Constables: Are They Still Needed?

Gene Willett has been a Constable for about two years, but was a deputy Constable for nearly a decade before that.

He says he's an inexpensive form of law enforcement.

"I don't cost the taxpayer one single dime. I do all my campaigning out of my own pocket, my vehicle, everything I've got I paid for," said Constable Gene Willett.

Willett is part of a larger question facing county and law enforcement officials across the state, are Constables still necessary?

"As a general rule, city, county and state organizations do not rely on the Constables any way whatsoever to complete their daily work," said Bowling Green Fraternal Order of Police President Shawn Helbig.

Constables are an elected position, and their daily work load is up to them.

They perform tasks like serving papers transporting patients to Western State mental facility and hauling inmates.

However, they're allowed to do much more.

"The legal authority of a Constable is so broad that it leads them to participate in law enforcement that they're not trained to participate in. It endangers them, and it endangers the public," said Warren County Judge/Executive Mike Buchanon.

At the end of 2012, Warren County stripped Constables of their deputies and their blue lights because some deputy Constables were abusing their powers.

"I personally warned a couple of them on three different occasions, don't do that, they did it. I'd rather not get into that, but they were overzealous," said Willett.

Adequate training is something many don't believe the Constables have.

"Training is what sets us separate from the public. Otherwise, the public could just get their gun, go out here and handle things the way they see fit," said Helbig.

Shawn Helbig is the President of the Local Fraternal Order of Police, and said it doesn't support law enforcement officials trying to do things without preparation.

"If you haven't been trained, you may go charge somebody with a felony, and it may be a violation or a misdemeanor. Or you think something is a misdemeanor when it's truly a very, very serious felony crime. So, you have to have the training to know how to interpret that law, enforce the law, and to be fair to the public," said Helbig.

The average police officer in the Commonwealth will go through an intensive training program that lasts about four months in Richmond.

Willett said they've tried to get training, but they've never been able to get in.

"We'd talked to them, yeah, there's room. Two weeks before it was time to do it, we were notified there was no room for us," said Willett.

So is it time to get rid of the Constable position?

"If you're asking me is the genuine need there, probably not as much so?" said Buchanon.

"Would we be able to provide the basic service without constable assistance, yes," said Helbig.

"We are a savings to the taxpayer, simple as that, and not a liability," said Willett.

Depending on who you ask the answer still isn't clear, and it will be up to lawmakers to help push a decision either way.

Senate bill 30 is currently filed in the senate to abolish the office of Constable, but ultimately it will have to be a constitutional amendment because the position is protected by the constitution.


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