Militarization of Police

Mass. Law Enforcement Corporations Not At All What Privatizing Police Would Be Like


boston strong
Vjeran Pavic/

The Washington Post's Radley Balko (formerly of Reason) highlights a disturbing detail from the police militarization report recently released by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). What happened when the ACLU made public records requests to various Massachusetts law enforcement agencies, via the Post:

As it turns out, a number of SWAT teams in the Bay State are operated by what are called law enforcement councils, or LECs. These LECs are funded by several police agencies in a given geographic area and overseen by an executive board, which is usually made up of police chiefs from member police departments. In 2012, for example, the Tewksbury Police Department paid about $4,600 in annual membership dues to the North Eastern Massachusetts Law Enforcement Council, or NEMLEC. That LEC has about 50 member agencies. In addition to operating a regional SWAT team, the LECs also facilitate technology and information sharing and oversee other specialized units, such as crime scene investigators and computer crime specialists.

Some of these LECs have also apparently incorporated as 501(c)(3) organizations. And it's here that we run into problems. According to the ACLU, the LECs are claiming that the 501(c)(3) status means that they're private corporations, not government agencies. And therefore, they say they're immune from open records requests. 

Corporatizing police forces looks a lot different than what privatizing police services would  look like. In Massachusetts, government (law enforcement) agencies are adopting corporate status to dodge their obligations as "public servants." In privatizing a police force, local governments—or, gasp, even residents themselves—replace their police departments, burdened as they are by entrenched bureaucracies and systems of union-extracted entitlements with contracted services. In this way, local governments can dictate terms to how the local police force ought to operate that contemporary union contracts often prevent them from doing. A police service plagued by brutality and corruption could be replaced. In any case, those private agencies would be incentivized to provide the kind of services that will keep local government and voters happy so that their contracts can be extended—and not in protracted negotiations where government representatives have an interest in providing sweet heart deals to union bosses they rely on support.

Instead, we have police officers and their unions increasingly demanding that police departments be held above the democratic accountability expected of government. In Massachusetts they hide behind corporate status to keep how many wrong doors they bust down in commando-style raids a year. In Salt Lake City the police chief bitches that residents have the audacity to question why a cop shot a dog. In Seattle cops are suing to free themselves of federally-mandated reforms—a violation of their constitutional rights to things like reasonably searching and seizing you they argue while Albuquerque cops, now also subject to federal oversight for their history of misconduct and abuse, may be interested in doing the same.

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  1. What’s the analysis on whether these corpo-cops have sovereign immunity? Seems like they’re trying to have it both ways.

    If corpo-cops don’t have sovereign immunity, then I can see this being a net gain.

    1. If corpo-cops don’t have sovereign immunity, then I can see this being a net gain.

      That’s not going to happen. They’re going to have it both ways because FYTW.

  2. Wow. Does the left know that law enforcement is now managed by evil korporations? I’m sure facebook and twitter will explode about this any secind now…..any second now…

    1. If there is outrage, it will be blamed on libertarians.

      1. If there is outrage, it will be blamed on libertarians the Kochs.

        1. Same diff.

  3. This is what happens whenever you merge public and private. The resulting organization tries to avoid responsibility by jumping back and forth between public and private whenever its convenient.

    1. So…do away with public?

      1. Easier than doing away with your privates.

  4. So why can’t the ACLU get the records via the member police departments? It seems like they should be able to go to each member dept. and demand a record of everything the LEC has done within that jurisdiction.

  5. I offer my solution to this vexing problem.…..ding-scene

  6. Privatizing these aspects of government is very difficult, precisely because they are so tied in with the element which most clearly separates government from the private sector: the authorization to employ violence outside of a defensive context. NM aside, I have not been very impressed by the privatization of jails and the privatization of the police seems to have a similar set of problems.

  7. Whatever you think of private police forces, they wouldn’t have sovereign immunity. That is kind of a big deal.

    1. Yeah. If they actually faced consequences for their actions then they might, I dunno, not go around beating and killing anyone who doesn’t unquestioningly obey them.

    2. Which is one reason why it’s almost unheard of for mall security forces to gun down a lot of people…

      1. Mall security is still answerable to real cops. The Libertopia equivalent will not be.

    3. Depending on the makeup of the Supreme Court, they may. They are still unionized, after all.

    4. How much do you bet that these so-called “private” entities try to claim immunity anyway?

      If they’re a private corporation that provides “security”, using military weapons and tactics, shouldn’t they be referred to a PMC? I’m sure it will go over well with Massholes to know that their policework is now being done by the equivalent of Blackwater.

  8. I like privatization for things we want more of, but it’s not a good idea for everything. We’ve privatized prisons and now we have more prisons and more prisoners. Privatize the police and we’ll have even more policing.

    1. Privatized prisons/police are paid to do what the state tells them to do. They are only the “supply side” of the deal. The fault lies with the “demand side,” the state, which determines what is and is not a crime, who goes to jail, etc. Prison corporations are not the sole reason the drug war has escalated, for instance.

    2. Right. Public servant police NEVER assrape anyone while looking for drugs, shoot their dog, shoot them, tie them down and draw blood without consent, set roadblocks, rape strippers or kill homeless people.

      And if they did, they’d NEVER demand more budget for the following year.

  9. All the laws and regs in the world won’t help once the cops stop seeing themselves as Andy of Mayberry and start seeing themselves as (help me here, I’m not up on current movies and TV) the Terminator or the dude on “24” (investigator, prosecutor, jury, judge and executioner, all in one body).

    1. All the laws and regs are the problem. As we all know, it is practically impossible to follow all the rules. That means that the cops can pick anyone they don’t like, and chances are they can find some excuse to bust them. This attracts assholes who enjoy picking on people they don’t like. If the laws and regs were even slightly just, then the cops wouldn’t be able to do that. Good people might be attracted to the job, instead of the scum that currently polices the streets.

  10. But if government people are actually held liable for their misdeeds via civil action, every government worker would be gripped by terror, unable to bravely and boldly carry out the public trust, for fear of constant, vexatious harrassment by vengeful lawbreakers.

    *This is actual reasoning by the Supreme Court in defense of tort immunity for government employees.*

    1. And that’s bad because?

      1. Stuff wouldn’t get done! Papers wouldn’t be pushed! Laws wouldn’t be passed! Dogs wouldn’t be shot!

        Anarchy! Chaos! BLARGH!!!!

        1. But would dogs and cats be living together?

          Also, would someone marry and fuck their toaster?

  11. Just a. Vestige of prohibition. Old habits die hard.
    We’d all be better off if the police focused on crimes that have actual victims!

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