Constable consternation

2012-11-08T15:28:00Z 2012-11-12T10:48:08Z Constable consternationWENDY MITCHELL Ledger Independent
November 08, 2012 3:28 pm  • 

FRANKFORT | Reaching decades into Kentucky history books, the job of constable is often viewed as being in line with law enforcement.

Over time, as duties shifted to other agencies, the job of constable became blurred.

The option to run for the office still allows candidates to appear on the ballot, but even those elected find it difficult to serve.

On Thursday, Justice and Public Safety Secretary J. Michael Brown, released a report declaring, “... office of constable is outdated and irrelevant as an arm of law enforcement and poses potential liabilities for counties.”

“I asked Department of Criminal Justice Training to develop a comprehensive, objective view of the authority, usefulness and purpose of constables -- to look at all angles of the office and determine if a position that served a defined need 200 years ago was still relevant today,” Brown said. “The answer is a resounding no.”

The six-month review included an historical perspective of constables in Kentucky and other states’ experiences with the office, as well as statewide surveys conducted with primary stakeholders that elicited more than 1,400 responses, Brown said.

Constable duties been handled in different ways in the Buffalo Trace region.

In Bracken County, five constables are listed, including the recently elected Greg Cummins and Jack L. Bare, and Kenny Carl, Orie Ramsey and Bill Ruf.

In 2010, without guidelines for their activities in place, Bracken County Fiscal Court members put restrictions on use of police style lights and radio communications permitted constables.

They are also required to post their own bond.

The report, “Constables in Kentucky: Contemporary Issues and Findings Surrounding an Outdated Office,” reveals an overwhelming majority of county and law enforcement officials see little to no practical purpose behind the constitutional office, and believe it should be abolished or its law enforcement authority eliminated or restricted, Brown said.

The report also notes there is no required training, education and experience among office holders -- a standard inconsistent with other Kentucky law enforcement officers, who are certified according to the Peace Officer Professional Standards.

“Certified peace officers today meet rigorous pre-employment standards and training and are regulated through multiple layers of oversight and public scrutiny,” Brown said. “That standard is diluted when law enforcement powers are shared with individuals who lack the required training and accountability.”

According to Cummins, a certified peace officer who has already gained years of experience in law enforcement, he plans do help wherever he has the authority to do so.

“I don't plan on doing a bunch of traffic stops,” Cummins said.

In Lewis County, the office appears to be embraced as a useful presence, with guidelines for constables David Lancaster, Larry Colley and Aaron Gilbert to follow, including accompanying police in some instances and patrolling rural areas while in communication with law enforcement agencies, officials said.

"While constables undeniably wish to perform a public service, the fact remains that for many of them the role is a part-time position with no certified requirements, no certified standards and no training," said DOCJT Commissioner John Bizzack. "What we have today is a position that has been called a hobby. And as a hobby, the office shouldn't have the same law enforcement authority as trained, certified professional officers."

Fleming, Mason and Robertson counties currently have no constables, officials said.

According to the report, the actual law enforcement benefit to counties is negligible, the report indicates, as constables currently perform less than 1/4 of 1 percent of the law enforcement work in Kentucky.

For the most part, constables perform security guard functions, direct traffic at events, or serve civil warrants.

“As none of these functions require law enforcement authority their authorized (and sometimes unauthorized) activities creates liabilities and risks to counties.”

“There is no compensation and no defined duties,” said Fleming County Judge-Executive Larry Foxworthy. “It made it hard to do something with the position.”

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