barny Fife playing with the fun new toys he got from his Homeland Security grant.

     

  • Re:Shill (Score:4, Interesting)

    by torkus (1133985) on Friday June 27, 2014 @09:54AM (#47332765)

    That's an interesting thought. You can still sue a governmental agency but as far as I know there's a wholly different set of protections and limitations when it comes to suing cops vs. private corporations.

    I'd also question the legality of them acting as government agents (i.e. cops who arrest/detail/etc.) if they're a private corporation. Last I heard private security does NOT have the same powers as police. Not even close.

  • by Rigel47 (2991727) on Friday June 27, 2014 @09:55AM (#47332775)
    ...in Massachusetts. Seriously, no joke. After the marathon bombings there was an unending outpouring of adulation for the "first respondahs." You'd think they had, at enormous losses, turned back the Taliban from invading Cambridge and raping the childrens. Not, in actuality, shut down the entire city while they raced around with giant hardons in a largely bungled effort to locate a bleeding, unarmed boy hiding in someone's boat in their back yard (whom the homeowner found and frankly should have clubbed to death on the spot). In the process of arresting this unarmed miscreant they unleashed a barrage of fire on the boat very nearly killing the kid in the process.

    Meanwhile folks are still running around with their "Boston Strong" shirts on in one of the lamest displays of self-congratulatory faux heroism that I've ever seen .

    The cops and firefighters are milking it with giant billboards touting some BS about being "on the home team", trying to get people to donate to some police fund. It's pathetic.

    This 501(c)3 nonsense is just further evidence of their warped perspective of what it is "to protect and serve."
  • Re:Shill (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Benmachine (2838661) on Friday June 27, 2014 @11:28AM (#47333787)

    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.

    That isn't entirely the end of it, though. Where the formation of the corporation is little more than a sham, one can "pierce the corporate veil" to target specific tortfeasors within the entity. There are a whole host of different factors that must be proven by a plaintiff attempting to do so, so I won't speculate on whether any particular factor would apply here.

    That being said, the corporate defense appears to be an effort to distance themselves from the legal requirements applicable to a government agency. So if they claim to be immune to FOIA requests, I assume they would agree that sovereign immunity and the need to proceed through a 1983 action against their members in Federal court are equally inapplicable?

  • by ottothecow (600101) on Friday June 27, 2014 @12:27PM (#47334359) Homepage
    Maybe for rural schools or colleges set in nice neighborhoods...but there are a lot of major universities located in areas that would not be very nice but for the presence of the school.

    Look at schools like Columbia, UPenn, UChicago...They all border pretty rough neighborhoods. If the school wasn't there, the area where it sits would be a rough neighborhood too.

    The private police forces keep a safety bubble for students. The local PD has many other things to worry about, while the university police (many of whom are just off-duty cops) can be 100% tasked with patrolling and maintaining student and neighborhood safety.

    It also means that they aren't required to behave exactly the same way as cops are which can be of great benefit for a University that wants to take care of their students without policing them heavily. They can enforce non-law university rules, and they can choose not to enforce other actual laws as strictly as they might if they were on duty regular cops. For instance, I know that at my college, the university police were not big on busting people for underage drinking (obviously, there are other schools where this is the only thing they do...). They would still show up and bust rowdy parties when the neighbors complain, but they wouldn't pull out the breathalyzer and start checking IDs. Similarly, they might not enforce park closing times on a bunch of college kids playing frisbee at midnight, but they would still boot out non-students. Basically, the school pays them to keep kids safe, not to lock them down or hamper their fun--since they aren't the real police, they have a lot more leeway to profile people (e.g. kick you out of the park if nobody in your group can produce a student ID).

  • by orgelspieler (865795) <.w0lfie. .at. .mac.com.> on Friday June 27, 2014 @01:14PM (#47334743) Journal

    Fuck security guards.

    We were going to go to NASA Space Center, and they have a "security checkpoint" before you enter. You know what they're looking for? Food! I couldn't bring in a sandwich so my son with food allergies (yes the real, anaphylaxis kind) could eat lunch with us. All so they could make an extra buck at the snack counter. I guess they got enough complaints, because they allow bottled water now. I raised a big enough stink about it that they finally let me in, but what the fuck? If it's a goddam security check, look for guns and knives and forget the rest. If a little ham is going to cause the Mars exhibit to implode, why don't they have another checkpoint as you leave the food court?!

    Anyway, I would have left, but my wife had already bought the tickets and was pissed at me for raising such a fuss. I was offended that she was not outraged. I mean this is complete bullshit, and she wants to raise our kids to just roll over and take it. More people need to get pissed at these "security" checks. I see it happening at more and more venues: football games, art museums, etc... At least the metal detectors in the courthouse came as a response to actual shootings. But come on, who is going to bother with a terrorist attack on the Duct Tape Museum of Greater Bumfuck? At some point the security measures cost more than what you're actually preventing.

  • by ottothecow (600101) on Friday June 27, 2014 @02:20PM (#47335367) Homepage
    I believe it is common for state universities to have police that are an actual governmental body (rather than a private security force, which may still consist of state-certified officers who have full police powers).

    Also, at least at my school, the majority of university police officers where off duty or retired cops (probably the easiest way to be a state-certified officer...already be one). So instead of working OT for the force (when the commander allows it), they had a stable overtime gig for the university.

  • by Whorhay (1319089) on Friday June 27, 2014 @02:41PM (#47335573)

    "They have no more power than any normal citizen."

    No always accurate. I spent some time as an armed guard when I was much younger. The State actually had a certification course for "Peace Officers" that weren't actually law enforcement officers. It required a couple thousand hours of classroom instruction and an actual exam in order to get the certificate. It didn't give you any actual powers per se but it did signify that you should be a lot more competent in regards to knowing the law. What it did do though was make it a lot easier to find work wherein you had a lot more responsibility. I ended up working for a company that owned a lot of commercial and residential properties, and was empowered to represent the owner when it came to stuff like tresspassing. That isn't a power that any other person wouldn't have if on their own property but the scope is obviously different when comparing a private home and several city blocks of commercial properties.

    The only real extra "power" that I had as an armed guard was the additional certification to carry a sidearm, including while operating a vehicle. I'm not actually sure that it was legal to carry my sidearm a number of the places that I did, but I never had to find out because nobody questioned it at the time. Had I entered those places not as an armed guard but as civilian I would definitely have been stopped and probably arrested.

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