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Constable reform bill advances to KY Senate

By Jordan Hensley, LRC

Frankfort, KY - Newly elected constables in Kentucky could soon be required to be certified as a peace officer in order to have the same powers as a peace officer.

The Kentucky House of Representatives approved House Bill 239 by a 59-38 vote on Monday. The bill would require newly elected constables to undergo the same training as police officers and sheriff's deputies before performing certain duties.

Primary sponsor Rep. Adam Koenig, R-Erlanger, said the goal of the bipartisan measure is to make communities safer.

"Of course not all constables are bad, but unfortunately there's been too many headlines to ignore the fact that constables without proper law enforcement training can be a serious problem," Koenig said.

Currently, constables can make arrests or conduct a traffic stops even if they are not certified peace officers. HB 239 would change that for constables elected after Jan. 1, 2023.

"Some people may not realize it, but constables can do all of those things even though they've never received one hour of law enforcement training," Koenig said. "These elected office holders often carry a gun and a badge and exercise the same power as a state trooper, a sheriff's deputy or a city police officer."

Under HB 239, newly elected constables would have to complete the same 20-week training course from the Department of Justice that covers patrol procedures, defensive tactics, criminal law, tactical response, traffic investigations and more in order to exercise the same powers as a peace officer, Koenig said. This type of training is required for anyone becoming a police officer or sheriff's deputy in Kentucky.

Koenig said the bill would not stop the newly elected constables from serving their communities by directing traffic, serving subpoenas, assisting with child support actions, providing funeral escorts and more.

HB 239 would also allow constables to apply to any Kentucky Law Enforcement Council certified basic training course, and the bill would require the Kentucky Department of Criminal Justice Training to accept at least one qualified constable in each training class.

Rep. Bill Wesley, R-Ravenna, said he has concerns about how HB 239 will impact rural communities. In Eastern Kentucky, constables are a valuable resource to small police departments and sheriff's offices and to Kentucky State Police, he said.

"I have some counties in my district that cannot afford another officer," Wesley said. "... This is going to do away with constables altogether. We cannot afford our officers, especially in Eastern Kentucky, to be done away with."

When voting "no" on HB 239, Rep. Angie Hatton, D-Whitesburg, said she agreed with Wesley and the other House members who are against the measure.

"It is an urban vs. rural issue," Hatton said. "It is something that's difficult to explain, but in our communities our constables are very important to us.... We count on them, and when they tell me this is not what they need, I can't support it."

In closing, Koenig said that the General Assembly has approved legislation in previous years to take care of "bad actors" in police departments and sheriff's offices, and there is currently no method of decertifying constables in Kentucky. He also said the bill has the support of several law enforcement groups across the state, the Kentucky League of Cities and the Kentucky Association of Counties.

Primary co-sponsor House Minority Floor Leader Joni L. Jenkins, D-Shively, also spoke on the House floor in favor of HB 239.

"With the passage of this bill, our citizens can know when they see someone who is a constable who has peace officer duties they know they can trust they are safe with that person," Jenkins said.

HB 239 will now go before the Senate for consideration.

This story was posted on 2022-03-01 06:05:22
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