In Dallas County, constables have issued $49 million worth of citations even though 92,000 arrest warrants await service. Dallas County Constable Mike Dupree's precinct issues an average of 1700 traffic citations per month. His jurisdiction has 24,000 unserved warrants.I've never given the subject a lot of thought, but it's sure true a lot of constable's deputies spend their days working traffic or even drug interdiction on major highways that run through their jurisdiction rather than actually working as the county's official process server, their sole duty under the statutes.
Texas law establishes that constables have all the powers of a peace officer, but their sole duty is to issue warrants. "A constable shall execute and return as provided by law each process, warrant, and precept that is directed to the constable...." (Texas Code, Section 86.021)
In the late 1990s, DeSoto passed a resolution asking the Dallas County constables to stop running speed traps in the city. Constables have flouted the city council's wishes and continue to ticket residents. Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price told investigators with KTVT-TV that he preferred having constables issue tickets because there isn't enough space in jail for those with a warrant out for their arrest.
"I am going to have to manage the beds I have, and if I have to manage them, then I will give the beds to the more serious offenders," Price said.
So if counties don't need constables to perform the job for which they were created, should they still exist in their current form? It seems to me many constables have lost their focus, picking up a haphazard array of duties to try to justify their existence. As a result, only about a third of constable employees actually perform process serving. According to Wikipedia, citing the Census of State and Local Law Enforcement:
In 2000, there were 2,630 full-time deputies and 418 reserve deputies working for the 760 constables’ offices in Texas. Of this number, 35% were primarily assigned to patrol, 33% to serving process, 12% to court security, and 7% to criminal investigations. The Harris County Precinct 4 and 5 Constables’ Offices are the largest constables’ offices in Texas with over 300 deputies each.Maybe constables have become an anachronism. There might be a cheaper or more efficient way to fulfill process serving duties without having a separate local political office to which nobody pays any attention. At a minimum they should be scaled back to their original purpose. Removing their authority to write traffic tickets would reduce statewide staffing needs for constables by a third.
Those are long-term thoughts, though - limiting constables' authority or altering the scope of the office at minimum would require legislative action and probably a constitutional amendment and voter approval. Meanwhile, I doubt most voters could even name the constable in whose jurisdiction they reside, and I'm pretty sure they aren't aware that most constables spend their time performing tasks besides the ones for which they were elected.
MORE: Mike Engelhart says Harris County's constables peform a valuable service - they just happen to be redundant serives that are mostly performed by others.