ARKANSAS 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.
Print Headline: Constables’ place in law enforcement explained