Herald-Leader Editorial

Legislature should abolish constable job

Report rightly says position unneeded

November 14, 2012 

Thanks to Justice Secretary J. Michael Brown for taking a close look at the role of constables in Kentucky's counties and reporting that, frankly, they are more trouble (or at least potential liability) than they're worth.

Brown appointed a working group that researched the legal and other history of constables and surveyed county judge-executives, county attorneys, chiefs of police, sheriffs, the state police and the constables themselves.

The conclusion was that "the office of constable serves no value to Kentucky law enforcement, exposes the citizens of Kentucky to unnecessary risk of injury or violation of rights."

Brown's report said that at a minimum constables, who have no required qualifications or training, should be stripped of their law enforcement authority.

Although they aren't paid by counties, deriving their income instead from fees for serving warrants, they are still authorized to carry firearms and arrest people, both of which create liability for counties.

This is a very real risk, particularly given recent history in which constables have been prosecuted for crimes ranging from selling pain pills to promoting prostitution.

It also dilutes the authority and respect for officers who are hired on the basis of ability and trained to do their work professionally.

Most constables, of course, don't do bad things. But that's not a high enough bar for maintaining these positions, which the report called "a tenuous anachronism."

The office of constable is established in the Kentucky Constitution but the policing authority was granted by the legislature, which can and should remove that authority.

The General Assembly should also move forward to place a constitutional amendment on the ballot to abolish the position.

But it shouldn't stop there.

Constable, of course, is not the only anachronistic county position in our constitution. In counties, like Fayette, where the county and city governments are merged, the positions of magistrate, commissioner and judge-executive have no real reason for existing.

Indeed, Jon Larson successfully sought the judge-executive position in Fayette County in 2010 on the promise that he would work to abolish it. Sadly, he hasn't yet succeeded.

The legislature could, and should, give Kentucky voters the chance to vote on a constitutional amendment to abolish these holdovers from the past that no longer serve the public and have the potential to cause harm.

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