We live in a society of laws, why do you think I took you to see all those Police Academy movies?  For fun?  Well I didn’t hear anybody laughing.

            — Homer Simpson

The Leadership of the Ohio State Highway Patrol is trying to take advantage of the holidays to – once again – expand its jurisdiction.

We recently learned that Troopers will move beyond their role to investigate traffic accidents caused by alcohol or drugs, and now will “look for possible criminal violations stemming from the source of drugs or alcohol that led to the impairment.” (Gongwer)

This sounds like a good thing, right?  After all, who doesn’t want criminals whose conduct led to injuries or deaths to be brought to justice?  Certainly, not us!

The biggest problem is this little old thing called the law.

Under Ohio law, the state highway patrol has very limited jurisdiction.  The Highway Patrol is authorized to “enforce the laws of the state relating to the titling, registration, and licensing of motor vehicles; enforce on all roads and highways, . . . the laws relating to the operation and use of vehicles on the highways. . . .”  The Highway Patrol also is authorized to: “investigate and report all motor vehicle accidents on all roads and highways outside of municipal corporations.”

The ability of the Highway Patrol to enforce the criminal laws is limited to “state properties and state institutions, owned or leased by the state.”  (There are some exceptions for riot and insurrection and, more recently, for private prisons – none of which are applicable.)

Nothing in Ohio law gives the Highway Patrol jurisdiction over crimes occurring elsewhere in Ohio that possibly contributed to traffic accidents.  No court has ever held that the Highway Patrol can expand is jurisdiction in this manner. The silliness of the contrary interpretation of Ohio law seemingly pushed by the Kasich Administration is easy to see: every sale of drugs, for example, could lead to an impaired driver; under this reasoning, the Highway Patrol can now investigate every drug trafficking allegation in Ohio.

The irony of the leadership of a law enforcement organization having such a disregard for the law should be enough to stop this effort – no matter how well intended.

There are real-world implications, too.

If a court finds that a Trooper is acting outside his or her jurisdiction, the Trooper can face civil liability.  In general, law enforcement officers are entitled to something called “qualified immunity” for good faith actions taken in the course of their duties. In plain English, this means that it is difficult to sue officers who are just doing their jobs.  However – and this is a big however – Troopers are only entitled to qualified immunity if they are acting within the scope of their authority.  If the officers are outside of their jurisdiction, they could be held personally liable.

Joseph noted this problem with prior efforts of the Highway Patrol to expand its jurisdiction beyond the statutory limits.  Our view is that the leadership of the Highway Patrol shouldn’t be asking rank-and-file Troopers to risk personal liability just so the Highway Patrol can build a bigger empire.  Since the beginning of the Kasich administration, we have seen a concerted effort by the Highway Patrol to move beyond its core mission of enforcing Ohio’s traffic laws.  For example:

If you care about local control, you should care about this issue.  The Highway Patrol is not a state police organization, and is not intended to be.  Ohio, unlike a lot of other states, does not have state police.  Instead, law enforcement is done by local police, sheriffs, and prosecutors.  Like a lot of other things in Ohio government, there is a preference for local control that is accountable to voters.

In addition, there are legitimate questions about whether the Highway Patrol is qualified to conduct these types of investigations.  Highway Patrol Troopers are experts in enforcing traffic laws.  They are great at that. But prior efforts to expand into more criminal investigations have been less successful.  For example, earlier this year newspapers reported that criminals went free because the Highway Patrol was unprepared to handle and analyze evidence.

There are some good reasons that Ohio should consider establishing a state police organization that can be trained and equipped to handle major criminal investigations.  That discussion should be had in the open, with votes and hearings in the Legislature.  Instead, the Kasich Administration is trying to accomplish this by stealth.  That is wrong and dangerous.


  • For years the Ohio Highway Patrol (with emphasis on “highway”) wanted to become the Ohio State Police. And…for years they were fought (rightfully so) by the Buckeye State Sheriff’s Association. The last few years have seen the administration in the OHP “pushing the envelope” by having troopers patrol and make traffic stops/issue citations in “other” jurisdictions (cities and villages with existing law enforcement) rather than their usual baliwick of state highways and, to some extent, county and township roads. This is not with the desire of the rank and file trooper at the post level but rather at the highest level of the Patrol and the governor who is the commander of “his” police force, the Ohio Highway Patrol. Yes, these officers are well trained for traffic enforcement but, when it comes to criminal investigation, they are amateurs when compared to police and deputies. We already have a statewide criminal investigative body….it’s called the Ohio BCI & I…and they do a great job.

  • Al

    Really? In what dream? There is no comparison to a trooper’s 6 months of training academy versus the local cops and deputy’s 14 weeks. OSP’s “lack” of criminal investigations? Better check your stats since 1933 my friends. When your local pd and Sheriff drops the ball by bowing to his political supporters, who wins? If we want criminals off the street and communities safer, the extra help should be available and an agency whose troopers enforce laws fair and unbiased,NOT influenced by a vote…

  • OHP gets extra schooling on traffic investigation and traffic law enforcement that muni PD units and Deputies don’t receive. The rest of the training is the same OPOTA materials. That is why they are called the “Highway” Patrol. That is their expertise. Bowing to political supporters? I can think of no police departments (large or small) who conduct elections for their positions as they, by law, use civil service exams. Maybe you can inform me of the names of city PD’s who conduct elections to fill positions as I am very interested to see that list. Yes, the Sheriff Departments do and the locals, for the most part, like local control. As a retired law enforcement officer, from the ODNR Parks and Recreation, I have worked with both local PD units, OHP and Deputy Sheriffs and felt that, for the most part all were excellent officers. There are, of course, examples of “bad cops” in every one of these services and they usually are weeded out soon after hitting the streets.

  • Al

    So, OSHP troopers are not only trained the same OPOTA training as Deputies and local officers but have additional training in traffic laws, etc? So how again is “OHP” not qualified to conduct routine police investigations? Thank you for your LE service but not sure what your argument is. I don’t think your referal to “highway” means much, California Highway Patrol is called such but research their authority. I dont think we need troopers taking over where locals tread but wouldnt our citizens benefit from troopers being able to take care of services when they come upon it? With the crime rates as they are, it wouldnt hurt to rid our streets of a few more criminals instead of bogging down the locals…..we still pay the same.

  • Spitfiremk1

    Spoken like J. Edgar Hoover!

    The point to me is not so much that we need a state police force, but who will decide that we need it?
    Will it be we humble citizens or will it be a dictator in Columbus? I would hate to see OSHP become Kasich’s

    Given the way that many people drive on the highways today, OSHP troopers already have their plates full.

    Of course, I could be wrong.

  • DAVE

    I really like this discussion and want to give my two cents worth. I grew up in PA where the first state police was formed. I was a police officer in Grove City Ohio and Columbus in the 70’s. I moved west and spent time with the Phoenix PD and then spent 25 years with the Arizona Dept. Public Safety, with all but 5 years in the Highway Parol Division.
    Being a history buff as well, you need to look at history to know where OSP came from and why it is JUST a Highway Patrol when they are surrounded by states with state police. When OSP was formed the unions in Ohio fought to stop it and only agreed to it’s formation if they did not have police powers to break up strikes.

    Today it is stupid for them not to have the right to enforce criminal laws during their daily activities. A Trooper should not have to turn over a criminal investigation from a traffic stop to the SO. Poor use of resourses for sure.

    In my opinion, having a law enforcement officer elected by the people (County Sheriff’s) is a bad idea. Too much corrutption to be had. This is one reason the PA state police was formed. The sheriff’s were either corrupt or inept. This is why when the PSP was formed, the legislature took away arrest powers from the sheriff and made them jailers.

    I am not saying this should happen in Ohio. Look at most other states and you will find that almost all of them, whether called Highway Patrol, State Patrol, or State Police, all have state wide jurisdiction and full police powers. They do not deminish the local police or SO, they just add to it.

    Here is Arizona we are not a state police. The Sheriff’s in AZ are very powerful and when the DPS was formed, they lobbied against it because they saw us being a state police. Stupid really. I had full police powers to arrest and enforce any state law and it never interfered with or ran against the SO or any other agency. We had the lawful authority, but were trained and had policy against stepping on other LE jurisdictions. We only went in upon request of local. But if I made a traffic stop and found a load of drugs, it was MY arrest. I did not to hand it over to the SO or local police.

    It just makes good sense to give the OSP full arrest powers and make them police officers. You will find that the world will not end and most everything will stay the same. They just won’t be a second class law enforcement agency.

    Remember this: ALL criminals drive cars. There are many cases that show that a state trooper was responsible catching many mass murderers. Timothy McVay was one case. He was stopped by a state trooper for a registration violation. It is stupid to restrict the OSP. Nothing has to change, not the name or anything. Just a change in statute that says that all OSP troopers are now state police officers with full powers of arrest for any violations of criminal or traffic law.

  • Glenn Kresge

    South of you in Kentucky, they have a full service state police that works well; KSP helps Sheriffs and local police, along with answering rural house complaints and investigating murders. They have a high clearance of solving crimes. The state police concept works when it is finance right. Also, look at PSP east of you. PA. State Police are great at solving major crimes. Moreover, some Highway patrols do function as full service state police like Missouri State Highway Patrol. All sheriffs depts. are not created equal.

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