By CHRISTOPHER ADAMS
As many states and counties around the nation reconsider the scope and validity of the constable, Texas has held firm in retaining the traditional law enforcement office.
A constitutionally-mandated position in the Lone Star State, the constable is simultaneously ubiquitous and invisible.
“Constables are still relevant today,” wrote Rick Bacon, Precinct 3 Commissioner in Tom Green County, in an email to Reform Austin. “They perform a function that the sheriff’s department can’t.”
Bacon indicated that constables in his county deliver papers pertaining to child support payments and the attorney general’s office, oversee the public nuisance program and are the bailiffs in the justice of the peace courts.
He wrote that it wouldn’t make fiscal sense to merge Texas constables into the sheriff’s department.
“In Tom Green County, the constables do not have administrative staff,” he wrote. “They must take care of their own administrative functions. The sheriff would have to hire additional deputies to assume the duties of the constable.”
What do constables do?
Harris County constables perform a wider range of tasks than their Tom Green counterparts. In particular, patrol duty.
A 2018 Rice University/Kinder Institute for Urban Research study on Harris County Law Enforcement reported that the sheriff’s office and constables overlapped in their patrol responsibilities.
The report suggested the entities consolidate duties that could provide service equity and allow for administrative cost savings as well.
But not every county or resident continues to be sold on these licensed peace officers who primarily act as a service arm for the justice of the peace courts. Some are evaluating the necessity and financial viability of the elected position in a 2019 society—three counties have already eliminated constables.
One example is El Paso County. They’re taking a look at both constables and justices of the peace.
El Paso County Precinct 2 Commissioner David Stout said they’re looking at possibly reducing the number of justices of the peace and constables but it’s difficult to determine if constables are a tax burden because they issue citations, serve warrants and perform other various services that generate revenue.
The county is currently conducting an internal study to answer questions that could help it make future decisions regarding constables and justices of the peace.
Their constable’s function as bailiffs for justice of the peace courts, serve warrants, issue citations and work on writs.
“We’re trying to be as efficient as possible and we want performance-based outcomes and performance-based budgeting and so we decided we need to look at them and understand what they’re doing and how much they’re doing and whether it’s efficient and how we can measure them,” Stout said.
‘Constables are relics of the past’
A recent op-ed piece in the San Antonio Express-News called for the dissolution of constables stating Bexar County could do without them.
“Taxpayers are paying millions of dollars for four stand-alone law enforcement offices that share jurisdiction with multiple other agencies and whose purpose has come and gone. Constables are relics of the past,” the article stated.
It wasn’t the first time that the Express-News’ editorial board spoke out against constables. The editorial board of the San Antonio Express-News isn’t the only group in Bexar County that wants to eliminate constables. In a September press conference, County Judge Nelson Wolff called for the removal of all constables in Bexar County.
And El Paso County could end up being the fourth county to abolish the historic law enforcement position.
“I haven’t heard any talk about eliminating them completely,” Stout commented. “Once we have more information it could be a route that we take.”
Of course, votgers would have to decide on the removal of constables in El Paso Cou.nty amending the state constitution.