Middlesex District Attorney Gerard T. Leone Jr. is working with legislators this year to help craft a bill that would give local police some limited authority to make arrests in neighboring communities.
The bill was introduced by state Representative Alice Hanlon Peisch, a Wellesley Democrat, on behalf of the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association. She filed the legislation after Wellesley Police Chief Terrence M. Cunningham told her about an instance in which charges against suspects in several house break-ins were thrown out of court because the officers arrested the suspects in a neighboring community.
In dealing with such cases, courts have relied since 1990 on a landmark ruling by the state’s Supreme Judicial Court that upheld the dismissal of drunken driving charges against defendant Paul LeBlanc because Natick police had followed him into Framingham to make an arrest.
Legislation to allow local police to make arrests in neighboring towns has been introduced many times in the years since the LeBlanc case and backed by the police chiefs’ association. But it has been unsuccessful because the State Police union views the move as an unnecessary and unwarranted expansion of local police power. The union opposes the current legislation.
This time, however, local police officials are hopeful — in part because of Leone’s role in crafting the bill — that the legislation, which is now before the Joint Committee on the Judiciary, will move forward before the Legislature’s July 31 deadline.
ONE MORE TRY
Police officers have arrest authority outside their jurisdictions if they witness a crime in their community and follow the perpetrator into a neighboring city or town, or if they are specially sworn-in to a neighboring police department as part of an agreement.
Giving officers powers in bordering communities when they suspect that a crime or violation has been committed would close enforcement loopholes along community lines, said Natick Police Chief James G. Hicks, the first vice president of the chiefs association.
Last year, 70 police officers from Chelsea, Everett, Malden, Revere, Saugus, and Winthrop were specially sworn in to have arrest powers in each other’s communities. Since then, the cooperation has led to two major cocaine busts, said Chelsea Police Chief Brian Kyes, who initiated the agreements after years of frustration over the failure of the Beacon Hill proposal.
Following in his footsteps was Lowell Police Superintendent Kenneth Lavallee, who initiated a similar agreement in January 2012 between his department and officers from Chelmsford, Tewksbury, Billerica, Westford, Tyngsborough, and Dracut. Within months, the collaboration led to a prescription pill distribution bust, and the discovery of a marijuana growing operation in Tyngsborough, said the town’s police chief, William F. Mulligan.
“We can work on investigations that affect our communities in a better way, but it also allows us to act immediately,” he said.
At the urging of police chiefs in his jurisdiction, Leone has tried to work out a bill that addresses concerns that previous versions were too broad in expanding police powers.
“This proposal is not about motorists fleeing — it is merely about motorists who stop beyond the jurisdictional border,” Leone wrote to the Legislature. “This is a common-sense proposal that would prevent the dismissal of cases like LeBlanc based merely on the distance it took to effect the otherwise valid stop.”
Peisch said the new bill language makes it clear that local police want to have the ability to make motor vehicle stops if they suspect a crime or violation along community lines without fear of civil liability if they happen to cross into the next jurisdiction.
“We narrowed it to make it clear that this wasn’t being done to give unnecessary powers to the police departments,” Peisch said.
Hicks said this is the first time in 22 years the chiefs have had an ally outside the Legislature in their push for the bill.
“We felt as chiefs we were on an island. We felt we were fighting this battle on our own, when in fact it involved others, like those who prosecute the cases in the Commonwealth, and that meant the district attorneys,” Hicks said. “We tried to emphasize this is a public safety issue, this is not a power grab. We’re not looking to give our officers more extensive powers outside of our communities.”
Richard R. Brown, president of the State Police Association of Massachusetts, which represents state troopers, said he has not had a chance to review the changes to the bill, but that the union’s position remains that it duplicates State Police duties.
“We’ve had a consistent position that the local police departments have laws and remedies already in place,” Brown said. “They have the opportunities to draft memorandums of understanding [with bordering departments]. . . . It’s an [operating under the influence] case that dates back over 20 years.
“No one is more on top of protecting citizens from drunk drivers than the State Police Association of Massachusetts. I don’t think this is the court case, or the language changes that are going to be the remedy. The remedies are already there.”
Peisch’s bill has 58 cosponsors, but she is aware that others still think it’s too broad.
“There still remains a certain amount of concern in some quarters,” she said. “I’m hopeful we may come up with some compromise language that may allow it to move. If that doesn’t happen this session, I intend to file it again in the next session.”