Those who want to eliminate the constable position in Kentucky call it an outdated relic from centuries ago.
Well, Kentucky law still sets out a fee schedule for some of the constable duties:
A constable can make $3 for killing and burying a sick horse, donkey or mule.
Killing and burying cattle is only worth $2 per head to a constable.
To dispatch a “mad dog” can make a constable literally a quick buck, $1 per “mad dog.”
“Taking up a vagrant” will get a constable 50 cents.
For the 21st Century constable, the real bread-and-butter is in fees collected serving court papers, such as writs, warrants, summons, subpoenas and evictions.
They can charge up to $70 per service, the same as the county sheriff.
They can also arrest and write citations though are not required to undergo the same training as other peace officers.
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One of the restrictions Kentucky does place on constables: they need permission from the county government before putting blue flashing lights on their vehicles. The three Northern Kentucky counties of Boone, Kenton and Campbell do not allow constables to have flashing lights on their cars.
“They’ve not been approved on my watch and never will be,” said Campbell County Judge-executive Steve Pendery.
Why does Kentucky have constables?
Constables stretch back to the founding of the Commonwealth of Kentucky in 1792 when the Kentucky legislature passed an act setting fees for constable duties.
Then, in 1850, Kentucky lawmakers put the position of constables into the Commonwealth’s constitution.
Two centuries ago, if you were assaulted, the victim of theft or worse, you didn’t call the police. There weren’t full-time modern police departments until the mid-19th Century.
Many municipalities appointed or elected night watchmen, sheriffs or constables to keep the peace.
‘Around since the Middle Ages’
It’s a system the English brought with them to America.
“Constables are the oldest law enforcement agency in the world,” said Lennie McCloskey, a constable from Maricopa County, Arizona. He’s the president of the National Constables and Marshals Association. “They’ve been around since the Middle Ages.”
Many states have eliminated the position entirely. Or it’s morphed into a traditional law enforcement role as it has in Ohio.
In Ohio, township police officers are sometimes legally recognized as constables if the township hasn’t officially created a police district. It’s basically just a semantic issue, said Capt. Mitch Hill, with the Green Township Police Department.
Green Township is one of the townships where the officers are considered constables.
Exactly how many states have constables with full arrest powers and no training requirements like Kentucky isn’t clear. Even the head of the National Constables and Marshals Association wasn’t sure.
A vanishing office
As of 2012, 16 states had eliminated the constable position completely, according to a study from the Kentucky Department of Criminal Justice Training.
An additional seven more states eliminated constables to some extent, limiting the municipalities that can have them or their jurisdictions.
Many states where constables retain law enforcement forces require police training, including Arizona, Texas, Maryland, South Carolina, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania.
“My argument is, yes, in most states we are needed,” McCloskey said. “We fill the void for what the sheriff’s office can’t do.”