RECOMMENDATION: Eliminate Kentucky's office of constable - WDRB 41 Louisville News

RECOMMENDATION: Eliminate Kentucky's office of constable

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LOUISVILLE, KY. (WDRB) -- The office of constable is "outdated and irrelevant" and should be eliminated in Kentucky -- that's the recommendation of a report by Kentucky Justice and Public Safety Secretary J. Michael Brown.

The state has about 500 constables. The report was designed to look at whether a position that "served a defined need 200 years ago" was still needed today.  Sec. Brown said in a news release, "The answer is a resounding no."

The report is titled, "Constables in Kentucky: Contemporary Issues and Findings Surrounding an Outdated Office."  It says an "overwhelming majority" of county and law enforcement officials see little or no practical purpose behind the office of constable.  The report says they believe it should be abolished or have its authority eliminated or restricted.

The constitutional office of constable was first established in 1850 as a part of law enforcement. Today, there are 509 serving across Kentucky elected by voters. Officials say unlike our laws, the position has not been updated or revised.

The report comes after a Jefferson County constable, David Whitlock, was charged with assault and wanton endangerment after shooting an alleged shoplifter at the Walmart on Raggard Lane on Nov. 2, 2011. According to police reports, Whitlock was shopping at the store when he was alerted to a possible shoplifter.

Whitlock followed the woman, Tammie Ortiz, to her car, but she refused to stop. Whitlock later told police that his weapon discharged when Ortiz ran over his foot. She was wounded in the arm and face.

He entered an Alford plea in October and will not serve any time in jail if he completes a diversion program. He's also banned from serving as a law enforcement officer for the rest of his life. He will have to serve 15 years in prison if he violates the terms of that agreement.

Secretary Brown says Whitlock's case didn't spark the study into constables, but it did raise questions, as have many cases involving questionable actions by constables across the Commonwealth.

"That was the main concern the public had," Brown says.  "Who was this person with the badge and the gun firing across a parking lot?  And then there was a rightful inquiry about that.  That inquiry would have happened if it had been an LMPD officer, if it was one of my state troopers.  But the issue there is behind the incident, behind that badge, we find nothing to give us any confidence that this is a trained law enforcement professional."

The report also notes that no training, education, or experience is required for constables, which is inconsistent with requirements of other law enforcement officers in Kentucky.

"Certified peace officers today meet rigorous pre-employment standards and training and are regulated through multiple layers of oversight and public scrutiny," Sec. Brown said. "That standard is diluted when law enforcement powers are shared with individuals who lack the required training and accountability."

The actual work that constables do is generally limited to being security guards, directing traffic at events, and serving civil warrants, according to the report. 

Even constables themselves, the report says, have wildly different concepts of their duties, their understanding of what their role is, and their level of education and training. 

Department of Criminal Justice Training Commissioner John Bizzack says, "What we have today is a position that has been called a hobby. And as a hobby, the office shouldn't have the same law enforcement authority as trained, certified professional officers."

Louisville Metro Police Chief Steve Conrad says, "Law enforcement has progressed and professionalized to the point that you know the office is no longer needed, and if it continues to stay, definitely, changes need to be made."

A representative with the Kentucky Constable Association declined to comment until the organization reads the entire report. But the group's Facebook page says, "The position of Constable cost NOTHING to tax payers and we're FREE help to our Counties and the State in addition to more officers on our streets to help keep our neighborhoods and communities safe."

A copy of the full report is available at https://docjt.ky.gov/constables.html .

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