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.

How Much Does The Press Care About Race and Policing?

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On October 7, the Joint Committee on the Judiciary of the Massachusetts legislature held a marathon hearing on “Protected Classes. Privacy, and Data Collection Legislation”.

To be fair, Boston.com and the Boston Herald both reproduced an AP wire report from Steven LeBlanc that there was a hearing. But the AP mentioned only the part of the agenda dealing with a bill to ban transgender discrimination in places of public accommodation.

I’m not going to argue that transgender rights aren’t important. They matter a lot. But it’s astounding that, in a year when race and policing have been, you know, kind of in the news, only the Bay State Banner gave decent coverage to the fact that the vast majority of the bills considered at the hearing were about police, profiling, warrants and race. In the Boston Globe’s “Politics” section, they had room for two fawning profiles of elected Democrats (Attorney-General Maura Healey has “indefatigable drive and charisma“, and House Speaker Bob DeLeo has a “slimmed-down and healthier” look), but race and policing didn’t get a look in this time.

So this is what happened regarding racial profiling.

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Local Police May Be Hacking Your Phone: Piercing Secrecy Around Stingrays

Without your knowledge or permission, your smartphone’s calls could be being intercepted right now by your local police department, and your taxes are definitely being misused to pay for unconstitutional police snooping.

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We have reported before on “stingrays”, which started being used by local police departments in around 2006. These devices impersonate a cellphone tower and intercept the calls that would otherwise flow to other actual nearby towers. Initially bulky, stingrays can now be laptop-sized or smaller, and the most advanced models are light enough to be carried by drones. Police departments conceal their use of this technology when applying for warrants to conduct surveillance, so judges can’t distinguish between applying for a “regular” interception on an individual phone and a stingray interception which gathers all traffic from nearby cellphone towers. The devices’ main manufacturer, Harris Corporation, even obliges police departments contractually to conceal their use of stingrays. The Obama administration is so keen to preserve the cloak of secrecy around stingrays that they sent in the US Marshals to prevent the ACLU from obtaining documents relating to stingray use by a north Florida police department. The courts are beginning to recognize the intrusive nature of cellphone tower dump data, but have not yet grappled with the fact that using stingrays, law enforcement don’t have to ask a cellphone company for the data; they can just suck it up without permission.

Now there is a new way to rip that cloak. Popular Science quotes the CEO of ESD America, which manufactures the $3,500 “CryptoPhone 500”, eagerly describing how his phones could detect when stingrays were being used in their vicinity. While testing the CryptoPhone 500 in August, users found 17 sites around the country where stingrays appeared to be being used on passersby. They could detect the use of stingrays because stingrays downgrade your connection from 4G to the less secure 2G and then turn off your phone’s encryption. Normal Android smartphones or IPhones are oblivious to this process.

Twitter users have been speculating whether these 17 sites map onto the sites of fusion centers around the country. Since we’re familiar with both stingrays and fusion centers, we can say conclusively that they don’t. Most sites seem to be in commercial areas, not around fusion center or military locations. ESD is not providing the precise site locations, and stingrays’ mobility further complicates the process of detecting them. We think that CryptoPhone users have captured what is likely to be only a small subset of stingray usage not by fusion centers, or by the NSA, but by regular local police departments around the nation. We’re supporting the efforts of researchers like Muckrock who want to get more transparency about stingray use by police departments, and to keep an eye out for proposals in your community to “upgrade” police department technology.

So, do we all have to go out and upgrade to the CryptoPhone 500 in order to feel safe in our communications? Well, no; there’s another, cheaper way to find out whether the government is using stingrays in your community.

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DA Whitewashes Killing of Lynn Resident By Armed Intruders

After months of pressure, Essex County District Attorney Jonathan W. Blodgett has completed his investigation into the Sept. 5, 2013 killing of Army Specialist Denis Reynoso at his home in Lynn. Yesterday, he released his finding that police were justified in killing him. His findings could be summed up as, “Sure, he hadn’t committed any crime, and sure, the police came into his home without a warrant, but he was acting all cray-cray, so we’re good.”

DA Blodgett’s elaborate work of speculative fiction provides several specific reasons making it justifiable for armed intruders to have killed Spc. Reynoso in his home.

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