Kentucky Politics

A bill requiring constables to receive training before they can wield police powers narrowly advanced on the second-to-last day of this year’s legislative session.

Constables are elected officials that have full police powers in Kentucky, like the ability to arrest people or make traffic stops, but under current law they don’t have to have police training.

House Bill 267 would only apply to constables taking office in 2023 and later.

Rep. Adam Koenig, a Republican from Covington and sponsor of the bill, said constables should have proper training.

“We’re not going after any of the other abilities; they can still serve papers, they can still direct traffic, they can still do all the other things that occur in your local communities every day. But we think it’s important to address this one particular issue,” Koenig said.

Constables are elected every four years in each one of Kentucky’s nearly 600 magisterial districts, but their job responsibilities aren’t inscribed in state law.

According to a 2017 Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting story, constables have a long history of misdeeds in the state, including unnecessary high-speed pursuits, questionable arrests and criminal charges of their own.

Constables’ behavior has cost counties tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees and settlements.

But attempts to rein in constables, or totally abolish the office by constitutional amendment, have failed amid pushback from local leaders.

T.J. Litafik, a lobbyist for the Kentucky Constables Association, said constables are an important part of law enforcement in rural parts of the state.

“These tiny dots on the map comprise the heart and soul of our commonwealth,” Litafik said.

“These are the people and the places that elected the current supermajorities in both chambers. And they are counting on you, their elected representatives in the legislature, to be their voice.”

Sen. Phillip Wheeler, a Republican from Pikeville, voted against the proposal, saying constables should be held accountable by voters.

“In its current form it does essentially in my mind abolish the office by attrition,” Wheeler said. “These constables are subject to recall by the voters every four years, so there is a protective measure we have against folks that are out of control.”

The measure already passed the House and narrowly passed out of the Senate Local Government Committee on Monday with a vote of 6-5.

Several members who voted in favor of it expressed reservations, signaling the bill might have a hard time passing before the legislature’s deadline at the end of Tuesday.

Ryland Barton is the Capitol bureau chief for Kentucky Public Radio.