Michael Youlen stopped a driver in a Manassas apartment complex on a recent night and wrote the man a ticket for driving on a suspended licence. With a badge on his chest and a gun on his hip, Youlen gave the driver a stern warning to stay off the road.
The stop was routine police work, except for one fact: Youlen is not a Manassas officer. The citation came courtesy of the private force he created that, until recently, he called the “Manassas Junction Police Department”. He is its chief and sole officer.
Youlen gained his 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 make arrests. The number of “special conservators of the peace” – or Scops, as they are known – has doubled in Virginia over the past decade to roughly 750.
The concept has its origins in English common law, and the first Virginia statute was enacted in 1860 to allow proprietors of “watering places” to protect their establishments.
The designation still retains some of that informality. No authority regulates the conduct of Scops or addresses complaints against them. THE WASHINGTON POSTReuse content