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Earlier this month, Spencer Countians elected a constable for each of the county’s magisterial districts. While we have no reason to question that voters gave due consideration to each candidate’s qualifications, we wonder how many residents actually understand the constable’s role.
In Medieval times, constables helped manage a noble household, royal castle or a fortified town. In Kentucky, the position was established by the 1850 state constitution to carry out minor judicial duties and help small communities maintain civic order.
Today, constables are peace officers with powers of arrest and law enforcement, similar to those of sheriffs. They may execute warrants, summonses, subpoenas, rules and orders of the court in all criminal, penal and civil cases. To qualify, a candidate must be 24 years of age, a two-year resident of the Commonwealth and a one-year resident of the county and district to which elected.
The Kentucky Constables Association website states that the purpose of the Kentucky constable is “to uphold the law fairly and firmly: to prevent crime, to pursue and bring to justice those who break the law; to keep the peace; to protect, help and reassure the community; and to be seen to do all this with integrity, common sense and sound judgment.”
Each constable elected Nov. 2 carries a badge and may carry a weapon.
While most city, county and state police officers are required to complete more than 700 hours of basic training and an additional 40 hours of annual in-service instruction, constables are exempt from any training requirement. And constables are accountable only to the voters who elected them.
We have a problem with that. Our constables, as peace officers, should be held to the same training standard as city, county and state law enforcement officers. Also, the state should establish a system of accountability for constables’ actions and duties.
The KCA has said it hopes eventually to make a certain amount of police training mandatory for constables taking office and the association is developing a voluntary training program for its members. Training will focus on civil processes, juvenile procedures, domestic violence law enforcement response, arrests, searches, and defensive tactics/ use of force and other law enforcement-related topics.
That’s good. We hope local constables seek any and all training opportunities that allow them to serve in a professional manner. We trust they will perform their duties with “integrity, common sense and sound judgment.”
But state lawmakers need to more clearly define the role of the constable in modern times, require mandatory training, provide for greater accountability and ensure constables cooperate with local law enforcement agencies.