PENNSYLVANIA Sheriffs' group seeks change in wiretap law

The plaintiffs are from Mercer, Warren, Bradford and Cumberland counties.
HARRISBURG (AP) -- The head of the Pennsylvania Sheriffs' Association said Monday his group will appeal a court ruling that prevents deputies from conducting surreptitious wiretaps.
"In this time of homeland security and with law enforcement stretched to the limits, we certainly don't want to let something occur that may take more officers off the streets," said Centre County Sheriff Denny Nau, the group's president.
A seven-judge Commonwealth Court panel on Friday said deputies have "limited law enforcement functions" and are not authorized to perform electronic monitoring under the state's Wiretapping and Electronic Surveillance Control Act.
As a result, five deputies who sued for permission to take a five-day State Police wiretapping course in November will not be allowed to put their training into practice.
"Our courts only endorse limited law enforcement functions for sheriffs, such as effectuating warrantless arrests for offenses committed in their presence and filing citations for summary offenses," wrote Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson.
The primary duties of Pennsylvania's 1,993 deputy sheriffs include serving warrants, catching fugitives, transporting prisoners and providing courthouse security.
But they also investigate prisoner escapes and courthouse bomb threats, and in some areas, patrol municipalities, provide security at airports and utility plants and contribute to drug and anti-terrorism task forces.
Only in Allegheny County are deputies unquestionably equivalent to municipal police officers, because of a 1995 state law that expressly granted them that status.
In three state Supreme Court decisions going back a decade, deputies have been allowed to make arrests for motor-vehicle violations that they personally witness, conduct field-sobriety tests and, most recently, file a driving-while-suspended charge based only on secondhand information.
Warren County Sheriff Larry E. Kopko, one of the plaintiffs, said the ruling will hurt law enforcement efforts by increasing dependence on informants.
State police said that since 2000, they have received only one request for help in conducting a wiretap from Warren, Bradford, Cumberland and Mercer counties, where all of the plaintiffs are located. Nonconsensual wiretaps are not widely employed; statewide, just 60 were issued in 2002.