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Constables’ place in law enforcement explained

By Jeanni Brosius

This article was published October 31, 2010 at 6:00 a.m.

— Many areas of Arkansas are rural, and there are a lot of square miles for law enforcement to cover. Many sheriff’s offices and police departments don’t have the funding for large departments. That’s where reserve officers and constables come in.

Robin Oaks, secretary-treasurer of the Arkansas Constable Association and Mount Ida resident, said there are four rungs to the law-enforcement ladder: the State Police, county sheriff’s departments, township district constables and municipal police departments.

“It costs about $50,000 to hire and train a deputy or police officer,” Oaks said. “There are 700 constables in the state. Multiply that by $30,000 (the average annual salary of a law-enforcement officer), and that doesn’t include uniforms or training.”

Although constables are elected officials, most are not paid salaries, so the county and city budgets don’t take the hit for the additional law enforcement. Training, uniforms, equipment and all other expenses are paid for from the individual constable’s pockets.

“Some counties pay them $1 per year, some counties pay them nothing, and some pay a little more,” Oaks said. “Counties are not required to supply office space, either.”

Dating back to the Roman Empire, constables have been a staple in law enforcement; however, there are only nine states that still utilize the office. In Arkansas, constables must live in the townships in which they are elected, and terms are two years. The primary responsibility of the constable is to the residents of the township and county where he or she serves.

Prior to Act 841 being signed into law by Gov. Mike Beebe in April 2007, constables were not required to have training or wear uniforms.

“There were some rogue constables out there,” said Daymon Blount, chief training officer for Arkansas constables.

The new law provides for training standards, a statewide standard uniform and identification.

In addition, the law also sets standards for training for certification. Blount said that to become certified, a constable must have a minimum of 120 hours of training, which includes instruction in fire arms, domestic violence and racial profiling. The minimum training for a constable is more than the 100 hours required for a reserve police officer.

The position of constable is a constitutional office, and there are no specific requirements. Some constables are certified, which includes training, and some are not.

“A person can hold the office without being certified, but he has limited authority [without certification],” Blount said. “The majority are not certified.”

Those constables with certification have the authority to make traffic stops, arrest people and keep the peace in their townships.

“In the district, the sheriff and constable have the same authority,” Blount said. “The constable does not have to answer to the sheriff.”

A sheriff in Arkansas is also an elected official and is not required to have any law-enforcement training or background.

Many constables have had law-enforcement training and are retired law enforcement, reserve officers or hold other law-enforcement positions, along with being a constable.

“A lot of times, the constable positions are held by retired law enforcement,” Oaks said. “They have a wealth of experience working with the public, helping maintain peace and working with emergency services.”

Constables are on call and may be called upon to patrol or “hang out” in certain hot spots to be the eyes and ears of law enforcement, Oaks said.

“Teamwork — it saves the taxpayers money and increases law enforcement throughout the state, especially in rural areas,” Oaks said.

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solomon246 says... January 21, 2011 at 11:13 a.m.

As a newly elected constable, and lifetime Arkansan, the measures taken to require constables to wear such extensively detailed uniforms, including a tie seem to be a bit much. I have yet to see a constable clad in such a manner as described. I agree with the recognition issues, and they should be dressed neatly with the proper identification easily seen by anyone. But, remember this is a non-paid elected office for the benefit of the citizens. A decent man or woman can present themselves properly without such drastic uniform requirements. I know officers that wear jeans & tee shirts, but are not any less recognized by their attire. Personally, I wear jeans to church occasionally, but am neat, clean, and respected by all. Likewise, constables should be able to do the same as long are they remain professional, recognizable, and conduct themselves accordingly. After all, they are on call 24/7 and don't always have the time it takes to get all dressed up for an emergency call. Please remember, these people are not paid officers, nor do they maintain a certain shift as the paid officers. However, they should be well known by the people in their area of authority & conduct themselves accordingly to their position. If they do not comply to the expectations of their electors, then they should be reported and/or ousted from their positions. The "rogues" as described in the article should be the first to go, and the paid officers acting as such should also be ridden of, actually before the constables in question. If constables are accepted by their electors, conduct themselves accordingly, and are assets to the county as well, then the uniform requirements should be re-evaluated. There are a lot of simple people who fit this position without all of the necessary requirements set forth. This is a non-paid position of elected persons who are an asset to the county, their community, and save the taxpayers thousands yearly. Give them the respect of their office, if they so deserve, and weed out the bad apples. The out of pocket expenses are already enough for them as it is, and most do their jobs as well, or even better than the paid officers we now have in Arkansas. If the people put enough faith in them to elect them, then at least let them prove themselves worthy. If they do not...get rid of them, but don't require such outlandish guidelines for our dedicated services.

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BC145 says... February 25, 2011 at 8:17 p.m.

There is a few problems with the main post here. The Sheriff isn't called the head law enforcement officer for no reason. The Sheriff has more authority than any other law enforcement agency/officer in the county. The "four rungs" to the law enforcement ladder mentioned is not correct either. The state police are an assisting agency only and has less authority than any Sheriff, sheriff's deputy, constable, or municipal officer in his/her city. The state police can investigate corruptness in another agency due to the need of an outside agency to do the investigation. But there is no one that can arrest a sheriff or deputy without a warrant. So therefore, there is no one with more authority than a sheriff or his/her deputies. If there is a well trained constable who wants to get out there and help and knows what they are doing then more power to them. We would be glad to let them handle things. It definately helps. But the problem there is most constables have other jobs and can't afford to take off to go through the full academy which is prefered. If I am mistaken on any part of this, I would like to see the statute which grants a constable the same authority as a sheriff but I am sure it doesn't exist. I have done alot of research and never came across any such thing

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XfiveO says... March 9, 2011 at 4:22 p.m.

in no part of this is there mention of a Constable reporting to a Sheriff. As a matter of fact there are several Attorney general Opinions on the subject that state the Sheriff and Constable have the exact same powers, which is why a person can hold both offices at once if he chooses.
the system was designed to be a checks and balance system like every branch of our government.
make no mistake, a Constable can arrest the Sheriff or his deputy if necessary, so be careful which Constable you piss off.
This is the reason that the Sheriff"s Associateion has fought Constables at every turn, because the position of Constable is a challenge to the Sheriff's power.

A.C.A. § 16-19-301 (2004)

§ 16-19-301. Peacekeeping duties and authority -- Neglect of duty

(a) Each constable shall be a conservator of the peace in his township and shall suppress all riots, affrays, fights, and unlawful assemblies, and shall keep the peace and cause offenders to be arrested and dealt with according to law.

(b) If any offense cognizable before a justice of the peace in his township is committed in his presence, the constable shall immediately arrest the offender and cause him to be dealt with according to law.

(c) Nothing in subsection (a) or subsection (b) of this section shall be construed to deprive a constable of authority to serve warrants, summons, writs, and other process as provided by law.

(d) Nothing in this section shall prevent the fresh pursuit by a constable of a person suspected of having committed a supposed felony in his township, though no felony has actually been committed, if there are reasonable grounds for so believing. "Fresh pursuit" as used in this section shall not necessarily imply instant pursuit, but pursuit without unreasonable delay.

(e) If it comes to the knowledge of any constable that an offense mentioned in this section has been committed in his township, it shall be the duty of the constable to present the offender to a justice of the peace of the township in order that the offender may be arrested and brought to trial as prescribed by law.

(f) If a constable fails, refuses, or neglects to perform the duties imposed upon him by this section, he shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor, and upon conviction, by indictment in the circuit court, shall be fined not less than five dollars ($ 5.00) nor more than one hundred dollars ($ 100).

HISTORY: Rev. Stat., ch. 29, § 15; Acts 1848, §§ 2-4, p. 36; C. & M. Dig., §§ 1448-1451; Pope's Dig., §§ 1749-1752; Acts 1941, No. 12, §§ 1, 2; A.S.A. 1947, §§ 26-210 -- 26-213.

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BC145 says... July 7, 2011 at 12:34 a.m.

The county belongs to the sheriff. Make no mistakes, when it comes down to it, the sheriff will have ultimate say what goes on in his county. I have known constables to be arrested for patrolling outside their townships and made the mistake of stopping a deputy. It didn't go so well for him. If it is true that a constable has the same authority as a sheriff then a sheriff and his deputies can arrest a constable just the same.

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Razor1er says... February 21, 2014 at 2:43 a.m.

As a resident of Arkansas, not having a constable with a recognized form of ID, such as a uniform and/ or Badge and ID, is a recipe for disaster. I know and respect my local sheriffs deputies( Union County) i do not have any way of know who is or not a "constable" here. I have seen them, the one I have seen drives a normal everyday blue truck. Who in there right mind, in these days, would abide by an unknown man in a blue truck, with lights easily purchased online? Not me! No law enforcement officer has more legal authority than the elected Sheriff! A constible may have some "power" in the locality he was elected! Not over the Sheriff of the entire county!!! Look at each constibles "jurisdiction" they do not have the legal authority in the county! Like our Sheriff!!

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