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decided: October 20, 1978.


No. 1752 October Term, 1977, Appeal from the Order of the Court of Common Pleas of Chester County, No. 118, Mis., 1976, Crim., entered May 17, 1977, revoking the private detective license of Sentry Security, Inc.


Elliott D. Goldberg, Phoenixville, for appellant.

James Curtis Joyner, Assistant District Attorney, West Chester, for appellee.

Jacobs, Presiding Judge, and Hoffman, Cercone, Price, Van der Voort, Spaeth and Hester, JJ. Price, J., files a concurring statement. Hoffman, J., did not participate in the consideration or decision of this case.

Author: Per Curiam

[ 259 Pa. Super. Page 387]

Appellant corporation contends that the lower court erred in revoking its license to carry on a private detective business. We agree. Accordingly, we reverse the order of the lower court revoking appellant's license.*fn1

On March 5, 1976, appellant corporation filed an application for a license to carry on a private detective business with the Chester County Court of Common Pleas. Because the Private Detective Act of 1953*fn2 [hereinafter The Act] requires an applicant corporation to demonstrate that at least one of its members possesses the necessary qualifications to be a private detective,*fn3 this application alleged that appellant's president, Joseph P. Shepsko, had been regularly employed as a detective for at least three years. In particular, the application stated that Shepsko had been regularly employed as a member of the Schuylkill Township Police Department in Chester County from March 3, 1969, to June, 1975. During this period, Shepsko regularly engaged in a combination of patrol and detective work. From June to November, 1971, he became the de facto officer in charge of the police department, and from March, 1974, to June, 1975, he served as Acting Sergeant in charge of the force. The application also listed Shepsko's extensive educational credits in the field of criminal investigation.*fn4

[ 259 Pa. Super. Page 388]

On April 22, 1976, Judge SUGERMAN of the Chester County Court of Common Pleas conducted a brief hearing*fn5 and ordered that appellant be issued a certificate of license to conduct a private detective business for a period of two years. The order specified that the license ". . . shall at all time be revocable by the Court for cause shown."

On August 17, 1976, the Chester County District Attorney filed a petition in the Chester County Court of Common Pleas to revoke appellant's license because the District Attorney's investigation had disclosed that Joseph Shepsko did not have the qualifications or experience necessary for a private detective license. On August 26, 1976, appellant filed an answer in which it averred that Shepsko had the necessary qualifications because he had been regularly employed as a detective for at least three years.

On September 8 and 9, 1976, Judge STIVELY conducted a hearing on the Commonwealth's revocation petition. The Commonwealth presented the testimony of only one witness: Lawrence Drake, Supervisor of Schuylkill Township, a second class township, since January, 1974. Drake testified that his duties included supervision of the township police department. At the time Drake assumed his official position, the department comprised a police chief and four full-time patrol officers, including Shepsko. All patrol officers investigated crimes, made reports, patrolled for traffic offenses, and assisted the police forces of surrounding townships. Most of the crimes committed during Drake's tenure as supervisor and investigated by patrol officers fell into the following categories: minor juvenile disturbances, robberies, drug traffic investigations, and traffic accidents. In drug and homicide cases, the police department would call in the Chester County Detective's Office for assistance. Shepsko also acted as administrative officer and was responsible for

[ 259 Pa. Super. Page 389]

    assigning patrol periods, filling out forms, and scheduling patrol officers for court. In January, 1975, Shepsko received a promotion to sergeant; he acted as the officer in charge of the department.

Joseph Shepsko testified as follows. When he first joined the Schuylkill Township Police Department, the force consisted of one police chief and two patrol officers; when he left the department, the force included five full-time police officers. During his six years of service, Shepsko participated in investigations involving over 800 criminal arrests. This figure included major crimes as well as juvenile and summary offenses, but did not embrace traffic arrests. Moreover, Shepsko made numerous other investigations in cases which did not result in arrests. According to Shepsko, his investigation of criminal complaints involved interviewing witnesses and suspects, obtaining physical evidence, preparing complaints and testifying in court. Shepsko gave a detailed account of the investigative techniques he had employed in both a burglary and in a rape case. While his department did request the assistance of the Chester County Detective's Office when criminal investigations required the use of sophisticated equipment or crossing over state and county lines, the Chester County Detective's Office reciprocally requested the assistance of the Schuylkill Township Police Department in investigations of township citizens. During the two periods that Shepsko served as officer in charge, he assumed full responsibility of the police department, supervised all stages of criminal investigations, and reported directly back to the township supervisor.*fn6

At the conclusion of the hearing Judge STIVELY took the matter under advisement. On October 18, 1976, the Chester County Court of Common Pleas, sitting en banc, heard oral argument on the Commonwealth's petition. On May 17,

[ 259 Pa. Super. Page 3901977]

, Judge STIVELY entered an order revoking appellant's license. In his written opinion, Judge STIVELY argued that appellant's experience as a Schuylkill Township patrol officer did not constitute three years regular employment as a detective, and that granting appellant a license would violate the legislature's policy of sharply limiting the number of licensed private detectives. This appeal followed.*fn7

Appellant contends that the lower court erred in concluding that appellant's president lacked the statutory qualifications to be a private detective. Section 14 of the Act provides, in pertinent part:

". . . Every such applicant shall establish, to the satisfaction of the court of quarter sessions*fn8 and by at least two duly acknowledged certificates, that such applicant, if he be a person, or, in the case of a partnership, association, or corporation, at least one member of such partnership, association, or corporation, has been regularly employed as a detective, or shall have been a member of the United States government investigative service, a sheriff, a member of the Pennsylvania State Police, or a member of a city police department of a rank or grade higher than that of patrolman, for a period of not less than three years." (emphasis added). The crucial issue in this case is whether the Commonwealth demonstrated*fn9 that appellant was unqualified

[ 259 Pa. Super. Page 391]

    under this Section because he had not been "regularly employed as a detective" for more than three years.*fn10

We believe that Application for Harding, 246 Pa. Super. 180, 369 A.2d 871 (1977) supplies the controlling precedent. In Harding, a detective in the Bureau of Investigation, a department of the Pennsylvania Auditor General's Office, applied for a private detective's license. The applicant alleged and proved that for a period of over three years, his duties entailed investigating violations of Pennsylvania law and reporting his findings to state enforcement agencies. More specifically, appellant conducted surveillances, collected evidence, contacted informants, examined records, interviewed witnesses, interrogated suspects, and prepared detailed reports of investigations setting forth the pertinent evidence, facts, and conclusions. Nevertheless, the lower court found the applicant had not been "regularly employed as a detective" within the meaning of the Act.

On appeal, our Court, confronted by a complete absence of appellate case law guidance, attempted to construct a meaningful and functional definition of "regularly employed as a detective." Our analysis commenced with an examination of the scope of activities encompassed within the Act's definition of "private detective business."*fn11 We then observed

[ 259 Pa. Super. Page 392]

    that ". . . the qualifications required by Section 14 were designed to make sure that only people of good character, integrity, and competence could obtain a license." Supra, 246 Pa. Super. at 185, 369 A.2d at 873. Finally, we concluded that the best method of gauging an applicant's future competence as a private detective is to evaluate his past performance over the specified time period of the activities common to his prior employment and the Act's definition of "private detective business."*fn12 Applying this

[ 259 Pa. Super. Page 393]

    test in Harding, we found that the applicant had extensive qualifications as an investigator and had performed at least six of the functions specifically mentioned by the Act as constituting the business of a private detective agency. Because the applicant's work experience was functionally co-extensive with the work regulated by the statute, we ordered the lower court to grant the applicant a private detective's license.

[ 259 Pa. Super. Page 394]

As in Harding, we believe that appellant's comprehensive criminal investigative work experience is the practical equivalent of regular employment as a detective over a sustained period of time. During his six years as a patrol officer and officer in charge of the Schuylkill Township Police Department, appellant participated in over 800 criminal investigations and performed the full gamut of investigative duties, including interviewing witnesses, interrogating suspects, contacting informants, collecting evidence, and preparing detailed reports of his investigations for purposes of possible prosecution. Specifically, appellant participated in at least seven of the activities delineated in Section 12(b)'s definition of "private detective business."*fn13 Thus, appellant's investigative work experience has been co-extensive with the activities regulated by the Act, and the Commonwealth has failed to show that appellant's president was unqualified to be a private detective under Section 14 of the Act. See Harding, supra; Application of Nichols & Clark, Page 394} Inc., supra.*fn14 Accordingly, we reverse the lower court's order revoking appellant's license.

Order reversed.

PRICE, Judge, concurring:

I concur in the result reached by the majority. I still adhere to my position that the test as annunciated by the majority in In re Application for Private Detective License of Leo A. Harding, Appellant, 246 Pa. Super. 180, 369 A.2d 871 (1977), is incorrect. However, based upon this record I believe that the appellant has satisfied the requirements as specifically required by the statute.

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