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  • Virginia Peace Officer Question

    What authority does a “conservator of the peace” in Virginia have? Specifically when you are classified as a conservator of the peace under 19.2-12. I am a Federal law enforcement officer based in Virginia and my department is mentioned in 19.2-12. Let’s assume that my agency does not limit my “conservator of the peace” status (it does, but humor me).

    What can/can’t you do, what powers and what jurisdiction(s) do you have?

    There seems to be two consistent, yet very different answers I keep running into:

    1.) Conservators of the peace as classified in 19.2-12 have statewide jurisdiction to arrest for any crime committed in their presence; enforce state law

    2.) Conservators of the peace as classified in 19.2-12 have the same powers as a normal police officer, but only within the limits of their employer’s (agency’s) property; ie; the area/land in which they are hired to protect

    Number 1 seems unlikely to me because it seems like way too much authority for an individual or entity to have who is not specifically under the control of the actual State.

    Number 2 seems more reasonable, but if we are talking Federal “employer” here then it doesn’t make any sense because a Federal law enforcement entity does not need “permission” from the State to enforce state law on Federal property- they have the Assimilative Crimes Act for that.

    Anyway, I am just curious as to what State law actually allows a conservator of the peace to do. As I mentioned earlier, my agency’s policy limits my “conservator of the peace” status, but it does not define what a “conservator of the peace” is. My agency basically says “officers’ authority under 19.2-12 as a conservator of the peace outside of Federal jurisdiction is limited to intervening only when witnessing violent crimes”.
    Last edited by Henry5; 11-28-2014, 11:13 PM.

  • #2
    I don't think you'll be able to find a clear cut answer on this one. Technically magistrates, judges, a Commonwealth Attorney, pilots operating aircraft carrying passengers, railroad conductors and engineers, hospital personnel, and even voter registrars (the list is actually much longer, although those are the ones that immediately come to mind) are considered "conservators of the peace" in Virginia. To my knowledge an appellate court in Virginia has never actually answered this question either. If I remember correctly, the Virginia Supreme Court came close a few years ago in an appeal of a traffic stop made by a US Park Police officer off of federal park land, however declined to actually answer that question since it wasn't part of the appeal.

    While technically a conservator of the peace has the same authority as any other police officer, I think the last part of 19.2-12 sums it up: "while engaged in the performance of their official duties." As to what actually constitutes "official duties" thats a question for the Virginia appellate courts to answer. Although I certainly wouldn't want to be the test case...

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    • #3
      Originally posted by Cape804 View Post
      I don't think you'll be able to find a clear cut answer on this one. Technically magistrates, judges, a Commonwealth Attorney, pilots operating aircraft carrying passengers, railroad conductors and engineers, hospital personnel, and even voter registrars (the list is actually much longer, although those are the ones that immediately come to mind) are considered "conservators of the peace" in Virginia. To my knowledge an appellate court in Virginia has never actually answered this question either. If I remember correctly, the Virginia Supreme Court came close a few years ago in an appeal of a traffic stop made by a US Park Police officer off of federal park land, however declined to actually answer that question since it wasn't part of the appeal.

      While technically a conservator of the peace has the same authority as any other police officer, I think the last part of 19.2-12 sums it up: "while engaged in the performance of their official duties." As to what actually constitutes "official duties" thats a question for the Virginia appellate courts to answer. Although I certainly wouldn't want to be the test case...
      I was afraid that was the case. Numerous emails to my OGC that went unanswered was probably not a good sign either.

      I did a little more digging, and maybe I jumped the gun on part of this question, as I found that in 19.2-18 it clearly says conservators of the peace have the same authority as defined in 19.2-81. So 19.2-81 basically gives conservators of the peace the same powers as a normal police officer; like you said. With the exception of serving warrants I believe? And as you also said, a federal agent/officer's conservator of the peace status is only recognized "while engaged in the performance of their official duties". To me this implied that you had Virginia's blessing to act as a conservator of the peace as long as you were considered "on-duty" with your agency, however, I could be wrong.

      That still leaves the question of location. Where does your jurisdiction as a conservator of the peace start and end? 19.2-13 goes into a little more detail about this, but for the majority of 19.2-13 it is talking about a different "kind" of conservator of the peace than those defined in 19.2-12. Ie; it talks about becoming a conservator through applications and having those applications approved by a judge who further approves of your jurisdiction as a conservator of the peace. Since there is no such application for conservators as defined by 19.2-12, the question of jurisdiction still remains a mystery. It might be fair to assume state-wide jurisdiction as long you are "engaged in the performance of their official duties" at the time. However, like you said, I would not want to test that...

      Again, I know this all doesn't really matter as my agency clearly does not like the idea of its people being conservators of the peace and has limited any such authority. It would just be nice to know legally what is acceptable. After all, knowledge is power. If someone ever asked me a question like this, instead of babbling on like an idiot, it would nice to be able to spit out exactly what I legally could or could not do in such circumstances.

      Thanks for your input!

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      • #4
        With the exception of serving warrants I believe?
        They can serve arrest warrants technically, it's search warrants they can't (19.2-56). Those can only be directed towards Virginia law enforcement or jointly with a listed federal agency (the list of agencies is shorter than in 19.2-12).

        To me this implied that you had Virginia's blessing to act as a conservator of the peace as long as you were considered "on-duty" with your agency, however, I could be wrong.
        Again, this is a slippery slope. If you work for an agency where making traffic stops, etc. are something that are not a part of your regular "official duties", than stopping someone for speeding as a "conservator" might be considered outside of those duties.

        Where does your jurisdiction as a conservator of the peace start and end?
        If you are appointed a conservator by a circuit court it is only for where the court specifies (its actually written on the order from the court) and can only extend to places under the jurisdiction of that circuit court. So the circuit court of county A can't authorize jurisdiction in county B.

        That still leaves the question of location. Where does your jurisdiction as a conservator of the peace start and end?
        I'd say as an agent/officer for a listed federal agency, it would extend anywhere in the Commonwealth your "official duties" take you. But again, that would be determined by an appellate court in Virginia, not an internet message board.

        Quite frankly, I'm not sure where you are going with this, especially if you are contacting your OGC regarding it. I'm sure the federal government gives you the exact amount of authority you need to perform your duties. And if the "conservator of the peace" avenue were one your agency wanted you to employ, I'm sure they would have educated you on the specifics...

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        • #5
          I'm only asking out of curiosity. My agency did not educate me on Virginia's conservator of the peace status because they do not want us acting as such. I know exactly what is expected of me as far as the agency is concerned. I'm simply asking what is legally OK, not administratively OK. I asked OGC because I figured lawyers would be able to give me a good answer, not because I'm in some kind of trouble. Again, just asking for curiosity's sake.

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