UPDATE: State should abolish constables, group says

Public safety secretary announces his findings

By Brett Barrouquere/AP, Published:

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky should abolish the office of constable or strip away its law-enforcement powers because it has outlived its usefulness and is no longer essential to modern law-enforcement work, a group said Thursday.

The move comes after a yearlong study by the Kentucky Law Enforcement Council, made up of sheriffs, police chiefs and state police. It found that the 500-plus constables performed one-quarter of 1 percent of all law-enforcement work and received little or no training for the job.

"They are unregulated and have no standards," said Commissioner John Bizzack, who heads the Department of Criminal Justice Training.

The recommendations, made during the council's meeting Thursday in Louisville, come just a year after a constable in Louisville, David Whitlock, shot at a woman across a Wal-Mart parking lot. Whitlock resigned in October as part of a plea deal that kept him out of jail.

Justice Cabinet Secretary J. Michael Brown, who presented the report, said the recommendations are not aimed at any individual and that there have been issues with constables from around Kentucky. The report cites incidents, including arrests and confrontations with citizens, involving constables in Lexington and Louisville as well as Clark, Johnson, Knox, LaRue and Muhlenberg counties.

Because constables, who work part-time, carry a badge and use law-enforcement powers, their actions also reflect on fully trained sheriff's deputies, police officers and state troopers.

"The integrity ... of all of them is diminished by the office of constable as it exists now," Brown said. "In my opinion, there is no option."

A message left for Jason Rector, president of the Kentucky Constable Association in Versailles, was not immediately returned Thursday.

The organization denounced the report on its Facebook page, noting that constables work for free to aid local authorities.

"It's time for our Government to stop wasting all our tax dollars to dream up all this non-since," the posting said. "Government just can't seem to stand it because we work for the people that elects us and not for the Government themselves."

Kentucky established the office in the state's 1850 Constitution, but have no clearly defined authority in the document. Lawmakers granted it law- enforcement powers in state law. Getting rid of the office would require a constitutional amendment passed by the General Assembly and approved by voters. Law-enforcement powers could be stripped away by law.

In February, state senators backed off a proposed constitutional amendment to abolish the office of county constable, opting instead to allow fiscal courts to decide their responsibilities and duties.

"Change is absolutely needed," Louisville Police Chief Steve Conrad said.

Kentucky, which 509 to 586 constables, is one of 12 states to grant the position full law-enforcement powers. The other 38 states, including West Virginia and Tennessee, have either abolished the office completely, imposed restrictions or obligations upon it or provided for local control to accomplish those tasks.

Kentucky State Police Commander Rodney Brewer said because constables are part-time and have regular jobs, training them to the level of troopers or city police officers isn't possible. A state trooper undergoes 23 weeks of training and spends three to four months riding along with an experienced officer before receiving assignments. Constables have almost no training, Brewer said.

"By comparison, that's a stark contrast and one that causes me concern," Brewer said.

Daviess County Sheriff Keith Cain, who backs the report's conclusions, called untrained constables "a genuine and very real concern" for law enforcement.

"I suspect this won't be the last time we hear about it," Cain said.

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  • Mr.Sandifer, I missed the question about what a huge liability constables are. Don't think for a New York Second that this county wouldn't be responsible if a citizen complains about serious situation with one & later (because nobody will do anything with them) they get harmed by one! Just like the Hunter Hay incident that our then County Judge Arnold would do nothing about. All Arnold had to do was make ONE PHONE CALL TO THE STATE POLICE, ONE SIMPLE CALL & OUR COUNTY WOULD NOT HAD TO PAY THE MULTI-MILLION DOLLAR LAWSUIT that we were hit with. It isn't the 1800's anymore & Jailors, Sheriffs, Coroners & Constables offices should all be done away with & ran like any other businesses that requires a background in education & training & not just an AGE & RESIDENCY ONLY. I know that we disagree with each other, it is what it is & I know it's a shame when GOOD APPLES pays for the spoils of the bad ones. Have a good day Mr. Sandifer

  • Thank you Mr. Sandifer. Now before you get upset & Take my views as a personal attack (it isn't) please remember that just like city, state police & Franklin county deputy sheriff, It is the quality of some officers & not all. Franklin County has a deep history of electing corrupt constables & the fact that Constables answers to nobody if they choose not to, & the fact that anybody can be one. At least with the three other agencies that I mentioned above, they have HEADS ABOVE THEM to keep in line when a citizen is wrong. I have mentioned years earlier about an incident involving my wife & then two year old daughter getting harassed by a constable here. I went to the Sheriff & county judge to get some answers & the sheriff referred my to the county judge. Nobody can touch or stop a constable until it is WAY WAY TOO LATE & THE DAMAGES ARE DONE.! Nobody can stop or prevent one from doing what they want when it is necessary. I've also personally known a few & suffice to say & for lack of better words, They are a joke! We got one right now that loves to wear the uniform & drive a HALF MADE UP CRUISER trying to look like a true trooper but this man literally cannot take a six inch step, let alone run. It was honestly sad to see an elder man trying to look like a cop. Mr. Sandifer, don't take what I say as a personal attack on you but it is very ignorant & dangerous to allow uneducated and untrained men run around playing cops. I was with a friend of mine & he was pulled over by one years ago who was so loplegged drunk that he almost fell down walking up to our car & he reeked of alcohol but this constable was related to our one time sheriff. Nothing can be done with them. We've had one kick in his neighbors screen door & ARREST THEIR DOG (ABOVE ALL THINGS). WE had one rape a child, have one embarrassing us recently with some strange affair with his step daughter. Go to the Constables assoc. website & look how a lot of them are wearing uniforms with bellies flopping off their knees. They have since removed a lot of those pictures but some are still there. Look at David Whitlock, a prior FELON running in a Walmart parking lot firing his gun & hitting a SUSPECTED SHOPLIFTER & possibly his own deputy.. I'M GOING TO STOP HERE, because there is no way to put what all I want on here. Now what we have is constables arguing that they are bad apples in every bunch but the fact is, THEY ARE MORE BAD APPLES THEN GOOD ONES IN A POSITION THAT IS JUST TOO DANGEROUS FOR WANNABE COPS WITHOUT KNOWLEDGE & TRAINING & PHYSICALLY FIT TO DO IT! I will always feel that if a man or woman wants to be a cop, then go through the academy, not the voters! Richard, in a nut shell, I hope that I answered your question. Thank you Mr. Sandifer

  • Let me start off by saying that was well said FC3101. bodeen, what is it that you dont like about Franklin county constables? I can not speak for other constables in our county but as far as me, I can say that I get out and try to assist the FPD,FCSO,and the Ky state police when needed, be it a wreck or a DV call or any other matter that comes up and I have never been asked to step aside, they have always thanked me for helping out. The same goes for anytime that I have stopped to help a MA on the road they said they were glad I was there to offer help. What is the huge liability that you spoke of? We pay our own bond and have to have a large insurance policy, that to we pay for. As far as cost for the county tax payer there is none, I pay for everything that has to do with my duties. I ask these questions because I'd like to know why you feel the way you do about constables because I hold the office of the 6th district here in Franklin County. Thank You Richard

  • FC3101, The smokescreen you wrote about how good the constables services are in Fayette Co. & how needed they are will only work in a place like Lexington. The fact is that Constables are not only an outdated position but a HUGE, HUGE liability. Your statement about sheriffs not required to go through POPS training is true but the sheriffs office serves more than a law enforcement role & most sheriffs serves nothing more than an administrators position but I will agree that any sheriffs such as Franklin counties who wants to do patrol & arrest duties, should be required to have all the training that their deputies has to have. Furthermore FC3101, Outside of Fayette Co. , have you seen any other constable? Like say the ones in FRANKLIN COUNTY. Dude, come on....

  • This report solidifies what Constables and deputies have been saying for decades. The Office of Constable is the most underused resource a county has. Constable Offices are not funded by tax dollars. Constables don't cost the taxpayers a penny. Their funding comes from fees they collect from the duties they perform; civil process served is paid by the initiating party and criminal process served is paid by the defendant. This supposedly unbiased report is just another attempt by the Kentucky Sheriff's Association and its members to get rid of competition. The issue is all about money, as are most things. When a Constable serves a paper, it is taking away fees that the Sheriff could collect on top of the percentage of tax dollars they currently get to run their offices. The problem is that the Sheriff can't serve the papers they are being issued now. Kentucky still has a huge backlog of outstanding warrants that aren't getting served and that doesn't include the civil summonses and process that are issued. More and more attorneys that are filing civil cases are sending them to Constables because the Sheriff of a County either won't or can't get them served; sure, they will take the service fee money, but return the paper as not found or not return it all. As evidence that this report is simply a sham of the Sheriff's Association, just look at who is the Chairman of the Kentucky Law Enforcement Council, Sheriff Cain of Daviess County; and look at all of the negative media stories that are peppered throughout the report. There have been far more Sheriffs and deputies arrested than Constables, but you don't see a push to do away with the Sheriff's Office. Any sensible person knows that there are bad apples in any group and that you don't throw the baby out with the dirty bath water. You will also not find any positive news articles in this report, like the Constable that went to do an eviction and uncovered a Meth Lab or the Constables that are saving their county thousands of dollars by serving as code enforcement officers. The report states that Constables are not required to be trained like other law enforcement officers. The fact is that neither are Sheriffs and a third of them haven't been through the POPS training. Deputy Sheriffs that are appointed under two separate statutes also aren't required to be POPS Certified. The fact is that the Jefferson County Sheriff has over 100 of these deputies. Their website states these deputies receive 140 hours of training. Well, that is well short of the almost 800 that certified peace officers receive, but the Jefferson County Sheriff thinks that is enough and he is one of the biggest supporters of abolish Constables because that aren't required to be trained. There are other numerous other persons that are sworn peace officers in Kentucky that are exempt from the POPS certification. The Constable is exempt from training by statute just like these other officers, but that doesn't mean that they aren't trained. One disturbing fact is that there have been many Constables that have signed up for the POPS training but DOCJT, the very author of this report, has denied them training stating that they don't have room and must leave spots open for those officers that are required to be trained. The report tries to show that Constables are not needed by showing a low number of arrests or citation by Constables throughout the Commonwealth. These statistics fail to account for the actions by Constables that don't result in an arrest or citation. In many cases, the Constable assists another agency in activities and therefore won't "receive credit" for that. It doesn't take into account the motor assists that a Constable has performed, but you can bet that the mother or teenage daughter who is stuck on the side of the rode is extremely thankful for the Constable. It doesn't account for the number of domestic calls that the Constable has answered in his district and has resolved the incident peaceably and no one had to be arrested. It doesn't even take into account when a Constable has answered a call or made a traffic stop and someone does get arrested but because the Constable knows that the State Police or County Sheriff or Police department is better equipped to handle the incident he will refer the arrest to them. Constables are typically one person offices, so that when they do encounter an incident they call another agency to assist as any other officer would. As I said before, the Constable is the most underused resource a County has. One of the biggest problems with the Office of Constable is that Counties don't effectively use them and try to control them by not using them. This approach just entices the type of people that you don't want to be in the Office to run for election. I give you two examples; the first is Fayette County which uses the Office of Constable. The primary duty of the Office is to serve process. As a side note, any one that says you don't need law enforcement authority to serve civil process, has never done it and doesn't know what is needed to be effective. Getting back to Fayette County though, this County uses the Office and Constables can earn a good living by working as a Constable so there is competition when an election comes around and it weeds out the unwanted. An example on the opposite end is Jefferson County. We are all familiar with the problems that Jefferson County has had with one Constable in particular, but the bigger problem is that the County made a decision not to use the Office. Instead of using the Office like Fayette County did, they chose to pay the Constables $100 a month and tell them to check house numbers. You saw what kind of Constable was elected in Jefferson County. Jefferson County made another mistake though. Instead of using Constables to serve process, and you know if Constables in Fayette County can earn a good living with their volume of court process that the Constables in Jefferson County would have alot more volume, they chose to use Special Bailiffs to help serve the court process. These are individuals that are appointed by the Court to serve process and they have the same power as the Sheriff. Wow, the same power means that they can carry concealed weapons and make arrests, all without training. It sounds like someone gagged on a maggot but swallowed a camel. Jefferson County has 33 Special Bailiffs that someone can use to serve the papers they need served. Again, these are private individuals that are taking money away from the County.

  • A year long study? The general public has known for years that the position was no longer needed.

  • About time. Now do something about it!