The office of constable, which is established by Kentucky’s state constitution, is again under scrutiny. Earlier attempts to eliminate the office have failed. However, critics this year are taking a different approach.
Instead of eliminating the office, which carries with it police powers, a constitutional amendment proposed by northern Kentucky Representative Adam Koenig, puts it under county control.
“That would allow fiscal courts by ordinance to eliminate constables in their county. That way we have some county’s that wish to be rid of constables, they can do that and those that think they’re important and would like to keep them, they can do that also, so it really fits our diverse state,” said Koenig.
There are more than 500 constables in Kentucky. They have the power to arrest suspects, but are not required to undergo formal police training.
Among the Constitutional Amendment’s supporters was Boyle County Sheriff Marty Elliot. Elliot says constables need that training and they should be held more accountable.
“If you’re gonna wear a badge and you’re gonna look like me, you need to have something behind you that says I’m trained. That’s my stance on it,” added Elliot.
The issue surfaced a few years ago after several reports of misconduct and unprofessionalism by constables.
During a hearing in Frankfort, it was noted constables account for less than one-percent of the work done by Kentucky’s police agencies. Commissioner John Bizzack of the Department of Criminal Justice Training says rookie police officers undergo 840 hours of training and then, once they join the thin blue line, they take another 40 hours of training each year.
“You cannot train a person who has the authority to arrest you and carry a weapon in 40 or 80 hours and have defensible training that keeps cities and counties from being sued and being liable,” said Bizzack.
The training issue was a prominent point of discussion in committee. Derrick Graham is a Frankfort lawmaker.
“But, I do have some concerns about whether or not there have been obstacles placed in their way in terms of attempting the training,” said Graham.
Bizzack says he’s not aware of any obstacles, adding the individuals need to be qualified to pass the training.
Danville Representative Mike Harmon believes it’s a decision best left to local governments. While some counties have no need for constables, Harmon says others might find the office useful. So, he says local voters should have the final say.
“I just think that if we’re allowing the county to decide, then we need to go along and let the citizens of the county to decide as well,” said Harmon.
Bill Sponsor Adam Koenig suspects counties with larger cities would be the first to eliminate the office of constables.
The state’s constables have not yet reacted to Koenig’s bill, but he expects to hear from them soon. None were present during a hearing Tuesday by a house committee. And, attempts to reach the Kentucky Constable Association for reaction proved unsuccessful.