The city of Youngstown, like other urban centers in America battling crime, has become vulnerable to individuals who are taking the "cops and robbers" children's game to a new level. As a story on the front page of the Local Section of last Sunday's Vindicator reveals, the owner of Special Police Constables State of Ohio, Mahoning County Inc., touts himself as the head of a private police force that has full police powers anywhere in Ohio.
Such talk should send shivers down the spines of Youngstown residents. Imagine being stopped one night by an individual dressed in what appears to be a police uniform, complete with revolver and handcuffs, and being told to present your driver's license and registration and then being told to get out of your car. What do you do once you realize that the individual isn't a member of the Youngstown Police Department?
Full powers: Even though LaRoy C. Dock, who is certified as an armed security guard through the Ohio Peace Officer Training Commission, says that his company has agreed not to perform police duties in the city, he still insists that he can do anything in Youngstown that city police can do. He says state law gives his constables full police powers.
That's troubling, especially because Youngstown Police Chief Richard Lewis says Dock may be certified as an armed security guard, but he has no power to be a law enforcement officer.
"It's almost unbelievable," Lewis says. "You can't go and get some sort of incorporation and open up your own police force."
But Dock sees things differently: "We're just here to help make the community safe. We have nothing against the city or the Youngstown police. You can never have enough law enforcement and we have so much crime here."
It is this disagreement over what state law permits and does not permit that has us worried. Before some resident gets hurt through the actions of a constable, we think Ohio Attorney General Betty Montgomery should conduct a review of Special Police Constables State of Ohio, Mahoning County Inc. and also look at the relevant state statutes to determine whether there are any loopholes that permit individuals like Dock to call themselves members of a private police department.
If state law does provide for the existence of such security organizations, then we would urge the attorney general to work with the Ohio General Assembly in deleting those provisions. On the other hand, if Dock has misinterpreted the law and is, therefore, operating illegally, he should be put on notice immediately.
It is inconceivable that state legislators would permit private police forces to exist in Ohio and to be answerable to no one.