A little-known provision of Virginia law allows private citizens to petition courts for the authority to carry a gun, display a badge and make arrests. The number of “special conservators of the peace” (SCOPs) has doubled in Virginia over the past decade to roughly 750, the Washington Post reports. The growth is mirrored nationally in the ranks of private police, who increasingly patrol corporate campuses, neighborhoods and museums as the demand for private security is up and police services have been cut in some places.
The trend has raised concerns in Virginia and elsewhere, because armed officers often get only a small fraction of the training and oversight of their municipal counterparts. Arrests of private police officers and incidents involving SCOPs overstepping their authority have raised concerns. The Virginia legislature approved a bill Friday increasing training and regulation of SCOPs. The private officers would now be required to train for 130 hours, up from 40, less than the state requires for nail technicians and auctioneers. In neighboring D.C., a similar designation called “special police” requires 40 hours of training. Maryland officials leave instruction to the discretion of employers but have no requirements.