Police urge broadened arrest law
Would allow them outside jurisdiction
A pending appeal to the state’s highest court on whether to reinstate the latest drunken driving conviction of a habitual offender is shining new light on proposed legislation that would give local law enforcement agencies the power to make arrests outside their jurisdiction.
Local police chiefs and officers have been closely tracking an appeal before the Supreme Judicial Court involving the 2007 conviction of Joseph F. Limone of Winthrop, which was thrown out in Appeals Court last year after it was determined an off-duty police officer involved in the case exceeded his powers outside his jurisdiction.
An opinion from the justices could be rendered in the next few weeks, based on oral arguments that were heard Sept. 8.
Mark K. Leahy, president of the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association, has asked chiefs across the state to keep Nov. 3 open in their calendars for a scheduled hearing at the State House on a bill filed on behalf of the association that would extend a police officer’s power to stop, issue citations, and arrest a person into bordering communities. Another bill, which is opposed by the State Police union and has been killed multiple times in the Legislature, proposes giving full enforcement authority to local police statewide.
Leahy hopes the Limone case helps to highlight for legislators “how utterly foolish’’ it is not to give local police powers outside their jurisdictions.
“We’ve been coming back [to Beacon Hill] year after year. We’re really trying to drive home the point that this needs to be corrected,’’ Leahy said.
The loophole should have been closed 23 years ago by the Legislature, Leahy said, after the Supreme Judicial Court issued a landmark decision on another multiple-community drunken driving case.
In that case, justices agreed that charges against Paul LeBlanc should be dropped because he had been pulled over, given field sobriety tests, and arrested by a Natick police officer who had followed LeBlanc into neighboring Framingham. However, in their opinion, the justices pointed out past instances in which the Legislature had broadened “police officers’ territorial authority.’’
The “Legislature knows how to expand the extraterritorial authority of the police when it thinks it fit to do so,’’ the justices state in the opinion. “The Legislature has chosen not to provide the police with extraterritorial authority to make stops for traffic violations. If it wishes to modify that judgment, it may do so.’’
In that opinion, the justices also stated that in the absence of legislation, police departments may have their officers sworn in to other police forces in neighboring communities to validate arrests outside their jurisdictions. Departments in Chelsea, Everett, Malden, Revere, Saugus, and Winthrop took advantage of that provision, agreeing to have 70 police officers sworn in to each community’s department in March.
Although none of the departments have had to exercise that power in the last six months, officials said they’re glad to have that tool if they ever need it.
“It’s there for us to use and it’s better than nothing,’’ said Malden Chief James J. Holland. “Better to have that police presence and close that loophole that criminals know about.’’
Revere Chief Terence K. Reardon said he is pleased with the partnership because it gives the six communities an answer when certain arrests or investigations are challenged in court.
“We’re just crossing our t’s and dotting our i’s,’’ Reardon said. “Clearly we all go to the same academies, we’re all trained in the same laws. But you could be witnessing a crime and not be able to act with legal authority because you’re not in your city. It makes no sense to me.’’
Everett Police Chief Steven Mazzie said it took Chelsea Police Chief Brian Kyes, who came up with the idea, a couple of years to meet with other department chiefs, draft and agree on legal language, and collect all the necessary signatures before the swearing in of the 70 officers. If the Legislature follows through with what was suggested in the LeBlanc case, it would provide uniform language for police departments statewide.
“It’s just more efficient to have this, the ability to have this, than not to have it,’’ Mazzie said. “The State Police have their own priorities and caseloads and might conflict with what we want to do in our city or town.’’
In the 2007 case, off-duty Somerville police officer Robert Kelleher was on his way home from a shift when his personal vehicle was rear-ended in Woburn by a car being driven by Limone. Kelleher, who was in uniform, approached Limone’s car, asked Limone to step outside, suspected Limone was drunk, took the keys out of Limone’s ignition, and asked him to step back into his car while Kelleher returned to his car to call Woburn police. Limone’s conviction was thrown out on appeal.
In oral arguments before the Supreme Judicial Court on Sept. 8, Middlesex Assistant District Attorney Kevin Curtin argued: “This case presents an opportunity to articulate clear and helpful lines between official conduct and private conduct in a context of off-duty police officers.’’ He added that Kelleher can’t be blamed for being in uniform, and that how he handled the situation “did not constitute arrest, and the officer returned to his own car, consistent with private conduct.’’
Limone’s attorney, Robert H. D’Auria, argued at the hearing that Kelleher went beyond what a private citizen would do in telling Limone to get back in his car and wait for police.
“When you add a police uniform and the color of the law behind everything this ‘citizen’ says or does, it has to be viewed in a different light,’’ D’Auria told the justices. “Before we expand the authority of a police officer to engage in this conduct outside of their territorial jurisdiction, we have to also take note of the potential for anarchy and vigilantism. . . . Do we want a guy from Nevada, [saying] ‘Hey, I happen to have my uniform,’ making these types of decisions in Massachusetts? Do we want to promote that?’’
In July, Limone, who does not have a valid driver’s license, was stopped in Revere by State Police and charged with drunken driving for the eighth time.
Leahy said he hopes the Legislature will take the extra step that justices pointed out in the LeBlanc decision.
“The wild thing about this is that it’s not complicated,’’ he said. “We [would] be prepared to address situations that we couldn’t address for LeBlanc and Limone.’’