Constables in the Commonwealth: Armed and Dangerous

In a rural town in Eastern Kentucky, a constable routinely accompanies a deputy sheriff on his night patrol. The constable is armed with a Glock 23, a magazine pouch with extra ammunition, an ASP, a Maglite, and handcuffs and is clothed in tactical gear.  He is authorized to arrest the citizens of the county and has participated in at least two officer-involved shootings in the past two years, despite having never received even an hour of law enforcement training. One of those officer-involved shootings ended in the beating and shooting death of unarmed Jessie Mills. Read the complaint here.  Unfortunately, this is a scenario that plays out repeatedly in many counties throughout the Commonwealth and the other fifteen plus states where the office still exists.

In Kentucky, constables are elected officials whose position was originally established as a peace officer by the Kentucky Constitution of 1850. Anyone, including convicted felons, may run for office and be elected as constable if he or she is at least 24 years of age, a resident of Kentucky for at least two years, and a resident of the county and jurisdiction for at least one year prior to the election. Law enforcement training and experience is not required, and the constables answer to no one. However, he or she has broad arrest powers and may use blue emergency lights on his or her private vehicle if approved by the local fiscal court.

With no oversight and no training, constables are a great liability to the citizens they are elected to serve and the counties in which they are elected. Examples abound of constables themselves facing criminal charges and civil lawsuits after posing threats to public safety by shooting unarmed citizens, engaging in dangerous high-speed pursuits, and arresting innocent individuals. In 2012, the Kentucky Department of Criminal Justice Training issued a 264-page report on the outdated use of constables, concluding that “The office of constable serves no value to Kentucky law enforcement, but exposes the citizens of Kentucky to unnecessary risk of injury or violation of rights.”

Read the full report here 

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