Massachusetts’ Law Enforcement Councils: Born In Infamy, Sustained By Fear

NEMLEC BACK

The reporters at the Bay State Examiner, Maya Shaffer and Andrew Quemere, do real journalism – the kind that chases stories of misdeeds in high places, instead of breathlessly reproducing press releases on celebrities in rehab. They’re in it for truth, not for big paydays and access to power.

Their latest piece, produced in collaboration with BINJ and DigBoston, sheds light on the operation of NEMLEC. NEMLEC is one of Massachusetts’ “Law Enforcement Councils”, shadowy 501(c)(3) entities that outwardly exist to coordinate the activities and equipment of police departments.

In reality, NEMLEC was founded in the 1960s, as its own mission stated – till people noticed in 2014 that this was, well, hellaciously racist, among other things – to address “disorder associated with suburban sprawl as people migrated from larger cities, the development of the interstate highway system, the civil rights movement and the growing resistance to the Vietnam War [all of which] threatened to overwhelm the serenity of the quaint, idyllic New England towns north and west of Boston.”

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Yep, those darned hippy peaceniks and black radicals wanting outrageous things like peace and justice were a threat to the “serenity” of founding departments in Wakefield, Wilmington, Woburn and five other jurisdictions north of Boston; and 43 other police departments, including my own town of Belmont, found this `urban threat’ message so urgent and compelling that they signed up too. Law enforcement, then and now, is deeply suspicious of people who argue that the status quo should change.

In service of that mission, the LECs’ job nowadays is to coordinate SWAT raids, mostly on minor drug warrants; to foster the militarization of member police departments by pooling high-grade equipment; and to provide military-style training, like “Urban Shield“, that encourages well-meaning law enforcement officers to regard members of the public as the enemy.

NEMLEC and the other law enforcement councils recently settled a lawsuit with the ACLU where they conceded that they were in fact subject to the public records law. Shaffer and Quemere decided to test this out. It took “nearly two months, seven in-person visits, numerous phone calls and emails, and a run-in with the Wilmington police” to get (some of) the records they were seeking. Their story details an agency that is really hoping that nobody finds out what they’re doing, and points up the significant flaws in Massachusetts’ public records laws.

We’re looking forward eagerly to the next installment in this series to see what these hard-won records reveal.

Our New Bill, H2169, Reining In Militarization in Massachusetts

DemocracyLooksLike

Last month, we broke the news that even small towns in Massachusetts, like Rehoboth and Norfolk, were getting mine-resistant armored vehicles for free from the federal government, and had no good answer for why they needed them.

Last Friday was the deadline for filing bills for the Massachusetts legislature’s 2015-16 session, and we took the opportunity to draft a solution to the state’s police militarization problem.

Sponsored by Rep. Denise Provost (D-Somerville), our bill doesn’t ban police departments altogether from getting military-style equipment. What it does is forbid them from getting them for free, either from the federal government or as a gift from any third party. If they want to get military equipment (including stingrays or drones), the mayor and city council (in a city) or the selectmembers (in a town) have to vote publicly to approve that purchase, in effect forcing the purchase to come out of municipal funds.

Right now, the process is not democratic. The federal surplus programs are a remote corner of the federal budget, and their costs are a rounding error in DC. But to the taxpayers of a town like Rehoboth, it makes a big difference whether it’s them or the feds paying for a $700,000 MRAP.

Continue reading “Our New Bill, H2169, Reining In Militarization in Massachusetts”

Black, Brown & Targeted: ACLU Report Reveals Massive 4th Amendment Violations by Boston PD

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Finally, after many years of effort, the ACLU of MA has been able to secure release and analysis (by a third party) of data on police stops in Boston. What was found should grossly offend anyone with a belief that people ought to be equal before the law.

Their data spans 2007-2010, covering reported stops that did not result in arrest. During that time, for fully three-quarters of such stops, the reason the police stated for the stop was not suspicion of any identifiable crime, but simply “Investigate Person.”

Investigate Person?

Continue reading “Black, Brown & Targeted: ACLU Report Reveals Massive 4th Amendment Violations by Boston PD”

The Day We Fought Back: Here’s what comes next

Photo credit: theintercept.org
Photo credit: theintercept.org

Yesterday, the Internet lit up in protest against mass surveillance. In the US, Congress got over 85,000 phone calls from people frustrated by mass surveillance, and urging their legislators to support the USA FREEDOM Act. Here in Massachusetts, we worked with the ACLU of Massachusetts to target the specific legislators who had not cosponsored. Our heartfelt thanks go out to Rep. Joseph Kennedy (MA-04) and Rep. Katherine Clark (MA-05), who cosponsored over the last week. Our puzzled and insistent glare turns to Rep. Niki Tsongas (MA-03), who has not cosponsored yet and is still considering the matter. The USA FREEDOM Act is currently listed at 134 cosponsors (though that doesn’t yet officially include Rep. Clark, and there may be, after yesterday, other “undeclared cosponsors”).

What’s next? Well, There is a real-deal NSA reform bill, that would repeal the infamous PATRIOT Act altogether, along with the FISA Amendments Act, forbid mandatory software backdoors, and give whistleblower protections to government contractors as well as employees. It’s called the Surveillance State Repeal Act. One of its nine cosponsors is none other than Rep. Richard Neal (MA-01), who has not yet cosponsored the USA FREEDOM Act either, it seems because it is not strong enough. We applaud his commitment, but would argue that it’s not an either-or – we’d love to see him cosponsor both. It’s great to see that two other Massachusetts legislators – Rep. James McGovern (MA-02) and Rep. John Tierney (MA-06) – are also among the nine cosponsors, putting Massachusetts at the forefront of efforts to restore freedom and the Fourth Amendment.

So let’s keep moving, and let’s encourage our legislators to cosponsor both of these good bills. And meanwhile, check out our awesome calendar (right) of surveillance-related events coming up in Massachusetts!