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decided: January 19, 1979.


No. 2223 October Term, 1977, No. 519 October Term, 1978, Appeal from Order of the Court of Quarter Sessions of Philadelphia County, Miscellaneous Docket, Trial Division, Criminal Section, May Term, 1977 Nos. 5124 and 5125 respectively.


Robert B. Lawler, Assistant District Attorney, Philadelphia, for Commonwealth, appellant.

Charles S. Lieberman, Philadelphia, for appellee.

Cercone, Spaeth and Lipez, JJ.

Author: Cercone

[ 262 Pa. Super. Page 365]

Appellant, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, raises only one issue in this appeal. The Commonwealth contends that the lower court erred in granting licenses to be private detectives to the two appellees, who are currently employed by the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County as probation officers.*fn1 The Commonwealth argues that licensing appellees as private detectives contravenes public policy in view of the grave potential for conflict of interest. We agree and order that appellees' private detective licenses be revoked and that they not be granted licenses as long as they continue to work as probation officers.

[ 262 Pa. Super. Page 366]

When it granted appellees their licenses, the lower court was aware of the fact that appellees were employed as probation officers; however, the lower court did not feel such employment would conflict with private detective work. In support of its decision, the lower court distinguished our opinion in Stanley Appeal, 204 Pa. Super. 29, 201 A.2d 287 (1964). The trial court in Stanley suspended the private detective license of an individual who was elected to be a constable. This Court sustained the trial court, saying in part:

"A constable's authority to execute warrants of arrest, to arrest on sight for breach of the peace, vagrancy and drunkenness, to carry a deadly weapon concealed upon his person and to be present at the polling places in order to keep the peace, is not conferred upon private citizens, including private detectives. To give these powers, conferred upon a duly elected constable for the benefit of the public, to a person licensed to act for [sic] private persons, creates the distinct possibility of grave abuses. The public policy against allowing one clothed with such extraordinary authority to act as a private detective for private employers seems obvious." Stanley Appeal, 204 Pa. Super. at 32, 201 A.2d at 289.

The lower court construed the Stanley case to apply solely to constables and said that since probation officers do not have authority identical to that of the constable in Stanley, the Stanley rationale doesn't apply.

In Stanley we listed the obvious areas of conflict present in that case, but did not intend that to be a comprehensive list nor did we mandate that only persons who fall within the precise parameters of Stanley would be denied private detective licenses. On the contrary, our concern was that persons holding public office and given extraordinary authority for the benefit of the public might use that authority specifically for the benefit of private persons. Though the authority of a probation officer is not identical to that of a constable, probation officers are vested with powers not allowed private persons. The legislature has delineated the authority of probation officers as follows:

[ 262 Pa. Super. Page 367]

"Probation officers . . . are hereby declared to be peace officers, and shall have police powers and authority throughout the Commonwealth to arrest with or without warrant, writ, rule or process, any person on probation or parole under the supervision of said court for fail[ure] to report as required by the terms of his probation or parole or for any other violation of his probation or parole." The Act of August 6, 1963, P.L. 521, § 1, 19 P.S. § 1091.

Lay persons, including private detectives, have no such police powers.*fn2

In addition to their statutorily granted powers, probation officers have been permitted to request and examine police records. This fact was testified to before the lower court by Officer Michael Nangle. Officer Nangle at the time of the hearing was assigned to the Criminal Record Division of the Philadelphia Police Department. Officer Nangle testified that in that capacity he is authorized to issue records and extracts to the proper authorities, which include probation officers, together with national, state or city governments and law enforcement agencies. Private citizens, however, are not privy to such information. Officer Nangle stated that if a probation officer wishes to examine a police file on somebody that probation officer must first show his credentials proving that he is a probation officer. However, according to Officer Nangle, there is no procedure used to ascertain whether the record requested by the probation officer pertains to a probationer who is assigned to that probation officer. In other words, a probation officer could conceivably examine the police records of any individual. If that probation officer is also a private detective, the potential for abuse of the probation officer's special privilege becomes apparent.*fn3 Private detectives are not public officers,

[ 262 Pa. Super. Page 368]

Accordingly, the order of the court below is hereby reversed.

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