SALT LAKE CITY -- Lt. Lee Perry of the Utah Highway Patrol has reservations about Senate Bill 210 that gives new powers to private investigators.
The bill passed the Legislature but has yet to be signed by Gov. Gary Herbert. SB 210 would allow private agencies such as law firms and real estate companies to hire private investigators to serve all civil processes, including vacate and eviction notices, bench warrants, summonses and subpoenas. These are responsibilities that are now done by constables or law enforcement officers.
"They're not trained in the same way as officers," said Perry, who is also a state representative from Box Elder County and voted against the bill.
Many private investigators are former officers who know how to handle those situations, but under current state law, anyone who wants to be an investigator doesn't have to take police training, "and that's the hang-up," Perry said.
Perry wonders what happens when people who don't understand the recipient's basic constitutional rights act inappropriately. If a resident or the investigators end up having to call law enforcement to assist in the situation, he questions what the bill really accomplishes.
The bill faced stiff opposition in the Senate, but passed 16-12 after sponsor Sen. Stephen Urquhart, R-St. George, added that the investigators cannot make arrests when serving a bench warrant.
Rep. Lowry Snow, R-St. George, sponsored the bill in the House and made sure to include a provision that investigators cannot use any force or breach the peace in performing these duties.
"It is true that (private investigators) have not been through the same training that a police officer will go through or a constable," Snow said. "But they are regulated by the state Department of Professional Licensing and must adhere to the rules and regulations of that agency."
In the House, Perry added a requirement that the investigators have to identify themselves and state that they're acting as process servers, carry visible credentials and provide their contact information.
He also changed the bill so that if a sheriff's office receives a credible complaint about an investigator, the department can ban him or her from performing those duties in that county ever again.
"I tried to give as much protection as I possibly could," Perry said.
The final version passed the House on the last night of the session by a 38-36 vote.
One local private investigator shares Perry's concerns about the possible law.
Jeff Nelson, who has been a private investigator in North Salt Lake for almost 35 years, said the bill does not make much sense to him. He's been involved in at least 2,000 criminal cases and worries for the investigator's safety while serving warrants. Sometimes "you run into someone who is a bad guy," he said.
It's better to send someone into these situations who is more qualified, he said.
If the governor signs SB 210, Perry plans to work with Rep. Curtis Oda, R-Clearfield, over the coming months on a new bill that would further clarify what the investigators can and cannot do.