A regional SWAT team in Massachusetts is refusing to release information on raid statistics due to its belief that it is a private organization.
“When we asked NEMLEC for records about their SWAT policies and deployments, we were startled to receive this response: we don’t have to give you documents because we aren’t government agencies,” the ACLU blog, PrivacySOS, revealed.
Although claiming to be a private entity, the group seemingly has no issue with using government grants and public funds to purchase and maintain armored vehicles and military equipment.
“NEMLEC can’t have it both ways,” said Jessie Rossman, a staff attorney with the ACLU of Massachusetts. “Either it is a public entity subject to public records laws, or what it is doing is illegal.”
The ACLU immediately responded by filing suit against NEMLEC, asking the Suffolk County Superior Court to order the group to release all relevant documents including training materials, incident reports and deployment statistics.
“The public deserves to know about law enforcement operations that are taking place in their communities with their money and in their name,” said ACLU of Massachusetts executive director Carol Rose. “If police agencies hide behind a wall of secrecy, the public cannot judge for itself whether officials are acting appropriately or whether policy changes are needed.”
According to Boston.com, Wilmington Police Chief Michael Begonis, the current president of NEMLEC, has declined media requests for comment.
The records request was part of a nation-wide effort by the ACLU to document the rapid militarization of police as tools of war make their way onto American streets. The report, entitled “War Comes Home: The Excessive Militarization of American Policing,” examined more than 800 SWAT deployments from 2011 to 2012.
“Our analysis shows that the militarization of American policing is evident in the training that police officers receive, which encourages them to adopt a ‘warrior’ mentality and think of the people they are supposed to serve as enemies, as well as in the equipment they use, such as battering rams, flashbang grenades, and APCs,” the report states.
Although 2013 produced the “lowest level of law enforcement fatalities in six decades” according to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, police agencies continue to claim that violence is increasing, even as overall violent crime hits the lowest levels since World War II.
Despite this, SWAT raids have increased from 3,000 a year to more than 80,000 in just the last three decades. The increase in raids, primarily against drug offenders, continues to produce horrific outcomes for innocent bystanders caught in the crossfire.
Just last May, a 19-month-old toddler was placed in a medically-induced coma after a SWAT team’s flashbang grenade landed in his crib. After finding absolutely no drugs in the residence, the child was taken to a local hospital where doctors are working to close the massive hole in his chest.
Similarly, a 12-year-old girl in Billings Montana suffered second degree burns in 2012 from a flashbang grenade after police mistakenly claimed the residence was home to a meth lab.
That same year, police in Lebanon, Tennessee shot a 61-year-old man to death in a raid on the wrong home.