ACLU Sues Regional Police Group for SWAT Records

A BearCat vehicle used by the North Eastern Massachusetts Law Enforcement Council. This image was posted to Pinterest by the Burlington Police Department.
A BearCat vehicle used by the North Eastern Massachusetts Law Enforcement Council. This image was posted to Pinterest by the Burlington Police Department.
Burlington Police Department

The ACLU of Massachusetts has sued a regional law enforcement council for records pertaining to the group’s SWAT team.

The North Eastern Massachusetts Law Enforcement Council, the target of the lawsuit, is comprised of officers from 58 municipal police and sheriff departments in Middlesex and Essex counties.

“The lawsuit is about public accountability,” ALCU attorney Laura Rotolo told Boston.com. “We have been trying to document the militarization of police departments around the country.”

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According to the lawsuit filed Tuesday in Suffolk Superior Court, the ACLU asked NEMLEC and other regional law enforcement councils in the state for records pertaining to procurement, training and use of both the SWAT and Rapid Response Team.

As part of an effort to document regional policing operations, the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Massachusetts (“ACLUM”) requested documents concerning NEMLEC’s SWAT Team and RRT in July 2012. The request sought NEMLEC’s training materials, incident reports, deployment statistics, guidelines, procurement records, budgets, agreements with other agencies and documents relating to the structure of the SWAT team and RRT.

NEMLEC refused to provide the documents, saying it was a private, nonprofit organization and not subject to the state’s public record law.

“NEMLEC itself may be a private organization, but it puts itself out there as a law enforcement agency,” said Rotolo. “It serves warrants, it enters houses without consent, they are experts in hostage situations and negotiations. They are acting like a law enforcement agency.”

Rotolo said many of the weapons and equipment NEMLEC uses can only be bought and used by law enforcement agencies. She pointed to the BearCat as an example.

A BearCat is an armored vehicle used by many police departments and SWAT teams, she said.

“Only law enforcement agencies can purchase these and NEMLEC has one,” she said.

It’s unclear whether NEMLEC as an entity purchases the equipment or if local police and sheriff departments does the procurement. Rotolo said getting NEMLEC’s records would help clear that up.

On its website, NEMLEC said it shares equipment and manpower for its SWAT/RRT team.

From the NEMLEC website:

The primary purpose for the establishment of the NEMLEC RRT and SWAT teams was to share equipment and manpower. Having been formed in 1967, the NEMLEC Chiefs of Police expressed a need for a large group of well-trained police officers to assist the NEMLEC communities with law enforcement issues beyond the resources of the individual NEMLEC police agencies.

Wilmington Police Chief Michael Begonis is the current president of NEMLEC and is control chief of the organization’s SWAT and RRT team. Begonis declined to comment, saying he had not yet seen the lawsuit from the ACLU.