Private Police: Little-Known Legislation Increasingly Allowing Citizens To Carry A Gun, Flash A Badge And Make Arrests

Alap Naik Desai

Armed civilians are flashing badges and making arrests In Virginia. These growing incidents are the result of a little-known legislature that allows ordinary citizens to carry a gun, flash a badge and even make arrests.

While it might look and feel like routine arrests and police work, these armed men in uniform dispensing warnings, issuing tickets and appearing to maintain law and order, aren't ordained officers of the law. Multiple citizens across the United States are donning uniforms and patrolling the streets, without being officially appointed to do so.

These civilians have gained their "police powers" using a little-known provision of state law that allows private citizens to petition the courts for the authority to carry a gun, display a badge and even make arrests. Christened as "Special Conservators Of the Peace" — or SCOPs, their numbers have swelled to more than 750 in the last decade in Virginia alone.

Unsurprisingly, the growth rate is replicated across the country. These private police officers are patrolling corporate campuses, neighborhoods and museums. The majority of them feel it is their duty to protect their neighborhoods as the demand for private security has increased and the required police services have been cut in some places.

While their intentions may certainly be good, citizens are divided over the rise of such private police officers. Ordinary law abiding citizens are concerned because these armed officers often receive a small fraction or sometimes nothing of the essential training in the use of force and firearms. Coupled with the oversight of their municipal counterparts, these private police officers have the potential to wreak havoc and cause equal or more problems, fear citizens, who would rather see an increase in the number of police officers appointed by the state.

Arrests of private police officers and incidents involving SCOPs overstepping their authority have also raised concerns. Taking note of the same, the Virginia legislature approved a bill last week, increasing the training and regulation of SCOPs. All such private police officers are now required to undergo at least 130 hours of training.

Becoming an SCOP is rather easy. To become a SCOP in Virginia, an individual must register with the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services. Besides undergoing 130 hours of training, the applicant must merely pass a criminal background check and an alcohol and drug test to become a private police officer.

Apart from the training duration being woefully short of the 580 to 1,200 hours required of municipal police officers in the state of Virginia, these officers often create confusion for citizens. Additionally, the fact that these private police can carry a firearm is unnerving a lot of law abiding citizens as compared to the miscreants.

[Image Credit | Evelyn Hockstein/The Washington Post]