Kentucky Law Enforcement Group Takes Aim at Constables

By BRETT BARROUQUERE | November 9, 2012

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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