Law enforcement leaders recommend ending constables


by Adam Walser

Posted on November 8, 2012 at 6:28 PM

Updated Thursday, Nov 8 at 9:46 PM

(WHAS11) -- On Thursday the Kentucky Law Enforcement Council released a 200 page report, the first comprehensive evaluation of the office since it was founded more than 160 years ago.

A shooting involving a Jefferson County Constable is what led to this study, which law enforcement leaders say confirms that they've long suspected…that the office is no longer relevant and effective in Kentucky.

The report includes responses from more than 1,400 police, sheriffs, judges, prosecutors and elected officials.

More than three years ago, the I-Team first showed you issues regarding the office of constable in Kentucky.

Constable were given full arrest powers back in 1850, even though no training was, or is, required.

“The constable back in the day, they buried a cow for 50 cents, they got a dollar for denutting a mule,” said Constable David Whitlock, during our 2009 interview with him.

He agreed at that time that the office should be modernized, but said the state refused to provide Kentucky constables proper training, like officers in other law enforcement departments.

It wasn't until Whitlock shot an alleged shoplifter in a Wal-Mart parking lot that an official study was conducted regarding the effectiveness of constables.

Kentucky Public Safety and Justice Secretary J. Michael Brown presented the findings to the Council Thursday.

“It's time now to finally look at this office and not continue to just push it down the road,” said Brown.

The report, based on interviews with law enforcement officers, prosecutors and county officials, concluded, “The office should be abolished or the law enforcement authorities constables have eliminated or reduced significantly,” said Commissioner John Bizzack.

The study found that the 509 elected constables in Kentucky provide less than one quarter of one percent of law enforcement service to the state.

Very few constables have been certified as law enforcement officers, and most have very few hours of training, compared to at least 750 hours for police officers.

Our 2009 investigation was quoted in the report, as well as articles involving alleged drug deals, thefts and other crimes committed by constables in Kentucky.

“Definitely changes need to be made in terms of the level of authority, so we don't see situations anywhere else in the state as what we saw in Jefferson County,” said LMPD Chief Steve Conrad.

The Kentucky Constable Association said in response to the report: 

"The constable is a very valuable asset in the state of Kentucky. In many counties, constables are the first to respond. The office of constable needs to be revamped. The Kentucky Constable Association is in favor of training."

However the Kentucky Law Enforcement Council unanimously recommended seeking the elimination of the office.

The General Assembly could consider legislation on the matter in its next session.