Some believe the days of constables in Dallas County are numbered

Published 11:37 pm Saturday, June 30, 2012

The oldest police force in the world is right here in Dallas County. At least the oldest form of policing that dates back to 800 B.C. is still being practiced in some form. This November, four constables are up for election in the county and even though these constables are not required to go through the academy like deputies and sheriffs, they have many of the same powers.

According to current constable H.C. Atchison, constables in the early days were appointed by kings to be a peace officer for a whole community or village.

In western states, such as Texas and Montana, where small communities could be located miles away from any sheriff office, the office still proves valuable. One constable is elected as a peace officer to help in an area the sheriff cannot reach in time of a dire situation.

Today constables serve less of a purpose.

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“The constable office goes way back,” Dallas County Probate Judge Kim Ballard said. “There used to be constables that really did something and now, all due respect to constables, they don’t do anything because they don’t get paid anything.”

The office is not a paid one in Dallas or any other Alabama county. Every four years, constables can be elected in their voting precinct. Currently, only four of 30 Dallas County precincts have a constable up for election this year. There is a qualifying process to be constable. They have to live in the precinct they are running for, have a high school level education and no felony charges. On that list are no requirements for their training.

“One thing that scares me about constables is they have arrest rights but they are not required to go through the academy or have any type of training before becoming a constable,” Ballard said.

Though the office pays nothing, it does pay in authority — constables have blue lights on their cars, carry side arms and shotguns, and can arrest people and make traffic stops. They have no defined jurisdiction and they can write tickets anywhere in the county even though they are elected in one precinct.

There is one loophole in which they can make money at the expense of the citizens in the county.

Ballard said he thinks that the constables can set a ticket amount for traffic stops, and when they make an arrest, the bond money partly goes toward the constable.

He said, however, he does not know of a constable that has ever made an arrest.

“They don’t know about how much authority they do have and I hope they never find out,” Ballard said.

Current constable for precinct 1301, Lee Green, said he has only once as constable seized someone, and then he called in for the sheriff deputy to come and pick them up. He explained he had to call in the sheriff because as constables they have no transportation for the criminals.

Green works in Youth Services in Dallas County, owns his own private investigation company, teaches karate at the Selma Mall, and serves as constable. Though some say constables have no official duties, Green said he just plugs in his powers as he goes along.

“Whenever I see a need is when I will use (my authority),” Green said. “I serve papers for different law firms and we can serve warrants.”

Green said even though constables are not required to go through training, he thinks many do. He explained he and the other three county constables, attend training through the district attorneys office, where they can learn more about search and seizure.

When asked about if he felt this was an antiquated office with no purpose, Green said he thinks Dallas County still needs constables.

“I could agree and disagree with that. If the local law enforcement is up in manpower like it should be, then there wouldn’t be any need for constables there, but if you are like our county, you really need more constables. You really need one for every precinct.”

Other counties in Alabama seem to disagree. Thirty-five counties have done away with the office for various reasons and 32 counties in the state still have the office. Surrounding Dallas County neighbors Marengo, Perry and Wilcox counties all still have constables.

Ballard said he thinks constables do no harm, but they also serve little purpose, and the county commission has full power to keep or take away the constable office in Dallas County.

“They either need to give them some duties and give them some pay, and make it very clear of what they can and can’t do and what their jurisdiction is, or they should think of possibly getting rid of the office all together,” Ballard said.

For Green, he says he does not want to abuse his power but only use it to help others for good.

“For me, being a constable, it just means another opportunity to serve, and that’s what it is all about,” Green said.