The Youngstown police chief says LaRoy Dock and his constables don't have any power.
By PHIL NOVAK
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- The state flag hangs from the top of the building, and the state seal shines in the window.
A small group of people stands near the front door, dressed in what appear to be police uniforms complete with badges, handcuffs and revolvers.
But these are not Youngstown police officers, deputy sheriffs or Ohio State Highway Patrol troopers. They are employees of the Special Police Constables State of Ohio, Mahoning County Inc., a private business at 1355 Logan Ave. opened last year by Youngstown resident LaRoy C. Dock, the chief constable.
A commissioned constable is appointed by a judge to work in a police capacity in a township, but Dock said his constables are different.
Dock, who is certified as an armed security guard through the Ohio Peace Officer Training Commission, said his constables are a private police force and they have full police powers anywhere in the state.
He said he can do anything in Youngstown that the Youngstown police can do.
"We can write tickets, we can write citations, we can do traffic stops," Dock said. "But we made an agreement that we were not going to infringe on their job. But by law, we can do that."
Dock said he would like his 22 constables to eventually work in a police capacity, but for now, they do a lot of private protection for bars, churches or concerts because that is the only way they can make money.
"The only thing that's slowing us down is the money," he said.
Cruising ahead: Dock said he recently purchased a car to be used as a cruiser, but it's not on the streets yet.
A commissioned constable from 1991 to 1996 under Judge Fred H. Bailey, a former county court judge in Austintown, Dock said he wants to work with the police to help clean up the city.
"We're just here to help make the community safe," he said. "We have nothing against the city or the Youngstown police. You can never have enough law enforcement, and we have so much crime here." He said city police could use all the help they can get.
But Youngstown Police Chief Richard Lewis doesn't agree. He said Dock may be certified as an armed security guard, but he has no power to be a law enforcement officer.
"It's almost unbelievable," he said. "You can't just go and get some sort of incorporation and open up your own police force."
Police impersonator: Lewis mentioned the Mahoning County Constables Inc., another group that said it is a private police force. Last month, one of its employees, Jesse Rutland, was found guilty of impersonating an officer, performing security services without a license, improper handling of a firearm in a motor vehicle and having unauthorized police lights and siren.
But Dock said his constables have all the necessary requirements.
"The city tried to use the Jesse Rutland case against me," he said. "That has nothing to do with us. Everything that they found him guilty of, the four charges, we are innocent of. We have bonds, insurance, recertification [and] requalification papers. So the way I look at it, the Jesse Rutland case should have vindicated us."
When asked whether state law sanctions private police agencies, Bret Crow, a spokesman for the Ohio Attorney General's office, faxed The Vindicator a copy of section 737.11 of the Ohio Revised Code.
No law: The section says "the police power can be exercised only under authority conferred by the Legislature." That authority is given in section 715.05, which allows a municipal corporation to organize and maintain a police department. Crow could not find any law authorizing a private citizen to open a police agency.
But Dock said opening a private police force is completely within the law, even if the city prosecutors and the Youngstown police disagree.
"They're trying to say that a county judge isn't commissioning me," Dock said. "The county and the city have nothing to do with this. My articles to incorporate allow me to do this.
"It is a unique thing, but we just want to make the community safe, and we want a little respect."
Dock said his articles of incorporation, which explain the purposes of any business approved through the secretary of state's office, give him the authority to run his business however he likes, anywhere in Ohio.
"I write my own constitution for whatever comes into my corporation," he said. "All the state did was issue the charter."
Dock pointed to several items hanging on his walls, including a peace officer certificate, a business certification signed by Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell and a signed letter from state Sen. Robert F. Hagan of Youngstown, D-33rd, saying Dock "may do anything lawful in the state of Ohio."
He pulled out other forms from his pocket, including what he said was a concealed weapons bond, and showed his articles of incorporation.
A chance to prove: "I can back up anything I say," Dock said. "We're a private police department, and that's what they don't want to accept. They're prejudiced towards us for whatever reason. All I'm asking for is to give us a chance. We're not trying to take over the city."
But Gregg Paul, a legislative aide in Hagan's office, said they were looking into Dock's business at his request and don't think he has any power.
"We're still not entirely certain what he's doing up there, but if he says he's not a security firm, he doesn't have authority to open a private police force," Paul said. "And if he is a security firm, he needs to be certified through the Department of Commerce. I would be very surprised if he has any authority to do what he is claiming he's doing."
Paul said Dock asked the senator's office about the legality of his business, and they asked the Ohio Department of Commerce. A letter sent from the department said Dock and his workers "are just ordinary private citizens based on the information that we have."
But Dock said he has never had a problem with local authorities when working in other areas of the state.
"We've worked in Warren, we've worked in Akron, and we've worked in Cleveland," he said. "We couldn't set all this up if we weren't legal."
Warren Police Chief John Mandopoulos said he has never heard of Dock.
"If he has worked in Warren as a police officer, I would say at this particular point that he would be illegal," Mandopoulos said. "My word to him is check in with me first because he's going to be in a world of hurt if he comes into my city carrying a gun and claiming to be a police officer."
Dock did face some legal problems in Youngstown. He and one of his constables were doing security for Partners Jazz Club on Oak Hill Avenue when they were arrested and charged with carrying a weapon in a liquor establishment and performing security work without a license.
"I told the detective he was making a mistake," Dock said. "We went to trial, they bound all the evidence over to the grand jury, and they dismissed all the charges."
The security case is still pending, but Dock said emphatically that he is not running a security company; he is running a private police force.
"We're legal," he said, "and there's nothing the city can do about it."