SADOW: Maybe It’s Time To Phase Out Constables

Legitimate questions about government waste and redundancy collide with electoral politics concerning the expanded ability of Caddo Parish constables to appoint and pay for deputies, all wrapped up in a bill authored by state Rep. Jim Morris.

HB 118 by Morris would reverse the authority granted to constables, who are elected, one each to one of 10 districts (one is the Shreveport City marshal position treated somewhat differently by statute) to appoint multiple deputies, provided as a result of legislation in 2012 by state Rep. Alan Seabaugh that passed the Legislature unanimously. Constables execute court orders by their district’s justice of the peace (City Court in the case of the marshal) and as a result of these duties, including things such as serving summons, executing writs, and taking bonds, do not have to have the required peace officer training that law enforcement officers in the state have generally, yet are allowed to make arrests and to have firearms.

Hatfield amazingly has 18 deputies (Caddo is only one of three parishes whose constables are allowed to have any at all) for his district of about 10,000 registered voters. While the law makes clear that these are part-time employees, some are full-time employees in other judicial agencies and some are constables from other districts (deputies do not have to reside in the district, unlike the constable), and Hatfield terms them as full-time employees. Morris questions the need for so many, and Caddo Sheriff Steve Prator feels unease with so many officers without required certified training out there, which would make for the third largest local law enforcement force in the parish.

Of course, Hatfield expressed at the end of March his intention to challenge for Prator’s job, about 10 days after the bill was filed. He said Prator did not run an inclusive department among senior personnel and was not transparent enough, accusations Prator denies.

According to the required financial statements filed annually by Hatfield, his fiscal management may be called into question, perhaps partially exacerbated by the presence of so many deputies. Since he took office in 2009, through 2013 he has run a deficit all but one year, with the total being about $38,000 in the hole, which apparently he has paid out of his own personal funds. In the typical year, only a few thousand dollars – including his $325 monthly salary – came in as revenues while expenses were much greater. Usually a small portion of revenues came from deputies’ work, and some years disbursements were made to them.

All of this from a district whose justice of the peace doesn’t see a whole lot of activity. The current occupant of that office says in the first quarter of the year he’s held court only five times – with a deputy present only twice – and handled 36 evictions.

As noted in this space before, constables largely are anachronistic offices whose duties could be performed by regular law enforcement. Worse, the office is open to abuse, such as the constable in Jefferson Parish who more likely could be found in bars than on the job yet some years would record so much work that he would pull in revenues of six figures and more, spend half, and keep the other half (after several terms he was defeated for reelection last fall). If they need to exist at all, they need to stay as minimized in footprint as possible.

Uncoordinated law enforcement personnel that do not have to meet statewide minimum training standards are unlikely to add value to the delivery of law enforcement. Thus, HB 118 is entirely appropriate.



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