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Stricter standards, less authority for constables

Johnson City Press • Feb 20, 2019 at 7:45 AM

Constables in Tennessee must provide their own uniforms, vehicles and fuel and don't have to undergo the same level of training required of other law enforcement officers. Nor do they earn much of a living. They receive no salary and are compensated only for delivering legal documents and similar endeavors.

So why would someone want to be a constable? Perhaps because they covet the power it gives them. Constables are handed the authority of a professional law enforcement officer, a position for which they otherwise might not be qualified. They answer to no one but the voters at the next election. They are not supervised. They do not report to anyone. And you can run for constable in Tennessee if you've not been convicted of offering or giving a bribe, of larceny or other offense "declared infamous by law."

That's pretty much it. Get elected and you can have arrest powers without passing police minimum standards, psychological tests and specialized schools. And that's why we have situations such as what afflicts Constable William Creasy II of Hawkins County. Creasy was elected a constable last fall, and it wasn't long before he conducted a traffic stop with blue lights flashing. Problem was, he had yet to take office and now faces charges as a result of indictment by the grand jury for official misconduct and oppression, both felonies.

Constables have been around since colonial days and, over time, states and jurisdictions have eliminated the position due to similar problems. Virginia did away with them completely. Tennessee jurisdictions began abolishing constables in 1978 when Davidson, Shelby, Hamilton and Knox counties eliminated them. Over the years, Blount, Pickett, Meigs Morgan, Loudon, Bledsoe, Rhea, Cumberland, Roane and Claiborne have joined them.

Washington, Carter, Johnson, Sullivan and Unicoi counties still elect constables. And they should keep them, as is their decision to make. It's the state that needs to reign constables in by removing some of their authority and requiring higher standards for seeking the office.

The Tennessee Constable Association says constables can perform a number of services that would otherwise fall to full-time officers, including evictions, home security checks, serving process or subpoenas, security escorts, summons, business security checks, doing traffic control as needed and garnishments. Those are important duties better handled by constables, freeing professional law enforcement to handle crime.

What constables shouldn't be doing is pulling drivers over, chasing wanted people, executing warrants, arresting people and such other functions best left to fully trained, full-time officers.

In Tennessee, however, constables are not confined to the district in which they're elected. They have powers throughout the state except for those counties where they have been abolished.

It is long past time that the state legislature either abolish the position altogether or give it stricter guidelines and requirements. We believe the position serves valuable functions and allows trained law enforcement officers to spend more time protecting the public, so we would prefer the path to keeping constables around … with some caveats.

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