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Massachusetts SWAT Teams: We're Private Corporations, Immune from Open Records Laws

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  • Massachusetts SWAT Teams: We're Private Corporations, Immune from Open Records Laws

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/t...ws/?tid=pm_pop
    Some of these Law Enforcement Corporations have apparently incorporated as 501(c)(3) organizations. And it's here that we run into problems. 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 citizens aren't permitted to know how often the SWAT teams are used, what they're used for, what sort of training they receive, or who they're primarily deployed against.

    This really is amazing, and one of the most cynical things I've seen a government agency try and do. They're not even claiming exemptions from open records requests under FOIA. They're simply saying FOIA doesn't apply to them. They're dishonestly attempting to bootstrap aspects of corporate law onto their operations and then hiding from public scrutiny behind the veil of incorporation.

    It also raises some interesting questions regarding the officers' qualified immunity under state law. Pretending to be a private corporation to avoid freedom of information requests is one thing, but wouldn't that also mean giving up other things in the bargain?
    The claim by the Massachusetts LECs in response to the ACLU's demand under Freedom of Information laws is a cute attempt to twist corporate law with public authority law, but it is sheer, unadulterated nonsense. They can be one or the other. They cannot, by definition, be both.

    The curious question is that if a cop claims to be exercising police authority on behalf of a private entity, does he lose qualified immunity for his actions, and subject himself to the same tort law as anyone else? It would seem so, not because he's right about working for an LEC private corporation, but because he subjectively disavows the protections he would otherwise have if he functioned under the authority of the state. He has effectively stripped himself of immunity, as well as authority.

  • #2
    I really didn't read your rant but my city's fire department is a 501 c3. They are a private non profit that is paid for by the city.

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    • #3
      Originally posted by Tmg View Post
      I really didn't read your rant but my city's fire department is a 501 c3. They are a private non profit that is paid for by the city.
      If it's paid for by the city, it ain't private, chief. By definition.

      And how exactly is what I wrote a rant? And how is that distinguished from all of the other commentary that occurs with regularity on these boards every day?

      (Or, in the alternative, you could just be refreshingly honest and admit that your definition of "rant" is "Anything I don't like or disagree with".)

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      • #4
        The author of that article is Radley balko. He has a clear libertarian anti government and especially anti police agenda. I am very hesitant to take anything he says or writes as straight forward truth.

        Is there some concern? Sure. Is he being totally honest and thorough in his story? No, I would bet he has cherry picked specific examples and ignored substantial evidence to the contrary.
        semper destravit

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        • #5
          Very anti-LE article in general, trying to make the very existence of SWAT teams sound like a horribly unconstitutional institution. I've found sadly that too many of these libertarians are against the very idea of law enforcement because they seem to believe that the Constitution says that nobody is allowed to tell anyone what to do ever. I consider myself a conservative/libertarian, but it still annoys me that so many others that call themselves the same are stuck in their terrible twos.

          That said, any organization with the power and authority to enforce laws and deprive people of their freedom or even their life needs to be answerable to the public that they police. But I'm sure there's more to the story than what Balko wrote.
          "If the police have to come get you, they're bringing an @$$ kicking with them!"
          -Chris Rock

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          • #6
            Sounds like this one is headed for the courts. It's got litigation written all over it. Might be a good one to follow.

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