Tennessee Constables Association
"Justice with Understanding"
Serving Constables for over 35years
Constables Are are Great Rural Law Enforcement
Rep. Dale Ford (R-Jonesborough) is sponsoring a bill that might be characterized by some as a kind of rural law enforcement protectionism that was voted on during this afternoon's session of the Tennessee House of Representatives. (It bears noting here that despite the Governor's special session declaration, the special session will not begin until 4:00pm Central/5:00pm Eastern Time, so the General Assembly is counting today as the 46th regular legislative day of the 106th General Assembly, and the first of the new legislative session).
Representative Ford's legislation would increase the in-service requirements for newly-elected county constables from 40 hours when they are elected to 40 hours for each year elected. This requirement makes it very difficult for some people to serve as a constable in a rural area, since constable is, in fact, a volunteer position. While many see Tennessee county constables as an archaic office from a bygone era, in many of our rural counties-and certainly in mine-the local district constable performs valuable services to the people who elect them, and often represent the authority of law in area's where the county Sheriff or his/her deputy cannot be present. Often, the only compensation our rural constables receive is payment for the service of court papers, and they don't often get that dispatch. For their volunteer service, constables must take out a petition and get on the ballot and be elected by the people in their county districts. In Jefferson County, constables must pay for their own fuel, badge, and the cost for them to make their rounds. Because constables do represent the law, and in some cases help to enforce it, few would disagree that our constables should have training, and that the more training they receive, the better off they are, as are the citizenry.
However, in the short discussion on this legislation before it was voted on today, it was determined that many, if not most rural constables were already committed to the training which this bill (that has yet to be put before the Senate floor, if the legislative calendar reads correctly) mandates. Further, this legislation allocates no money to help train these rural volunteers in the duties of the position to which they have been elected-and that means that the training will continue to be at the constable's expense, despite being mandated at an increased level by the State.
Requiring greater training and certification for constables is a good idea for all concerned, but the State of Tennessee should move away from the general practice of the federal government, which is to require things and practices of States, counties, localities, and citizens which cost money while being unwilling to pay for the requirements to be met. This legislation appears to have the support of the Tennessee Constables' Association, since that body knows that their members are already engaging in the proposed training. However, all concerned-legislators, county governments, sheriffs, and constables-should remember that we presently find ourselves in a time of great economic disparity in which our rural counties find themselves increasingly cash-strapped. Unless there is a very quick rebound in the fortunes of the economy, rural counties may not have the resources to give their sheriffs everything that they may need to do their job to the most effective degree possible, and that may mean a greater reliance on rural constables than many are used to. When counties may need their services the most, some will make it more difficult for constables to serve in the near future. Counties and the General Assembly should be warned against further legislation which might make service as a constable an economic hardship for someone otherwise able and willing to serve.
The constables' training bill passed the Tennessee House of Representatives this afternoon 94-0.