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Our view: Disturbing ruling on private cops

Updated: March 2, 2013 11:46AM



The Illinois Supreme Court essentially has ruled that private security officers can exercise real police powers. We think the decision makes no sense and worry that it almost guarantees a senseless tragedy at some point.

While the court’s ruling applies initially to traffic enforcement on private roads that are overseen by homeowners associations, we don’t like where this could be heading.

Eventually, a private-duty cop, lacking proper training and experience in tense or dangerous situations, will shoot an innocent person for seeming to be suspicious. In such a confrontation, would the security guard call the police? We hope so but fear some would see no need.

A former DuPage County prosecutor sued his homeowners association in LaSalle County after he was pulled over in 2008 by a vehicle with flashing lights, and a uniformed officer wrote him a $50 speeding ticket. The man wasn’t a police officer but an association employee with little police training and no state certification.

The analogy is not perfect, but the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman last year in Sanford, Fla., comes to mind. Zimmerman claimed that he had the right to stop the unarmed teenager because Zimmerman was the neighborhood watch coordinator for the gated community.

People who think they have police power will use that power. That’s why we have strict rules for police conduct and require thorough training. They are sworn to enforce the law, not residential preferences.

Last year, the Illinois Appellate Court decided that the homeowners group could not stop and ticket drivers for violating its traffic rules. But the Supreme Court reversed that ruling, while specifying that such groups’ bylaws apply only to members — though it’s not clear how rent-a-cops determine who’s a resident or whether they bother.

Homeowners associations are quasi-commercial enterprises, not governments. Their security guards are not sworn police officers empowered to detain citizens. The state’s high court has issued a ruling that it will come to regret. We already do.



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