Private Property, Fines, and Security Guards

If you or I were to grab another human being against their will, handcuff them, drive them across town, and throw them into a cage, we would be charged with Kidnapping and face serious prison time.  When a police officer does the very same thing, he's just doing his job.  It's called an "arrest."

What's the difference?  The difference is that the police officer is P.O.S.T. (Police Officer Standards & Training) certified.  They are essentially a legal arm of the State of Georgia. These officers spend what probably seems like an eternity in Forsyth, Georgia (the city, not the county) earning the authority the State will give them.  Only the State of Georgia can grant these powers to officers.  No other governing body can do so. 

Regardless of where officers work, their authority comes not from their employer but from the State itself.  So when you get pulled over by an officer of the City of Somewhere, Georgia, that officer has the authority to do so not because the City of Somewhere says so, but because the State of Georgia says so.  The City of Somewhere is just his employer.  Being P.O.S.T. certified means that officers can do many of the things that would land the rest of us behind bars. 

Unfortunately, there are people an organizations out there who think they can play cop.  WSBTV Channel 2 has found a local homeowners association (HOA) that thinks they can outfit security guards with uniforms and flashing lights and write people tickets for infractions.  Their claim, of course, is that it's private property and they can do what they want: 

They use lights, sirens, and even write traffic tickets, but they aren't real police officers. Channel 2 producers went undercover to catch the activity on video.

"If I was to stop a motor vehicle with lights in my car, I would be on my way to jail," said resident T.J. Ward.

Ward believes the security officers are impersonating real ones. He has been a certified police officer for 40 years.

"A private individual can't make a traffic stop and security officers are private individuals. The only person that can stop a motor vehicle is a law enforcement officer," said Ward.

Ward got pulled over a few years ago, which launched a heated exchange with his HOA. In a letter, the neighborhood's property manager wrote in part, "The decision by individuals to stop for security personnel is purely voluntary, given their understanding of homeowner responsibility to comply with all rules promulgated by the association."

Good for Mr. Ward!  Your local shopping mall security guards can't start issuing speeding tickets to shoppers.  Your bank can't hold you hostage until you pay your mortgage.  Your credit union can't hold your child hostage until you pay your car note.  Your doctor can't cut off your finger for not paying your bill.  A private HOA can't fine you for offending their rules.  Would parking in front of the sign pictured above give the landowner the right to shoot you?  Of course not.  All the signs in the world does not make an illegal act into a legal one.

This HOA is flirting with disaster.  Some smart lawyer is going to spank them the first time one of these security guards goes too far when someone doesn't stop and the "cop" chases the person into an accident where someone gets hurt or killed.