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Toledo, Ohio & Lake Erie

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        A compromise to a bill pending in the state legislature that would expand the patrol authority of township police departments on interstate highways isn’t enough to sway an association that has been opposed to it.

        Currently, police departments in townships with populations of less than 50,000 residents lack statutory authority to make warrantless stops on interstates. If passed, House Bill 255 would lower the population threshold to 5,000.

        After being introduced by its sponsor, Representative Steve Hambley, R – Brunswick, in June 2017, the bill received testimony from proponents in September 2017 before the House Transportation and Public Safety Committee. Since then, the committee, chaired by Rep. Doug Green, R- Mt. Orab, hasn’t held any hearings on the bill.

        The bill has been opposed by the Buckeye State Sheriff’s Association, which contends many smaller township officers would be leaving their jurisdictions to get to interstates because of limited access points. Also, the BSSA argued the townships would use their interstate patrol authority to bolster their revenues through drug interdiction and asset forfeiture.

       Lake Township Police Chief Mark Hummer said last week he recently discussed the bill with Representative Theresa Gavarone, R - Bowling Green, and Rep. Hambley and the three came up with what they see as a viable compromise.

        In a July 27 letter to Robert Cornwell, executive director of the BSSA, chief Hummer wrote the compromise addresses the association’s concerns.

        “First, we would support an amendment that would stipulate any township police department that wants to enforce the laws on an interstate highway must have at least one direct access point inside the township. Thus, township officers would not be required to leave the township to enter or exit that highway,” the letter says. “The second part of that amendment would require township trustees to approve a resolution supporting enforcement by its officers on interstate highways inside their jurisdiction. I understand these are two points of contention your organization has with this legislation, and we are hoping an amendment…..will lead to BSSA support for its passage.”

        Cornwell said Thursday the association’s legislative committee met Aug. 14 and recommended the group’s board of directors oppose the bill even with the proposed amendments. The board met the next day and voted to follow the recommendation.

        “There is no change in our position from what we negotiated almost three years ago,” Cornwell said. “We sat down with the bill sponsor, Mr. Hambley, the Ohio Association of Chiefs of Police, which represents township police chiefs as well, and the sheriffs and we came to a compromise at that time on the authority of township officers on interstate and intrastate highways.

        “We resolved that issue there and allowed them access to the intrastate highways. We negotiated in good faith. Less than a year later, Mr. Hambley and the chiefs come back with another change. How many times do we have to negotiate this? Now they want to renegotiate and we’re not willing to do so.”

        Hummer said a fatal accident earlier this month on I-280 near Walbridge Road and other incidents this year on the interstate show there is a need for patrolling it.

        “No one in their right mind would not want to use every available public safety resource,” he said. “How much carnage does there have to be? Why can’t we be up there in a preemptive fashion?”

Local support     

        Local representatives have voiced support for the bill.

        Rep. Steve Arndt, R – Port Clinton, is a co-sponsor of HB 255 and Rep. Gavarone said she supported it from its introduction.       

        “I have been on record as saying that I support HB 255, with or without the recently proposed amendments,” Gavarone said.  “As the sponsor of 18 bills, I am fully aware of the time and effort that goes into working bills through the legislative process. I am hopeful that the townships, Buckeye State Sheriffs’ Association, other interested parties and the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Hambley, can come to an agreement so I can vote for the legislation on the House floor.”

        State Senator Randy Gardner, R – Bowling Green, also supports it.

        “My position on almost every issue like this one is to provide local government officials with as much authority to make decisions they believe best for their communities.  I support HB 255 as it stands now, and would support the bill with these amendments as well,” he said.

        Rep. Mike Sheehy, D – Oregon, a member of the transportation and safety committee, said earlier this year he was leaning against supporting the bill over concern it could lead to a large increase in traffic tickets being issued in rural areas. However, he’s willing to consider it given the seriousness of the opiate problem in Ohio.

        “The proponents make some very strong arguments about drug interdiction. I’m looking forward to hearing more testimony,” Sheehy said.

        The push for expanding township authority on interstates stems from a 2015 decision by the Ohio Supreme Court involving a traffic stop on I-280 by a Lake Township police officer who pulled over a motorist for a lane violation.  The driver had a suspended license and an active warrant in Michigan. The officer’s drug-sniffing dog also alerted to oxycodone tablets and marijuana. But that evidence was suppressed on appeal because the officer lacked the statutory authority to stop the driver.

         “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 said last year during his sponsor testimony to the committee.

        He emphasized that HB 255 isn’t a mandate.

        “It would only be permissive for township police departments to use that arrest authority on interstate highways that are within their own townships to enforce the state’s traffic laws,” he said.

        Rep. Green could not be reached for comment.

       

       

 

 

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