Daily Court Reporter - News Bill expands township police power on interstates
Bill expands township police power on interstates
KEITH ARNOLD, Daily Reporter Staff Writer
House Transportation and Public Safety Committee members recently took a look at a bill that proposes allowing township police officers in certain areas of the Buckeye State to make traffic stops on local interstates.
House Bill 255 would authorize a township officer, serving a population of greater than 5,000, to make arrests for specified traffic offenses on interstate highways within and adjacent to the officer's territory.
Rep. Steve Hambley, R-Brunswick, explained to the Ohio House of Representatives members seated on the committee that the measure is in direct response to a ruling by the Supreme Court of Ohio in State of Ohio v. Brown, (Slip Opinion No. 2015-Ohio-2438), which established that township police departments serving populations of less than 50,000 people lacked the statutory authority to make warrantless stops on interstate highways and roads under that National Highway System.
"The effect of this ruling was widespread and courts threw out a multitude of cases across the state, essentially letting a number of OVI and drug traffickers walk free," Hambley offered in sponsor testimony. "Last General Assembly, we took the first step to restore township police departments authority on state and federal highways with House Bill 378."
He said HB 255 will complete the restoration specifically for interstate highways.
Currently, only four Ohio township police departments, serving a population of more than 225,000 residents, make arrests on interstate highways that cut through their jurisdictions. HB 255 would add an additional 24 townships statewide, including Franklin and Blendon townships in Franklin County, which contain stretches of interstates 270, 71 and 70 within their bounds.
Hambley recalled that during HB 378 testimony, there was much discussion about the arbitrary nature of township population distinctions relative to law enforcement and how it significantly inhibited coordinated drug interdiction and enforcement of OVIs on highways.
"I want to make it clear that HB 255 is not a mandate," the lawmaker said. "It would only be permissive for townships police departments to use that arrest authority on interstate highways that are within their own townships to enforce the state's traffic laws.
"Township police departments will still be able to operate exclusively on township, county and state routes if that is the judgment of the township trustees, as well as the taxpayers of that township."
Democrat Rep. John Boccieri of Poland has expressed his concern for the bill, calling it an "unfunded mandate."
"This bill represents another tax shift to local communities by allowing them to perform law enforcement duties the state ordinarily conducts," Boccieri said in a press release upon the bill's introduction.
He further faulted HB 255 for incentivizing traffic citations as the bill proposes collected fines to be placed in a county road maintenance fund.
"The state shouldn't place the responsibility of paving county roads on township cops," Boccieri said. "Legislators need to do their job and help pave our roads - not shift that responsibility to local law enforcement."
Hambley refuted the Democrat's charge.
"To be clear, township police departments have no direct financial stake in these violations because these dollars are given to the county for roads that are the county's responsibility to maintain, not the township's," he said. "Clearly, if the township police are on the interstate highway, they are going to be there for a legitimate law enforcement purpose, not to make money for the township treasury."
Hambley said the bill would go a long way to assist with curtailing drug pipelines on highways throughout the state.
HB 255 has been endorsed by the Ohio Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, the Ohio Association of Chiefs of Police, the Fraternal Order of Police, and the Ohio Township Association, in addition to many township police departments. Eight fellow House members has signed on as co-sponsors of the measure.
A second hearing of the bill had not been scheduled as of publication.
Date Published: July 26, 2017