In 1872, a deputy sheriff from Philadelphia traveled to the northwest corner of Pennsylvania to bring back a suspect. The suspect killed the sheriff, and the killer was then captured and hanged by a private group of “volunteers” who called themselves the State Police of Crawford and Erie Counties. The Crawford/Erie group was officially sanctioned and empowered by a state law in 1872. The law — now under attack by the state police union — allows the private group to wear uniforms with insignia reading “state police,” to carry weapons, to have a marked police vehicle, to detain suspects and make arrests, reports the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “It’s a dangerous situation, a scary situation, and I’m concerned,” Pennsylvana State Police Commander Jeffrey Miller told a state Senate committee. Miller is afraid members of the public could be confused by the similarity of the names on the uniforms of the volunteer group and the real state police.
The state legislature is considering a repeal of the 1872 law and change the name and undo the powers of the police volunteers. The group is still active, with 230 members. It provides security at fairs and carnivals, and augments small municipal departments at accident scenes. State Police Sgt. Bruce Edwards, president of the State Troopers Association, said, “There are no private police in this country any more. We’re lucky there hasn’t been a tragedy yet” with the Crawford/Erie group.