Police tactical teams: Breaching municipal boundaries
Legal requirements to establish a multi-jurisdictional police tactical team
By Brian D. Nugent, Esq.
In our law enforcement experience, most officers have responded at one point or another to assist another nearby police agency confronted with a large disturbance, a major incident or some other larger event requiring substantial police response. The law enforcement response across municipal boundaries is statutorily authorized under the “mutual aid” provisions in the New York State General Municipal Law (“GML”).
Similarly, the New York mutual aid statute authorizes a police agency’s tactical team to respond at the request of another law enforcement agency when needed in a crisis situation. In recent years, both in and outside of New York State, there has been a general increase in the utilization of police tactical teams. Many agencies are participating in multi-jurisdictional police tactical teams that can share costs proportionately across the participating agencies, allowing smaller agencies to have the benefit of a professionally trained and equipped tactical response team at a fraction of the cost of maintaining their own team. Most small law enforcement agencies simply cannot fund the establishment and maintenance of a police tactical team, even on a part-time basis.
Multi-jurisdictional police tactical teams are not expressly authorized under the provisions of the New York mutual aid law, but they are authorized under Article 5-G of the GML (Municipal Cooperation). The municipal cooperation provisions of GML Article 5-G allow police agencies to enter into agreements to establish multi-jurisdictional teams, or to utilize the services of another agency’s police tactical team, instead of relying solely on the mutual aid statute for such assistance.
By entering into an inter-municipal agreement to establish a multi-jurisdictional police tactical team, participating municipalities may define the responsibilities, roles and organizational aspects of the joint effort in advance of carrying out police operations. In contrast, the State’s mutual aid statute provides that, unless the assisting agency chooses to assume the damages and expenses incurred as a result of their response, the local government receiving police aid assumes liability for all damages arising out of any act performed in rendering such aid and must reimburse the assisting local government for any monies paid by it for officers salaries or for other expenses incurred, including damage or loss of equipment and supplies. This is a significant burden on the municipality receiving the assistance if the assisting agency should choose not to assume those costs. In most mutual aid situations, assisting agencies absorb their own costs, but in cases where the assisting agency does not choose to absorb the costs and expenses, the receiving agencies have been found liable for the costs of the assisting agency. For example, in a Westchester County case, a village and its workers’ compensation carrier were held liable for workers’ compensation benefits awarded to a county deputy sheriff for injuries sustained while the sheriff was assisting the village police department.
The legal requirements to establish a multi-jurisdictional team are not significantly burdensome. Generally, it is the political, financial and operational aspects of formulating such a team that often present a greater challenge to the agencies wishing to participate in such a team. However, once established, a multi-jurisdictional police tactical team can be a highly beneficial and financially manageable asset to regional law enforcement. Municipalities considering joining, or establishing a multi-jurisdictional police tactical team should confer on these critical issues with legal counsel well-versed in this area prior to entering an inter-municipal agreement for such purposes.
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