More than 800 privately employed police officers in Ohio are authorized by the state to carry handguns, use deadly force and detain, search and arrest people.
Yet 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.
And the public is not permitted to check the officers’ background or conduct records, including their use-of-force and discipline histories.
The private police work for 39 employers, largely private universities and hospitals, which are exempt from the public-records laws that allow Ohioans to monitor 32,808 public-sector police officers and their government agencies.
Critics, including Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, say it is past time to demand the same accountability and transparency from private-sector police by making them subject to the state’s public-records laws.
“The public policy is clear, that the state is giving them the same power as (public) police departments. For all other purposes, we should be treating them the same insofar as openness and giving the public information,” DeWine said.
“It’s hard to envision the legislature would intend private police to make an arrest and that they should be treated differently than a police officer for the city of Columbus,” he said.
DeWine said he will ask lawmakers to change Ohio law to make private police forces subject to public-records laws.