Lakes of the Four Seasons security acted as an unauthorized "quasi police force," and now the Lake County Sheriff's Department may be stepping in, the county police chief said Tuesday.
As state police probe possible misuse of authority by the gated community's security force, Lake County Police Chief Bill Patterson said he will meet with the prosecutor’s office Wednesday to discuss policing in the gated community going forward.
“For the citizens of the LOFS, we want to make sure they’re protected," Patterson said. "If we have to send cars in there to have more direct patrol response, we will."
The sheriff is willing to make some manpower adjustments to accommodate more patrols, he said.
Because the gated community is private property, Paterson said the sheriff’s department is seeking legal guidance from prosecutors on the level of patrols they can and cannot carry out once inside the gates.
Generally speaking, law enforcement — not LOFS security — can initiate traffic stops and charge someone with a felony or misdemeanor if probable cause is found, he said.
But traffic violations, such as minor speeding infractions, are considered civil matters under local ordinance.
Inside the gates, the local ordinance would fall under the community’s Property Owners Association regulations, he said.
“Once inside the gates of the LOFS, that’s 100-percent private property. We can’t even write a state ticket or a county citation ticket because it’s technically an internal HOA violation,” Paterson said.
Criminal matters, such as reckless or drunken driving, however, are under law enforcement authority both inside and outside the gates.
Indiana State Police raided the security force’s guard shack Friday morning as part of a probe into reports of drunken driving and other traffic offenses that weren’t reported to state or local authorities.
Indiana State Police officials have said they will not offer comment beyond a statement already issued.
A source with knowledge of the investigation confirmed Friday that in some cases, motorists driving on the private roads of the gated subdivision were reportedly pulled over by LOFS security, detained and even assessed fines ranging into the hundreds of dollars, payable to the homeowners' association.
In a number of cases, security guards allowed alleged drunken drivers to find other means of transportation home after being pulled over, with no proper reporting to police, the source said.
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Paterson said he could not comment on the state police matter, nor does he have any direct knowledge of the ongoing investigation. But generally speaking, he said LOFS security officers are not certified law enforcement officials and cannot initiate traffic stops.
Some LOFS residents have chimed in on social media and in phone calls to The Times in recent days, largely blaming Lake and Porter county police for failing to respond to requests from LOFS security for assistance on traffic stops.
But when LOFS security makes an illegal traffic stop, it puts the county in tricky legal waters, Paterson said.
“If the beginning of the stop is illegal, the rest of the stop is illegal. They have been stretching the rules of what they should be doing,” he said. “Our standing is they don’t have authority to (make stops). We’ve recommended them not to make traffic stops.”
As a security force, their first duty is to “observe and report,” Paterson said.
"They were acting like a quasi police force, and they shouldn’t have been. Have you ever heard of any other security forces making traffic stops?" he said. “What they should have done, if they notice a driver who is believed to be drunk, which I would question because they don’t have that level of training, they should observe and report. Instead, they are trying to go hands-on and actually act."
Paterson said the Lake County Sheriff's Department has always responded to 911 calls if they are dispatched, though the response time may lag compared to the security team on-site due to the department's coverage area across Lake County.
Lake County Prosecutor spokesman Bradley Carter confirmed Tuesday the office is meeting with the county sheriff’s department Wednesday to discuss additional patrols in LOFS.
Paterson admitted it's a tricky situation both for county and LOFS security.
"If traffic violations are such an issue in LOFS, then maybe this is the better option, having the sheriff department patrolling more heavily,” he added.
Messages left Monday with LOFS Community Manager Rick Cleveland and LOFS Security Director Craig Philp at their respective offices were not returned.
An email sent to LOFS officials on Tuesday also received no immediate response.