Precinct 4 Constable Pat Jordan spoke earlier this week about the history of the office of constable in Texas.Similarly, in Corsicana Navarro County officials rejected a request to increase constable pay so that constables could perform policing duties in addition to bailiff work and process serving:
"The first form of law enforcement in Texas, as it was being settled, was the constable," Jordan said.
"The state constitution gives us the rights and duties of any other peace officer," he continued. "Really, the only difference between a constable and the county sheriff is that a constable is given the duties of bailiffing the precinct (justice of the peace) court and serving civil process papers, and the sheriff is the keeper of the jail."
Van Zandt County Sheriff Pat Burnett sees things differently, and it underscores a longstanding tension between he and Jordan, a former Van Zandt County Sheriff.
Returning from a statewide sheriff’s convention in Fort Worth on Tuesday, Burnett said the issue of whether a constable should go beyond court bailiff and civil paper serving duties is not unique to Van Zandt County.
"It’s a statewide problem.," he said. "A constable’s constitutional duties are acting as bailiff for the justice of the peace in their precinct, and to serve civil process papers.
"When you have a constable or one of his reserves getting out of those realms and wanting to be a sheriff’s office, that is when things start getting off track," Burnett added.
It is a sentiment that was echoed Tuesday by comments from Precinct 2 Commissioner Virgil Melton Jr., one of three members of the commissioners’ court who voted to reduce the reserve deputy constable program to one position in each of the four precincts.
With Jordan sitting adjacent to him at the table, Melton Jr. criticized the constable for "running a mini-sheriff’s office" in Precinct 4 and interfering with investigations being handled by Sheriff Burnett’s staff.
[Constable David] Foreman appeared before county commissioners Tuesday requesting a salary of $35,000 on top of expenses, even though his salary is budgeted at $12,651. He made a similar request of commissioners in the 2009 budget discussions, as did two of the other three county constables, including Precinct 4’s Tommy Grant and Precinct 1’s Mike Davis. Brad Butler, Precinct 3 constable, did not request a salary increase.This blog has long held that it's extremely problematic for constables to take on everyday policing duties, in both big counties and small. So I was pleased to see, for example, that in Dallas this week the commissioners court supported:
Foreman argued that he carries out more than his standard duties and should be paid in the same way as other elected county officials.
“I have never spent my budget in wages because it is just sitting there,” said Foreman. “You are stewards of the tax payers money and I am as well. I don’t agree that I am part time. I spend a lot of time patrolling and answering calls.”
County budget figures show that there could now be a budget deficit approaching the $1.5 million mark, and [County Judge H.M.] Davenport defended fending off further expenses.
“The statutes say you should serve the papers and bailiff duties,” replied Davenport. “It doesn’t say anything about patrols or anything else. Honestly, I don’t think that it is fair to tax payers who would pay the money for work only carried out every now and again. With this economy it is best to just hang on to what we have got.”
creating more stringent hiring requirements for deputy constables, a response to corruption allegations surrounding certain constable offices.Indeed, Dallas is also likely to scale back constables' office budgets in the face of declining tax revenues:
Applicants currently don't have to take a written test, physical assessment or polygraph test – all of which are required to be hired as a sheriff's deputy. Commissioners said they favor adding those tests for constable deputies.
They had asked the county human resources department to study the job qualifications and hiring process of deputy constables earlier this year after a Dallas Morning News investigation in February. ...
A recent state audit of the personnel files of several Dallas County deputy constables in Precinct 5 revealed that the files didn't contain required documentation, such as criminal background checks and confirmation of previous employment.
Also Tuesday, during a budget discussion, county budget director Ryan Brown said that eliminating 30 of the 40 constable warrant deputy positions would save about $3 million. Each constable precinct has eight warrant deputies.Perhaps the budget crisis will succeed in scaling back constables' roles where good judgment and common sense could not prevail. At the end of the day, though, what's IMO needed is a new law or constitutional amendment expressly limiting constables to process serving and bailiff's duties and flat-out removing them from the list of officers exercising a full range of police powers.
Brown is trying to close a $23 million budget shortfall. The constable traffic units are also among the items facing elimination.