A public records battle is brewing in Massachusetts between the state’s ACLU regional chapter and a coalition of law enforcement agencies who have formed a private corporation and are now claiming they are exempt from public records laws.
"NEMLEC counts 59 municipal police and sheriff agencies among its members."
In December, NEMLEC filed a motion to dismiss the ACLU of Massachusetts’ public records request, claiming it is a private corporation not subject to the state’s Public Records Law, and does not need to provide documents, such as their SWAT team policies and procedures and how many raids they have executed or for what purpose.
"NEMLEC filed its motion to dismiss the suit in state Superior Court in Boston on Friday, when the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts also filed its response asking the court to deny the motion and allow its suit to go forward.
In asking the court to dismiss the lawsuit on Friday, NEMLEC said it is immune from the disclosure requirements of the Public Records Law because it is not among the types of entities covered by the law. The law names only entities created by the state and its political subdivisions, such as cities and towns, NEMLEC said."
“That claim is wrong,” the Civil Liberties Union responded in its motion asking the Suffolk Superior Court to keep the suit alive. “Controlled by an executive board of police chiefs and substantially funded by taxpayer dollars, NEMLEC possesses equipment and conducts operations that are lawful only when possessed or conducted by public entities. The police officers who participate in NEMLEC operations do so under the color of law, with the full privileges and immunities of a law enforcement agency.”
The Civil Liberties Union added that, although NEMLEC is structured as a non-profit corporation, it functions “with all the privileges and immunities afforded to law enforcement agencies, such as entering homes by force and without consent, investigating and arresting individuals, serving warrants and using lethal weapons.”
As Radley Balko reported in the Washington Post, approximately 240 of the 351 police departments in Massachusetts belong to an “LEC,” or law enforcement council, and LECs oversee police activities and deploy municipal cops and SWAT teams.
“Our neighborhoods are not war zones, and police officers should not be treating us like wartime enemies,” the report said. “And yet, every year, billions of dollars’ worth of military equipment flows from the federal government to state and local police departments. Departments use these wartime weapons in everyday policing, especially to fight the wasteful and failed drug war, which has unfairly targeted people of color.”