Tag Archives: Police Searches

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 ā€œdisorder 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.ā€

NEMLEC-mapcompress

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.

Change Is In The Air: Alleged Pot Smell No Longer Constitutes Reasonable Suspicion in Massachusetts

marihuana-syringe

It was clear from the moment that Massachusetts decriminalized the ownership of small amounts of pot, that it would create a problem for the police. Specifically, it would create a problem for their ability to continue to make the 6.5% of arrests nationwide, as of 2010, that related to pot specifically [source: FBI Uniform Crime Reports].

Let’s say that you’re a police officer, and you see a “gang member” or other darn no-goodnik driving down the block like they own the place, and maybe, as they’re driving, expressing a less than full appreciation of the patriotic protection you are providing to the community. If you pull them over, and claim to smell pot, then, whether or not there is actually pot in the car, the officer’s “good faith” belief that there might have been pot, renders a search of the car valid and allows into evidence the fruits of any such search.

Now, reports the Globe, that’s no longer true in Massachusetts. The Supreme Judicial Court has ruled unanimously that, as it is no longer actually criminal to possess small amounts of pot, police can no longer use the smell of burning or unburned marijuana to justify a warrantless stop and search of a car. The Justices explicitly rejected the argument that it was still a valid pretext for a stop because pot remains illegal under federal law.

In this instance, the SJC has substantially strengthened the liberties of everyone, including non-pot-smokers like myself. This was a case where the War on Drugs had effectively allowed an officer’s mere word (sometimes supplemented by the highly questionable evidence of an alerting dog) to open up anybody’s car contents to a warrantless search.

It is a sign that as a society we are moving beyond that kind of madness, that we can recognize that there are better things for the police to be doing, and that therefore fewer drivers will be stopped based on a hunch or on prejudice. In turn, this means that fewer young people, especially people of color, will be shunted into the criminal justice system based on violations of the Fourth Amendment. Last, we can hope, there will also be an increase in people driving rather more slowly, and therefore possibly more safely, than average.

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