Count me among those who believe constables should and ultimately will go the way of the county inspector of hides and animals. They're anachronisms, even if for the moment in the bigger counties they're often also well-funded sources of law-enforcement pork that duplicate larger agencies' capacity, if frequently in a less regulated or professional environment. They're also bottom-tier elected officials, which is enough to receive deference from the political establishment in both parties when their power is challenged. Even where they work as they're historically supposed to, constables require duplicative supervisory and administrative staffing and counties would probably function better if those duties were subsumed by the Sheriff.
Most Texas constables stick to their traditional duties, but in larger jurisdictions they've become mini-police departments. A series of recent items from the Dallas News underscores how little oversight these agencies receive compared to their often dramatically expanding budgets:
- Dallas News: County and state should rein in constables
- Watkins seek court order to halt Dallas County constable investigation.
- Dallas constables dog at center of new debate.
- Dallas constable challenges investigation; staff allegations can't be ignored, officials say
- Dallas County constables' growing ticketing said to boost safety - and county coffers
- With little scrutiny, Dallas County constables have turned offices into de facto police departments
It sounds like Biscoe and Commissioner Sarah Eckhardt are asking the right questions about constables' request to outfit them with more militaristic equipment like Sheriff's deputies. After the episode where a deputy constable tasered a 72-year old great grandmother because she dared him to, Travis County constables ought to be treated like Barney Fife - given a single bullet apiece and told to keep in in their shirt pockets until ordered to take it out.
I fully understand why county commissioners in Dallas and Travis think constables need to be reined in. The Statesman story included this telling comment: "Travis County Sheriff Greg Hamilton earlier criticized Bieze's actions in the Taser incident. On Monday, Hamilton declined to comment on the role of the constable, but Travis County sheriff's spokesman Roger Wade said: 'According to the (Texas Code of Criminal Procedure), the only difference (between the sheriff and constable) is the name.'" That's technically true, if also somewhat troubling. Perhaps it's something the Legislature should take a stab at rectifying sooner than later.