By Ronnie Ellis
CNHI News Service
An office created before the invention of the automobile and telephone might soon be abolished in some communities if Rep. Adam Koenig, R-Erlanger, gets his way.
Koenig is sponsor of a proposed constitutional amendment which, if approved by voters, would allow local county governments to abolish the office of constable.
“Professional policing has evolved over the past century but this office has not evolved,” said John Bizzack, commissioner of the Department of Criminal Justice Training.
Bizzack testified before the House Committee on Elections, Constitutional Amendments and Intergovernmental Affairs on behalf of Koenig’s proposal. He directed an extensive study of the office for J. Michael Brown, Secretary of the Justice and Public Safety Cabinet.
Brown, after reading Bizzack’s report, wrote Bizzack’s findings “demonstrate that the position of constable is outdated as an arm of law enforcement.”
The office, like jailer, is created by Kentucky’s constitution but its duties are set by statute. Constables are elected but aren’t trained as law enforcement officers and they have occasionally run afoul of the law themselves.
Bizzack said some convicted felons have been elected constable — at least one is currently serving — and last year, a Jefferson County constable shot an alleged shoplifter after she drove her car tire over his foot as he accosted her in a shopping center parking lot.
Many counties use constables as process servers but few delegate actual law enforcement authority.
There have been previous attempts to eliminate the office, but that’s not what Koenig’s amendment would do this time. Instead, it would amend the state constitution to allow the local “legislative body of a county to abolish the office of constable.”
Koenig said some counties may rely on constables for services which other counties don’t require or accomplish through other personnel. The local option would allow the decision to be made locally, based on local circumstances and needs, he said.
Bizzack said there are more than 500 constables currently serving in Kentucky with at least one in each of the 120 counties.
But they do not receive law enforcement training creating safety and liability concerns for local governments, he said. All other law enforcement officers in Kentucky receive a minimum of 840 hours of training, paid for by the state.
“If you’re elected, you’re a constable,” observed committee Chairman Darryl Owens, D-Louisville. “There is no requirement for any training of any kind anywhere.”
Rep. Kevin Bratcher, R-Louisville, said Jefferson County have between 1,400 and 1,500 highly trained police officers and don’t need constables.
“But some counties may need constables, so this is nearly perfect legislation,” Bratcher said.
Part of Bizzack’s study included a survey of County Judge/Executives, County Attorneys, Chiefs of Police, Sheriffs and Kentucky State Police.
“The overwhelming consensus of all surveyed was that the office of constable should be stripped of law enforcement authority; a majority of groups believed the office should be abolished outright,” Bizzack’s report concludes.
There was one exception: constables.
But 137 of the 204 constables who responded to the survey also indicated they are employed in jobs other than law enforcement.
And data from the KSP indicate constables perform less than 1 percent of all recorded law enforcement actions.
The measure is supported by the Kentucky Association of Counties. Shellie Hampton, director of Legislative Affairs for KACo, said local officials are concerned primarily about safety but also have some liability concerns.
Koenig’s bill passed out of committee and now goes to the full House.
RONNIE ELLIS writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at email@example.com. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort.