A little known Virginia state law allows citizens to form their own private police forces, complete with the authority to carry firearms, badges and make arrests. Known as SCOP‘s (Special Conservators of the Peace), these vigilante Virginian law enforcers number around 750 individuals and task themselves with performing the same duties as civilian law enforcement.
► Be at least 18 years of age
► Have no criminal convictions
► Possess U.S. citizenship
► Pass a drug and alcohol screening, for which they must pay $41.50
► Register their fingerprints with local law enforcement
► Complete 130 hours of entry-level training standards
► Submit a minimum $10,000 security or cash bond to the local government
► Possess a comprehensive insurance policy with a minimum of $10,000 in coverage
► Register with the Department of Criminal Justice Services
Once these requirements are met, these SCOPS‘s are allowed the same legal latitude as civilian law enforcement. They are allowed to use the words “POLICE” and “LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICER” on any badge or uniform and identify themselves as such to the public.
This law has raised concern with the public, as the SCOP‘s receive only a tiny fraction of the training as traditional civilian law enforcement (who generally receive between 580 and 1,200 hours of training) and have virtually no oversight from local government, increasing the potential for abuse of power. They are not required to identify to civilians that they are a separate entity from the local civilian law enforcement agency.
In 2009, a SCOP named KEVIN BUKOWSKI got into a heated argument with a woman over a parking dispute. He entered her vehicle and held her and her 2 children at gunpoint. He was later convicted of abduction in 2012.
There are also disputes between SCOP‘s and civilian law enforcement. These Conservators of the Peace obviously encroach on the territory of civilian law enforcement and decrease their revenue-generating ability. Many civilian law enforcement agents view SCOP‘s as vigilantes who are trying to skirt the system and take the law into their own hands.
In 2012, over 20 residents of a Baltimore, Maryland neighborhood filed a $25 MILLION law suit against Cleveland, Ohio SCOP‘s, claiming that they abused residents, violated their civil rights and performed illegal stops, detainments and arrests.
In 2005, a Washington D.C. SCOP carried out an armed robbery under the guise of “LAW ENFORCEMENT.”
Washington D.C. has a similar law on the books, requiring only 40 hours of training, as does Maryland, who leaves training requirements up to the discretion of local governments.
~ MERIT FREEMAN