In this time of austerity, troubled cities and counties across the country are finding themselves facing the previously unthinkable problem of being unable to afford to pay for police. In order to make up for this deficit in public safety some citizens are taking to the streets themselves and others have raised money to hire private security.
Private police are nothing new, often hospitals and universities hire them to police their campuses. Still, this is not the “no-brainer” it seems to be, because public police forces are subject to laws and oversight that the private police forces are not. According to a special report from The Columbus Dispatch by Randy Ludlow, there are 814 of these officers in Ohio, and “state law allows the officers and their private-sector employers to keep arrest and incident reports secret, even from those they arrest and crime victims.”
Also prohibited are public background checks into an officer’s life or even their conduct on the job. These people are fully-empowered peace officers who are authorized to carry a handgun (and use it if necessary), search people and property, and of course to make arrests. Ludlow and The Dispatch attempted to get records from 16 private police departments—records that would be public otherwise—and denied by all but one institution, Licking Memorial Hospital.
The major voice in the argument has not been Ludlow’s or even that of Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, but instead local student journalists who are unable to accurately report events involving campus police without access to records.
One such school is Otterbein University, who has an agreement with the local police whereby they can “write traffic tickets and enforce other laws on city streets running through and next to campus properties.” While this may make them seem like “an arm of the city police” the University denies it. This hasn’t stopped intrepid student journalists from taking Otterbein to court in order to force them to make those records public.
The students make a good case. These private police officers are empowered by the government and are able to exercise that power with impunity because they are not subject to public oversight.