A state law that amends jurisdictional rights of law enforcement agencies for patrolling highways is set to go in effect next month and that makes Mark Hummer, the police chief in Lake Township, more than a little nervous – and frustrated.
When the new law becomes effective, it will eliminate provisions in the Ohio Revised Code that prohibit township police officers from making traffic arrests on highways and state roadways that are classified as part of the national highway system – with the exception of interstate highways; they remain out of the jurisdiction of officers in smaller townships.
With I-280 crossing through Lake Township where there are four exits/entrances, Chief Hummer is wary of not being able to patrol a major artery at a time when opiate abuse and human trafficking are major concerns.
Currently, township officers have arrest authority in vehicle-related offenses on state or U.S. highways if the population is greater than 50,000 residents. The Ohio State Highway Patrol and county sheriff departments generally have jurisdiction for offenses committed on state highways outside of municipal corporations.
HB 378, signed by Gov. John Kasich in January, grants township officers in townships of 50,000 or less the authority to make arrests on U.S. and state highways, but the bill doesn’t grant them power to make traffic arrests on interstate highways.
When State Rep. Steve Hambley, R-Brunswick, a co-sponsor of the bill, offered testimony in December to the Senate Local Government Committee, he acknowledged that the authority to patrol interstates was withheld from smaller township departments to appease the Buckeye State Sheriffs’ Association.
Removing that authority from the bill while it was pending in the House of Representatives resulted in the sheriffs’ association dropping its opposition, Hambley told the senate committee. He noted there are more than 1,300 townships in the state, but only seven exceed the 50,000 person threshold currently written in the revised code.
With the new law pending, Chief Hummer is calling for a public forum with Perrysburg Township to discuss its ramifications.
He plans to invite Wood County commissioners, the county prosecutor, State Sen. Randy Gardner and state representatives Steve Arndt and Theresa Gavarone and Wood County sheriff Mark Wasylyshyn, who is president of the BSSA and offered testimony against the smaller townships while the bill was pending in the legislature.
“This will be a very civil meeting to hear the sheriff’s opposition and to offer our opinions…” Hummer says in a memo to the Lake Township trustees. He also addressed the Perrysburg Township trustees Wednesday to float his plans for a forum.
Perrysburg Township Police Chief Mark Hetrick on Thursday said his department and the trustees support holding a forum. He described the limitation on township departments as a “silly antiquated law that has no place in 21st century policing."
The bill stems from an Ohio Supreme Court decision involving a 2011 traffic stop on I-280 in Lake Township.
A township officer saw a car cross a lane marker and, after pulling the vehicle over, about 120 oxycodone pills and a small bag of marijuana were found in the car when a drug-sniffing dog alerted to the vehicle.
The driver pled no contest in Wood County Common Pleas Court to a drug offense and was sentenced to a three-year prison term. But he appealed the decision and in 2013 the appeals court ruled the officer violated sections of the Ohio Revised Code that specify marked lane violations on interstate highways are within the jurisdiction of the Ohio State Highway Patrol and sheriff departments.
In June 2015, the Ohio Supreme Court upheld the appellate court decision.