More than 800 privately employed Ohio police officers are authorized 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, reports the Columbus Dispatch. The public is not permitted to check the officers' background or conduct records. The private police work for 39 employers, largely private universities and hospitals that 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. The role of private police has gained visibility amid a fight by Otterbein University student journalists to report on campus police. Student journalists may sue Otterbein in hopes of placing Ohio among states such as Connecticut, Georgia, North Carolina, Oklahoma and Virginia that require private schools to make police records public. The Society of Professional Journalists legal defense fund gave the students $5,000 toward their potential court challenge.