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Bills seek to abolish office of constables - Bowling Green Daily News: Local

Bills seek to abolish office of constables

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Posted: Thursday, January 26, 2012 12:52 pm | Updated: 10:14 am, Wed Dec 10, 2014.

Kentucky voters will get to decide if they want to do away with county constables if either of two bills proposed by a pair of Jefferson County legislators is approved by the General Assembly.

State Rep. Joni Jenkins, D-Shively, and state Sen. Julie Denton, R-Louisville, have both proposed legislation that would amend the Kentucky Constitution to abolish the office of constable. If either bill passes, the question will be posed to voters in a ballot referendum.

Kentucky's 1850 Constitution created the office of constable and requires the election of one constable in each magisterial district. Warren County has six constables.

"Constables play a vital role throughout our state in deterring crime in eyes and boots on the ground," said Rick Bruce, Warren County's District Four constable.

Bruce also is president of the Warren County Constable Association, a group he and two other Warren County constables created for themselves and their deputy constables last year to ensure that members conduct themselves professionally and adhere to the Constable's Code of Ethics as established by the National Constables & Marshals Association.

Constables are recognized under state law as law enforcement officers. Unlike police officers, constables are elected but are not paid. They pay for their own training, uniforms, cars, gasoline, weapons and other equipment. Constables can charge fees for certain services, such as serving legal papers or taking patients from places such as LifeSkills to mental health facilities. But those fees typically don't cover the costs associated with the tasks.

Both Jenkins and Denton cite a shooting in Louisville last year that involved a Jefferson County constable as the final straw in inspiring their legislation.

"I'm very concerned that once these folks are elected, they are automatically peace officers, and many of them have no training whatsoever," Jenkins said. She introduced her bill in the House on Jan. 11, and on Jan. 12 the bill was sent to the Elections, Constitutional Amendments and Intergovernmental Affairs Committee.

Denton's legislation was introduced Jan. 3 in the Senate to the State and Local Government Committee. She sponsored the bill to address problems she sees around the state in which constables' actions have been called into question. But Denton admits that the Louisville shooting incident was the "straw that broke the camel's back."

On Nov. 2, Jefferson County Constable David Whitlock allegedly shot a woman in the parking lot of a Walmart in the Pleasure Ridge Park area of Louisville after he said she tried to run over him with her car. The woman survived.

Meanwhile, in Warren County, District Two Constable Charles Russell was indicted Sept. 7 on charges of second-degree forgery and first-degree official misconduct. Russell has not been tried on those charges yet.

"What my feeling is on it is, there have been some problems in Louisville, and they're trying to take it out on all the constables rather than take it out on an individual situation," Bruce said. "If a sheriff in some part of Kentucky got in trouble, would they do away with all the sheriffs? The answer is no.

"The constables play an important role in their communities."

Denton doesn't expect her proposed legislation to pass as it is currently written. But the bill is a "starting point" for discussion about the issue, she said.

Jenkins has asked Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway to weigh in on the issue of what action, if any, the legislature can take to limit the scope of authority that constables have in their communities, or to place requirements on who can seek the office.

"I would like to see them not be automatically put in the position of peace officer," Jenkins said.

Someone with no training being handed arrest powers by virtue of a popular vote "I don't think is appropriate," she said.

The Kentucky Sheriffs Association is neither for nor against the position of constable, executive director and retired Fleming County Sheriff Jerry Wagner said. However, Wagner said, potential solutions to the issue include eliminating the office, limiting constable's duties or requiring constables to complete certain training elements.

"Our position is that we feel that law enforcement are charged with protecting the citizens and property and should be properly trained and accountable," Wagner said. "There's no qualifications. There's no training, no standards and there's no oversight (of constables). Whatever it takes to fix that problem is how we need to pursue it. When I say ‘we,' I'm not talking about sheriffs. I'm talking about citizens. I don't think anybody wants untrained, unsupervised individuals policing our communities."

- The Associated Press contributed information to this report.

Welcome to the discussion.

6 comments:

  • kyinvestigativeservices posted at 11:50 am on Fri, Jan 27, 2012.

    kyinvestigativeservices Posts: 1

    Well let me say this if in fact the legislation is started by the constable and the shooting he was involved in then we need to abolish all law enforcement agencies for I can list any city police county police or sheriffs office who has never been involved in a shooting... Furthermore Constables have been around for a long time and are as important as the sheriffs dept is. In fact the sheriff's office is actually tittled as a tarriff officer his main job is to collect county taxes and unless the sheriff himself request more training for his deputies the state legislature only requires 40 hours a year training for deputy sheriffs... Furthermore for that part anyone male, female, can become if elected sheriff with absolutely no training or have ever been involved in law enforcement ever... Same as the president of the United States of America, who as we all know is Commander and Chief of the armed forces and has never served a day in the United States military... So several factors involved here you say it is because of training, you say it is because of a shooting, then I say we alter all legal classifications on this issue and require every sheriff, deputy, city or county police officer to be certified in richmond... Furthermore since constables are the only unpaid and elected position we should pass legislation that they be paid just as we do the jailer and the sheriff. I me come on a jailer making 80,000 a year and the constables 0.. Maybe if they were paid and their vehicles and fuel furnished by the county like the sheriffs dept and county pays for their training in richmond then require them to go.... If anything lets put the sheriff back to his duty as a tariff officer and pay the constables and train them to serve and protect professionally and qualified....

     
  • bgresident posted at 11:38 pm on Thu, Jan 26, 2012.

    bgresident Posts: 62

    Larry your last post took a sudden turn to the effect of the needle coming off the record. You were complaining about the election of Sheriffs being a bad idea and that a better way would be to hire based on merit and qualifications...then stated that they should be controlled by civilians and not their own "fraternity." Direct election by popular vote is as close as it gets to being controlled by civilians, or as I would prefer to call us, citizens.

    But I agree with you on the Constable issue. Just like most cops, I am sure most of them are very well intentioned and helpful people. However, after reading about the issue, it seems Constables are more likely to cause more problems or get themselves hurt or into trouble when they go into dangerous situations without proper equipment and training. I really can't imagine why anyone would want to be a paid law enforcement officer in our society today, much less one who does it for no pay without proper training and equipment.

     
  • elvisinky posted at 7:39 pm on Thu, Jan 26, 2012.

    elvisinky Posts: 548

    Just my personal opinion but constables are joke as they are now. One part errand boy, One part good ol boy with just enough Barney Fife to finish out the mold. That said I feel they do serve a purpose and rather than get rid of them I would like to see steps taken to train them to some level in basic law enforcement and firearm training. Perhaps requiring each candidate before running for the office to have completed ont heir own time and dime a six week course over at E.K.U. or something created by the BGPD / Local Sheriffs office in each county tht offers such training and ride along time.

     
  • Larry Fiehn posted at 6:03 pm on Thu, Jan 26, 2012.

    Larry Fiehn Posts: 331

    TheInformer: I've never met a Constable. However, I maintain my position that no one who is not duly trained and certified should be able to act in any capacityi as a law-enforcement officer, including a Sheriff. If Sheriff's are not required to be certified, there's another change that should be made to Kentucky's laws. Of course electing Sheriffs is another dumb idea. You don't have to have any qualifications. It should be a civil service position where the County hires the best-qualified, trained, professional law-enforcement officer they can get. Cops in this country are way too often "out of control" and need to be controlled by civilians, not their own "fraternity".
    For anyone interested how bad some law enforcement has become, I suggested looking at "Cop Block" (http://www.copblock.org/), "The Agitator" (http://www.theagitator.com/) or "Injustice Everywhere" (http://www.injusticeeverywhere.com/). Our increasingly militarized police are way too often no longer trustworthy.

     
  • TheInformer posted at 5:19 pm on Thu, Jan 26, 2012.

    TheInformer Posts: 6

    As a private citizen, I have every legal right to defend myself. I have my ccdw, and carry a firearm all the time. Someone attempting to run over me is an attempt to cause physical if not deadly harm to me. I would have also shot them. Not knowing all the details, but what is listed, this person was just protecting himself I really wished more people would do that. If they did, our jails would not be over populated and criminals would not be running the street like they own them.

    Did most of you know that your elected Sheriff is not academy certified and by state law he is not nor any sheriff is required to attend the academy or training? So we have sheriffs out there that are not trained, let get rid of the sheriff’s office also please! Get serious like that is going to happen.

    Mr. Fiehn, I am wondering if you have had a negative dealing with a Constable in the past? If so I would recommend filing a complaint with the County Judge Executive. I have had many dealings with Constables and their deputies and have not have any issues and if I have, I have taken it up with someone above them. Almost every state in the United States still have Constables.

    I remember an article in the last few years where Constables were asking for the state to provide training to them, and they could not get the state to pass legislative to assist in getting this accomplished. As it stands from what I understand, the Department of Criminal Justice (which provides training to all law enforcement officers) was willing to help in this but needed to have some type of order in place. Constables can currently attend training, but there is little training that they are allowed to attend, and paid officers and deputies are given first priority which they should be. Also if you go online to the Official Kentucky Constable Associations website, you will see that they do train and do offer training to the Constables.

    In closing, I know this was long, but I really don’t think that the entire state should be judged on what one or two people do!

     
  • Larry Fiehn posted at 1:32 pm on Thu, Jan 26, 2012.

    Larry Fiehn Posts: 331

    Thank you, Mr. Wagner for stating the truth about constables: 'no qualifications, no training, no standards,
    no oversight'. Just a few good 'old boys that like to play cop. In this day and age, no one should have police powers without state-approved training and certification. It's way past time to do away with this antiquated part of Kentucky's Constitution.