“If I’m trying to respond to something that I need to respond to, it is very, very difficult for me to do that without creating a big liability and a safety risk to me as well as the community,” Hunt said.
The office of constable was established under the Kentucky Constitution, and at one time, constables served as a community’s primary peace officer.
Public perception of the office has eroded over the decades however, as legislation shifted policing powers and communities began to relay more on police departments and sheriffs’ offices.
Many now view the office as a relic of a bygone era when law enforcement was less regulated and relied on more on grit than professionalism. Still, constables retain certain policing authorities under Kentucky codes.
Following Hunt’s request Wednesday, court members wanted more time to review the matter before a possible vote.
County Judge-Executive Henry Branham said he has yet to form an opinion, but remains cautious, and the County Attorney’s Office has advised that allowing one constable to use lights would require a blanket permission for all constables in the county.
He reasoned that granting the request, could create liabilities for the court.
“I think it is a very serious concern and one that needs to be vetted out very carefully,” said Branham. “Now days in the court of law … you don’t know what extent your exposure is going to be.”
Branham said the court also needs to know the intentions of the county’s two other constables.
“You just want to make sure that everything is in place to protect the county as far as liability,” he said. “The Fiscal Court, ensuring that everything is in place, they are actually being responsible to the citizens of Clark County.”
Likewise, Commissioner JoEllen Reed said she wanted more clarification on whether constables have authority to make arrests or just write citations.
“I feel like we should really proceed with caution,” she said.
According the Kentucky Constable Association’s website, the office maintains “broad powers to arrest and authority to serve court processes,” but Fiscal Courts govern the use of blue lights. Some counties allow blue lights, while others don’t, said the association’s president, Jason Rector.
Part of the association’s goal is to restore the professionalism of the office — an objective that Hunt said he shared. He acknowledged the office’s perception problem at the outset of his request.
“In the past, there has been a lot of opposition to constables and a lot of constables have gone out and done crazy things,” he said.
Hunt is a member of the Constables Association and has completed 120 hours of training, along with certain certification training. He also continues training every month, he said.
By comparison, full-time deputies at the Clark County Sheriffs Office must complete 400 hours of training with the Department of Criminal Justice and maintain about 40 hours of training each year for certification. Reserve deputies who serve papers and perform traffic control are only required to complete 120 hours of training.
Sheriff Berl Perdue said he has no problem with Hunt’s request and added that officials should seek professionalism in the office of constable as long as it remains in the state constitution.
Rector said counties should view the constable position as free help.
“They should be allowed to use them (blue lights) because they are an elected law enforcement official, and that is something that can hinder a law enforcement officer in doing their official duties in enforcing traffic codes if they can not stop a vehicle,” he said. “It is a safety concern.”
Contact Mike Wynn at firstname.lastname@example.org.