In June 23 IssueBy John ThompsonTimes Journal Reporter
Every four years on Election Day, you're asked to vote for a constable for the district in which you live and a lot of folks wonder exactly what it is that a constable does.
The role of constable is a long and storied history.
The origin of the word itself is from the Old French "conestable" - military commander, chief of the royal household, from Late Latin comes stabuli, literally, officer of the stable.
In feudal times, the office of constable was one of high military rank and eventually ex officio commander in chief of the military forces.
He was the highest judge in military offenses and in questions of chivalry and honor. He was the supreme arbitrator in tilts, tournaments and martial displays.
The term High Office of Constable appears in England shortly after the Conquest as the seventh great officer of the Crown, possessing both Civil and Criminal powers. Since the year 1521, the title of High Constable has not been granted except for a special ceremony of state.
The office has been a part of our American civilization since the earliest of Colonial times. In each of our original communities, the Constable was one of the earliest offices created, and it was his important duty to keep the king's peace.
The Constable continues today as a public officer capable of possessing extensive powers but often are rarely put to use and can be limited in scope somewhat by the community in which they hold jurisdiction.
The duties of Constable have been modified from time to time by custom and statute.
Some abilities of constable are set by the Fiscal Court in Kentucky; abilities such as whether they can carry a gun in the service of duty or whether they can employ emergency lights on their vehicle. Currently, they can do neither in Russell County.
Constables may execute warrants, summons, subpoenas, attachments, notices, rules and orders of court in all criminal, penal and civil cases, and shall return all process placed in his hands to the courts or persons issuing them, on or before the return day, noting the time of execution on them.
A constable may exercise the duties of his or her office in any part of the county but shall not execute any process in which he is personally interested except fee-bills for his own service.
It is often misunderstood that a constable may only act within the district in which they were elected. In fact, they may perform their role in office in any part of the county.
In Russell County, if constables are utilized to serve process papers, it will usually be at the request of attorneys, as local police and Sherriff's office will most often do this work themselves.
Though they do have a range of powers that include enforcement of both the Traffic Code and the Criminal Code in Kentucky, the practice of active law enforcement is usually frowned upon in most communities, though they can be indispensible in times of need, acting in conjunction with local city and county law enforcement.
"In the old days a constable did a lot more than they do now," said Russell County Emergency Manager H.M. Bottom. "But, you have to realize that back then you might have the sheriff and maybe a town marshall, maybe a deputy or two."
"Nowadays deputies carry out much of the duties that constables used to carry out."
In Kentucky, constables are elected from each magistrate district in the county. With five districts in Russell County, there are five constables elected.
Currently, the constables in Russell County are Michael "Toe Joe" Bray, Mark Helm, Perry Brumley, Reggie Gosser, and Traci Smith.
The most active constable in the county is Michael Bray of the fifth district. Bray said he decided to run for the office because he wanted to get into law enforcement.
His dedication to the position which offers no equipment nor pays a salary is evidenced by the amount of equipment he's purchased, which Bray said has run over $1,000.
"That's all by choice, you don't have to have all that," said Bray. "There's a lot more duties to a constable than I expected."
"I am often called to assist officers on a call. I was just called the other day to go with a deputy on a domestic dispute call."
Bray said he was also recently involved in a meth production bust.
"If dispatch calls me, I'm ready to go," said Bray. "Last night I was out with them on a breaking and entering," he said referencing a call made Monday night in which the sherriff's office responded.
Prior to the 1970's, the main function of the constables was to provide court service and security to the Justice of the Peace courts. However, since these have been eliminated by judicial reform, the office of constable has considerably less functions.
Along with the power to execute warrants, subpoenas, summonses, and other court documents, a constable does have the power of arrest.
One of only two elected law enforcement officials in a county (three if you count coroner, with the other being sherriff), the position is not provided a salary but is paid fees for services rendered.
These services mostly involve the serving of papers with a usual fee of $30 per service.
Anyone standing for election as a constable must be at least 24 years of age, a resident of Kentucky for at least 2 years, and a resident of the county and district for at least a year prior to election.
Since constables are Constitutional peace officers, they are exempt from attending the mandatory Department of Criminal Justice Training academy, although they may choose to do so. Sheriffs, coroners, and jailers are also exempted law enforcement officers.
The Kentucky Constables Association, affiliated with the National Constables Association, mission statement reads: The purpose of the Kentucky Constable Association, Inc. shall be to promote and protect the Constitutional office of the Constable within the Commonwealth of Kentucky and provide quality training and educational opportunities to Constables and their Deputies, while making best efforts for the Constable to become actively involved in civic and community organizations and activities in educating the public and to otherwise promote suppressing crime with community policing.
Upon taking office a constable is asked to follow a rule of ethics which are outlined as: As an elected and appointed public servant, sworn to carry out the constitutional responsibilities of the position of Constable:
I shall dutifully carry out the duties of my office.
I shall, at all times, function without prejudice or regard for an individual's race, religion, or place of birth.
I shall never be a part of an attempt to inhibit or evade the law.
I shall at all time act in a manner in which understanding and justice is communicated to those with whom I come into contact in my work.
I shall conduct my private life unblemished and mindful of others.
I shall be courteous and maintain self-restraint.
I shall be a part of the professional organization designed to protect and upgrade the performance of the Constable.
I shall not personally solicit for funds in the performance of my work to enhance any organization.
I shall seek every opportunity for such training as will enhance my ability to do a better job.
I recognize my badge of authority as a symbol of the public trust and I recognize that as a law enforcement officer, I shall never bring disgrace upon the people, whose faith and confidence elected me as their Constable.
I recognize my duty to protect the constitutional rights of all people.
I shall at all times wear appropriate attire and the necessary equipment to carry out my responsibilities.
I shall never speak with criticism of a fellow Constable except at the appropriate forum provided by an appropriate Constables' organization.