The county has evidence that at least 36 deputies may have lied about attempts to serve residents with eviction notices or documents regarding other civil actions. If the accusations are true, residents have been penalized — in some cases, kicked out of their homes — without proper notification, and taxpayers countywide have been paying salaries of deputies who are lazy or incompetent.Grits has long considered constables a pointless anachronism. Their primary function is supposedly serving civil papers, but on paper and in reality they're full-blown peace officers with the same authority as sheriff's deputies or municipal cops. Many constables have evolved into sizable, autonomous, mini-police departments, where mission creep has expanded their role to mimic (and thus duplicate) the day-to-day work of municipal police and sheriffs, but often with a much lower level of professionalism and accountability. Such redundancies are the source of Grits' usual objections, but this scandal takes the issue to a whole new level, with more than half the Dallas deputy constables who're supposed to be performing that primary function allegedly claiming to do the work but just spending time at the donut shop, perhaps the golf course, etc.. The idea that people were kicked out of their homes without ever receiving eviction notices is a particularly horrifying result.
The law gives the county commissioners so little authority here that all they can do is urge the elected constables not to look the other way.
At the very least, the deputies — who represent more than half of the 70 who serve civil papers — should be placed on paid administrative leave until the investigation is completed. Depending on the results, resignations, firings or prosecutions may be in order.
But this would only address the latest in an outrageous pattern of behavior in the constable offices that stretches over the past decade. In that time, news stories have documented towing irregularities, campaign contribution scandals and assorted charges of DWI charges, sexual assault and bribery.
Although the constables have proved themselves incapable of legally and effectively managing their operations, this branch of county government can’t be eliminated without the time-consuming process of passing a constitutional amendment.
Beginning immediately, the Commissioners Court can begin dismantling these virtually unaccountable fiefdoms by cutting the constables’ budgets and shifting essential duties to the sheriff’s department.
Summer is budget-making season for counties across the state, who generally prepare their annual budgets over the summer for approval in September. So in the coming months there will be an opportunity to strip down Dallas constable budgets to bolster funding at the Sheriff's department or perhaps shift to other priorities. Most of what they do can be performed by other agencies, and should be. The serving of civil papers is their only function that's not redundant with other agencies, and in Dallas they're apparently not even doing that worth a damn.