Tribune-Courier News Editor
A Commonwealth of Kentucky Justice and Public Safety Cabinet press release called the office of constable “outdated and irrelevant as an arm of law enforcement.”
The press release, distributed Nov. 8 comes from a report initiated by Justice and Public Safety Secretary J. Michael Brown.
“I asked DOCJT 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 in the press release. “The answer is a resounding no.”
According to the study, constables function more as security guards, direct traffic at functions or serve civil warrants. The report finds these functions do not require law enforcement authority, and may create risks for counties.
Danny Cope is one of two constables in Marshall County. He was elected in 2011 from District 3, but says a constable’s constitutional authority extends throughout the county he serves.
The Tribune-Courier attempted to reach Steve Baird, the constable for District 1 at a number provided by the Marshall County Judge-Executive’s office. The number was disconnected. The position of constable for District 2 is vacant. There are no plans to fill the position at this time.
“A constable has the same duties as the sheriff,” Cope said. “The Fiscal Court has a say on what they will allow a constable to do. They have prohibited me from using blue lights and a radio, and that prohibits me from a lot I could be doing.”
Sheriff Kevin Byars said a lot of the limitation is based on a constable’s training, or lack of. Byars said local police officers, deputies and sheriffs and Kentucky State Police must be certified according to Peace Officer Professional Standards.
“Constables are the only officers that do not have to meet this standard,” Byars said. “Fiscal court has authority over constables, and I believe Commissioner (Terry) Anderson said he did not want them to have that authority unless they had the training.”
Byars added constables could only reach that standard by paying their way through the Kentucky Police Academy, with an $8,000 tuition.
Cope said he has not attended the police academy as his career as a business owner and contractor prevent him from leaving the community for the time required. He has, however, received the same in-service training as other police officers. He has training in search and seizure, weapons, hand-to-hand-combat, baton combat and handling prisoners, among others. Cope is not paid for his position, but may receive money for serving papers.
As an elected peace officer, Cope has the authority to make traffic stops, write citations, serve papers and if needed, make an arrest. He said he serves about 100 papers per year, and has not made any felony or misdemeanor arrests.
“I haven’t stopped any cars because I don’t have the ability to radio in a license number to check to see who is driving. It could be anyone in there, so for my safety, I haven’t made any stops,” Cope said.
Constables are allowed to carry weapons and a badge as a part of their duties within their county. While he owns a firearm, Cope rarely carries his.
“I would agree that some services performed by constables when the office was first founded are no longer needed,” Cope said. “The fact is we do have a constables association and standards. We don’t run for office just to strap on a badge and gun and play cop.”
Cope sees his role as a presence in the community. Neighbors know he is a constable and he will investigate suspicious people and vehicles. If he encountered trouble, Cope said he would call the sheriff.
“I think constables could be a great help to the sheriff,” Cope said. “But it seems like the sheriff is dead-set against it. I’ve asked for a radio and blue lights but they won’t give it to me. It’s sad to hear that when I want to do the job. It seems like they may be afraid.”
Byars said there are pros and cons to the position of constable, adding he felt like cons may outweigh pros.
“Some sheriff’s offices are really hindered by constables,” Byars said. “In addition to lacking training, the papers they serve may keep money from the sheriffs. It’s not bad here, but I know it does hit some sheriffs hard.”
Byars said the Kentucky Sheriff’s Association has discussed the abolition of the office of constable.
“It’s a constitutional position, so it would be extremely difficult to abolish,” Byars said. “I don’t think we can do nothing. The position needs to be fixed, and it all boils down to training.”