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Sun February 10, 2013

State Sen. Julie Denton Files Bill to Limit Constables' Powers

Legislation that would abolish or greatly reduce the powers of Kentucky's constables was filed last week in the General Assembly, but the head of the Kentucky Constables Association says his group is creating a draft bill that would provide them training.

State Sen. Julie Denton, a Louisville Republican, filed a bill that would remove constables' peace officer powers from the Kentucky Revised Statutes—meaning that constables would lose police powers, such as the ability to make arrests. Constables could still serve court papers.

Jason Rector
Credit Kentucky Constable Association

"My goal is to keep the public safe and not enable people who are not trained and certified to have police powers," Denton told WFPL on Friday. "If we can accomplish that through this piece of legislation, I'm just as happy with that as I would be with abolishing the position."

Each Kentucky county has one constable per magisterial district—Jefferson County has three position—and under the state constitution are given police powers akin to sheriffs. Unlike sheriffs, constables don't have outlined duties in the state constitution, though some office holders are active in law enforcement.  Kentucky has more than 500 constables. Some  have gotten into legal trouble, including Jefferson County Constable David Whitlock, who resigned last year after a 2011 shooting incident in a Walmart parking lot.

State Rep. Adam Koenig, a Republican from Erlanger, has filed a bill in the House aimed at abolishing the constables office. Abolishing the office would require a constitutional amendment, including a statewide referendum, efforts to do so in recent years have failed.

Last year, the state Justice Cabinet recommended limiting or abolishing the office, noting that they perform .02 percent of law enforcement activity in Kentucky.

In some rural parts of Kentucky, constables are considered more useful, Denton said.

Her bill would allow constables to continue serving a function—serving court papers, she said. That, she added, may make her bill more palatable to rural legislators than outright abolishment.

But Jason Rector, president of the Kentucky Constable Association, said he believes Denton's bill would be constitutional if legislators approved it.

The Kentucky Constable Association is drafting its own legislation that would provide training to constables funded through court fees, said Rector, who is also an Adair County constable. 

"There needs to be some type of standardize minimal training to be a law enforcement officer in today's world," Rector said.

Julie Denton
Credit Legislative Research Commission

Constables have discussed the bill with some state legislators, and Rector said he believes they're responsive to training for those office holders.

Constables, Rector said, still serve a purpose—at least in rural areas that aren't served by large police forces or sheriff's offices.

"It only makes logical sense in today's economic times, with the constables being free help and doesn't cost the taxpayers money, it's a win-win situation to utilize those constable positions verses having to pay salary, training expenses and so on, so forth, for the actual other types of officers in those communities," Rector said.

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