I must respectfully disagree with Whitley County Sheriff Colan Harrell’s premise that county Constables should be eliminated.
Harrell told Corbin’s Rotary Club last week that the General Assembly erred years ago when they failed to do away with constables.
Not so many years ago, I would have agreed with him.
I thought constable’s were more a symbolic position that police officer wannabes ran for so they could get their jollies by flipping on the blue lights and wearing a homemade uniform.
My position on the issue has softened. I think there are several reasons our constables are important.
Just last year, our County Judge-Executive asked Whitley County’s four constables to fill the void left by a Sheriff’s Department that was understaffed, and suffering from an enormous credibility gap created by the untimely indictment of the former Sheriff.
By all accounts, those constables served admirably. They were an important safety net in our county’s time of need.
It is a fact that nearly every county in Kentucky has an enormous backlog of civil paperwork and unserved arrest warrants that need processed. Our constables aren’t paid directly with tax dollars, but they are routinely paid for serving lawsuits, eviction notices, foreclosure, summonses, etc. Our Sheriff’s department cannot handle the load. Naturally, criminal complaints come first for them, and there are many.
None of this seems important until it is YOU that is involved in a lawsuit where you are trying to recover property, regain custody of your children, attempting to evict tenants who won’t pay rent, or divorce your spouse. Then, it is vitally important. Constables help speed up the process.
Likewise, many of the more routine arrest warrants can easily be served by constables. Harrell made the correct observation that constables aren’t required to have any formal law enforcement training. But truthfully, little is needed anyway to serve warrants on people who failed to appear in court on traffic offenses or for not paying child support or other non-violent crimes.
I think freezing constables out because they aren’t academy-trained officers is overly harsh. If a Sheriff’s deputy got into a sticky situation and a constable was the closest law enforcement assistance available, I seriously doubt a constable’s assistance would be spurned.
I’ve been reporting here at the News Journal for 15 years. Many times, I’ve seen constables doing the jobs our trained law enforcement officers simply don’t have time to do at any particular moment. Often, I’ve witnessed them creating accident reports when there is a collision out in the county. Many times, the wait for a deputy or state police trooper is too long. Constables are welcome in those situations.
Their intimate knowledge of their districts is also an asset that cannot be ignored. Instead of discouraging mingling among deputies and constables when it comes to law enforcement, I would think Harrell would be interested in tapping that knowledge as a way to root out crime. When I went on vacation just recently, it was my local constable that checked my home regularly to make sure it was secure. It’s something I won’t forget.
There was a bill filed last year in the General Assembly to do away with constables. Before his unfortunate injury, I talked at length with our State Representative, Dewayne Bunch, about the idea. He told me it had no traction in the legislature and that he wasn’t in favor of getting rid of constables. His reasoning essentially mirrored all of what I’ve written here.
In the short term at least, nothing is going to change. Constables are here to stay.
I think that’s the way it should be.