Ohio law once limited the authority of township police officers to enforce certain statutory violations on interstate highways that extend through a community. Only townships with population thresholds greater than 50,000 residents could previously allow police officers in those communities to exercise broad enforcement authority on interstate highways. As part of a change to Ohio law under House Bill 206 that became effective Sept. 22, Ohio townships like Bath are able to provide critical interstate response and enforcement in their communities.
Interstate 77 extends from the southern limits of the township near Medina Road to the northern jurisdictional boundary at Everett Road. This interstate corridor is a vital transportation route and over the years, the police department dispatch center has received a variety of calls for incidents on Interstate 77. This includes reckless/impaired motorists, traffic crashes, domestic violence and a dispute between motorists that resulted in a fatality. In each of these cases, immediate law enforcement response was vital to ensuring the safety and security of residents and visitors alike. Because of the restrictions in the Ohio Revised Code, township police officers responding to interstate incidents were only able to serve in a secondary law enforcement role, relying on other agencies like the Ohio State Highway Patrol to enforce applicable laws.
In many cases, other agencies were delayed in their response to incidents on Interstate 77 in Bath Township due to the proximity of available law enforcement personnel. Moreover, response delays can jeopardize the prosecution of criminal cases, with the end result of not holding offenders accountable for their actions. As an example, OVI enforcement requires the offender to submit to a chemical test within two hours of the alleged violation. The inability of another agency to respond to Bath Township to investigate an OVI incident on the interstate due to a time delay could be problematic for prosecution of the case.
Furthermore, the limits on interstate authority imposed under the previous statute prevented township law enforcement officers from performing their essential function of preventing and detecting crime. The Ohio Supreme Court decision in State v. Brown illustrates how evidence from a vehicle search following a traffic violation was excluded because of the limits on interstate authority that were placed on a township police officer. Clearly, the legislative intent was never to prevent police officers from performing their essential duties.
Recognizing the importance of the interstate issue, I worked with several Ohio legislators in the past to amend the law, and most recently provided proponent testimony on HB 206. I learned the issue was complex and for that reason, other legislative attempts to change the law did not gain momentum. The Ohio Township Association sent correspondence to township officials regarding HB 206 and prior versions of the legislation, referencing concerns from legislative members that HB 206 could allow for the creation of “speed traps” on the interstates.
However, townships, unlike municipalities, lack home rule authority to enact local ordinances. Township police officers rely upon the Ohio Revised Code to criminally charge individuals for criminal and traffic violations. Fines collected by township police officers under the Ohio Revised Code are deposited into the county treasury, with little or no fee revenue returned to Bath Township. For that reason, there is no incentive for townships to create a “speed trap” under HB 206.
The Ohio legislature ultimately prioritized the issue this year and approved a significant change to the law. Amending the population threshold in the applicable statute to include townships with populations of at least 5,000 residents addressed a long-standing concern regarding the limits on township police authority on interstates.
Changes to Bath Township Police Department policy have been implemented following the adoption of HB 206. This law will have an impact on safeguarding public safety in Bath Township and police department personnel now have an additional tool available for incident response on the highway. ∞