Constables’ law enforcement powers under review; changes a possibility

Constables’ law enforcement powers under review; changes a possibility
Staff Reporter
The Obion County Com-mission will consider whether to take law en-forcement power away from constables and make them civil process servers only.
The action will be discussed by the commission when it convenes Jan. 17.
The item gained place-ment on the commission’s agenda after the Obion County Budget Committee met Tuesday morning at the courthouse and approved a motion made by commissioner Jerry Grady.
The issue surfaced at the Obion County Commis-sion’s last meeting Nov. 21, when Grady inquired about how county constables are elected and their districts. Obion County Mayor Benny McGuire was asked to do research and report back.
Monday, the seven-member budget committee reviewed a written response from county attorney Steve Conley in regard to two questions: Are constables required to complete in-service education courses? How many constables may be elected in each county?
Conley’s research found that Tennessee code requires each constable complete 40 hours of an in-service course within 12 months of that officer’s election. In addition, state law requires constables must be range-qualified prior to being authorized to carry a firearm.
Under Tennessee code, two constables are elected by qualified voters in the civil district of each county which includes the county town and one constable from every other civil district in the county, according to Conley’s letter.
At present, there are nine constables serving Obion County. Each of the seven commission districts has one constable and Districts 2 and 3 each have two constables.
During discussion Tues-day, Grady inquired about whom the constables answer to and commissioner Sam Sinclair Jr. asked who ensures they complete required training. Commissioner Danny Jowers, chairman of the budget committee, said there is a problem, with no one being responsible for ensuring training is done and he said there is a liability to the county.
Jowers told commissioners they have three options: Clarify who is responsible for constables and the consequences for not completing training; make the county’s constables civil process servers only, with no law enforcement power; or abolish the constables entirely.
Two constables, James Hack and John E. Davis, were in attendance. Hack said the sheriff’s department requires yearly training for its officers and he questioned why constables would not do the same. Jowers agreed they need to stay current on training and said it seems as if constables have been left out without any direction. He also said the state legislature needs to take action and devise standards for constables, rather than placing it on the counties.
Obion County Sheriff Jerry Vastbinder said constables are elected and do not fall under Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) guidelines. He said none of the county’s constables serve any type of criminal process at this time, due to the required reporting procedure for law enforcement.
Grady made the motion that there be only one constable per commission district, that law enforcement power be taken away from them and that constables only serve civil warrants. Davis replied that the motion negates the need for training and more discussion ensued.
Hack said he serves warrants and is proud he has the training. He said constables are no expense to the county, explaining they purchase their own equipment and uniforms, and he said it is not fair that constables are not fulfilling their obligation by completing training. He said the constables’ oath states they have arrest powers.
Jowers questioned the consequences in the event a constable who is not up-to-date on training arrests someone on an outdated law. Davis said he does not plan to arrest or harass people and said that is not the reason he ran for election. He said he mostly serves papers in order to make extra income and Jowers replied that Grady’s motion will still allow constables to serve papers.
Vastbinder said the County Technical Assis-tance Service (CTAS) has a resolution that changes constables to process servers only and commissioner Ralph Puckett made a motion that Grady’s motion be amended to include the CTAS resolution.
Grady also noted some counties have abolished the constable position entirely. Jowers said if constables are abolished, the county would either have to hire civil processors to serve papers or the duty would fall entirely on the sheriff’s department.
Nohsey said he believes the county’s constables do a good job and are an asset in finding people who need to be served with papers. He suggested commissioners should consider waiting to get input from CTAS before making a decision.
The budget committee voted 7-0 to approve Puckett’s motion to amend Grady’s motion to include the CTAS resolution. It was followed by the vote on Grady’s motion to take law enforcement power away from constables and make them civil process servers only, with one constable per commission district.
Jowers noted a CTAS consultant will be invited to the commission meeting and said Tuesday’s vote allowed the matter to be placed before the commission for consideration. Davis said there are no requirements to be a civil process server and he said the action would have no effect on him, but was, rather, making an issue out of nothing.
Grady’s motion was approved by a vote of 6-1, with Nohsey voting against it.
The county’s constables are due to run for election this year.
Other action
In other action during Tuesday morning’s near hour-long meeting, which was opened with prayer led by commissioner Dwayne Hensley, the budget committee:
• Approved sending to the full commission a report regarding the receipt of revenue from surplus equipment sales and auctions. The item was slated to be addressed by Conley and CTAS county government consultant Mike Galey, but neither of them was in attendance.
Commissioner Ned Bigelow later inquired about the county attorney’s pay and noted he felt the county attorney should have been in attendance.
• Placed an appointment to the Civil Service Board on the full commission’s agenda.
• Voted to forward to the commission a resolution to amend the General Purpose School Fund budget by $5,334 to reflect an award of additional funds for the Adult Education Program from the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development.
• Approved placing on the commission agenda three requests for in-house budget transfers for the sheriff’s department. They pertain to a litter grant, the drug fund and the jail.
• Placed a presentation of changes to the county’s official road map on the commission’s agenda. The budget committee learned there were no changes.
In a road-related matter, Jowers explained gates will be closed on Turnpike Road and Pleasant Valley Road in the Rives area in the future when the roads are deemed unsafe due to flooding.
• Voted for the commission to consider a surety bond for highway department employee Mary Sue Chilcutt.
• Approved sending a trio of resolutions amending the Solid Waste Fund, the General Fund and the Pauper Cemetery Reserve to the county commission. Jowers said the action basically does away with reserves.
• Voted to send to the commission a resolution to amend the General Fund by $1,784.45 to reflect certain line items which needed to be added to the budget for the county agricultural extension service due to the local funding of a staff position in the department. Funds for the needed line items will be moved from other line items where the funds were first budgeted due to not knowing what line items would be needed.
• Approved placing appointments to several boards and committees on the full commission’s agenda.
• Voted to send a list of notary public applications to the commission for approval.
• Learned from commissioner Cloney Taylor that he received a call from a concerned citizen regarding establishment of a county animal shelter. Jowers said it can be discussed at budget time later this year. Published in The Messenger 1.4.12

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