In 2012, the ACLU of Massachusetts filed public records requests with five regional police entities in the state, asking for records about funding, organizational structure, policies and SWAT team deployments. Those groups, called “law enforcement councils”—“LECs” for short—refused to allow access to these documents, claiming that their records were outside the reach of the public records law.
Concerns about the growing militarization of American policing convinced the ACLU of Massachusetts to file a public records request. We thought the people should know how our tax dollars are being used. Are SWAT teams, which are trained to deal with hostage, barricade and active shooter scenarios, being used for that purpose? Are these LEC SWAT teams mostly deployed to respond to hostage cases and terrorist attacks? Or do this Massachusetts SWAT team’s internal records point to mission creep driven by the failed, costly war on drugs?
To answer these questions, the ACLU of Massachusetts filed a public-records lawsuit against the Northeastern Massachusetts Law Enforcement Council (NEMLEC). We argued that any entity with the power to break down our doors and arrest us in the name of the state should also be required to abide by public transparency laws.
We won. In June 2014, the ACLU of Massachusetts announced we obtained the documents in a settlement with NEMLEC— more than two years after our initial request.
Visit the ACLU of Massachusetts website to view the documents.