(Date: 01-27-2017) — A bill filed by a northern Kentucky Republican would allow county governments to decide whether they want constables in their counties and would permit cities to bar constables from trying to enforce the law within city limits.
House Bill 160 was filed by Rep. Adam Koenig, of Erlanger. Koenig a former Kenton County commissioner, said the idea for the bill originated years ago while he was a commissioner because of problems the county had with a constable.
Constables are law enforcement officers granted full police powers by the state constitution.
“We had one problem-child constable,” Koenig said Thursday. “… He was unelected in 2006, but that didn’t stop him,” and he was later charged with impersonating a police officer, he said.
According to court records, Ronald Ferrier, a former Kenton County constable, was indicted in 2007 for impersonating a police officer and pleaded guilty in exchange for a three-year prison sentence.
“Constables are a relic of a bygone era, and do not serve a necessary function,” Koenig said. “… Fiscal Courts up here would eliminate constables.”
If approved, the bill would require a change to the state constitution since constables are constitutional officers. If approved, counties could adopt an ordinance eliminating the office of constable although the office could be reinstated by a future Fiscal Court.
The bill would also allow cities to pass ordinances to “eliminate the powers of the office of constable within the city limits of that city.”
J.D. Chaney, deputy executive director of the Kentucky League of Cities, said the organization asked for the provision giving cities the power to bar constables.
“We have supported the abolition (of constables), and do this year as well,” Chaney said. KLC supports “either the complete abolition of the office, or the exercise of their police power.”
The issue, Chaney said, is that constables have law enforcement powers without being required to receive law enforcement training. Police officers and sheriff’s deputies receive basic training at the state law enforcement academy in Richmond and have annual training requirements. The Kentucky State Police runs its own academy for new troopers.
“In situations where non-trained constables are responding and exercising police power, our law enforcement officials see that as a real public safety issue,” Chaney said.
That position was shared by Jerry Wagner, executive director of the Kentucky Sheriff’s Association.
“Our association supports home rule for everybody, and this is a home rule bill,” Wagner said.
“It’s a safety issue. You utilize them and they are not properly trained … In our state, there are obviously some news stories that back up the need to be trained,” he said.
“I’m not putting those guys down,” Wagner said. “It’s for the safety of themselves, the officers and the citizens of the community they are serving.”
Jason Rector, president of the Kentucky Constables Association, said there have been similar bills sponsored by Koenig over the years.
“It’s not new to the Association,” Rector said. “Adam Koenig has been after constables for eternity now.”
Rector said he believed the bill had little chance of success because of the constitutional amendment requirement. Rector said constables want state-mandated training, but have been blocked.
“We have been trying since 2009 or 2010 to work with legislators to get some laws changed to get some training,” Rector said. “… We’re not the ones denying the training. We’re asking for the training.”
A 2012 report by the state Justice and Public Safety Cabinet stated that constables performed 0.02 percent of all documented law enforcement work, and the majority of sheriff’s surveyed said the office of constable should be eliminated.
Rector said the report was biased.
“It does seem constables are the ones put in the spotlight (for improper actions) when there are constables that do positive things and are active for their community,” he said.
“There are just as many bad apples in other elected capacities, not just constables,” Rector said. “But it seems the constables are the red-headed stepchild in the media.”
Koenig said other organizations that support the bill include in the Kentucky Association of Counties.
“The support in the legislature is increasing every year,” Koenig said. “I’ve had three freshman who have co-sponsored the bill.”
By James Mayse