COMMENTARY: Middle Ground Needed On Constables

KEVIN HALPERN, Courier Co-Editor

Jim Gibbs, Tom Ganoe, Forrest Pitcock, Adam Melton and Kevin Duncan.

Those five men hold the elected position of Constable in Cannon County, each representing one voting district.

Each has law enforcement powers, according to the Tennessee Constitution.

None of them are P.O.S.T. (Peace Officer Standards and Training) certified by the State of Tennessee. They don't have to be in order to use their law enforcement powers, according to the Tennessee Supreme Court.

On the other hand, sheriffs, deputies, policement and state troopers must be P.O.S.T. certified.

Each can act on their own. They have no direct or in-direct supervision. They are free to take whatever police action they desire, as long as it is legal.

Locally, they have not done much in terms of law enforcement in quite some time. It is not known when one last made an arrest. It is thought the last time they were regularly used as law enforcement providers was during the Robert Simpson or Burton Molder sheriff department terms.

Nor do they appear, in my view, to want to do much in terms of actual law enforcement and investigation. Their focus seems to be directed more along the lines of education, training and providing "neighborhood watch" services.

Some people believe the fact they have law enforcement powers is a liability for the county. The County Commission voted in January to strip them of those powers.

The constables make the case that if their services were utilized more by local law enforcement agencies, the courts and the education system, their value would be greater.

None of those entities have chosen to avail themselves of their services. One might wonder why constables just can't stand on their own in order to demonstrate their value to the community, and not depend on outside entities to do so?

To the best of my knowledge, and I have spent much time thinking about the situation and discussing it with many people, if the position of constable ended today, there is nothing they provide which Cannon County citizens would miss tomorrow.

The sheriff makes a compeling case to me when he states he does not want the added responsibility involved in bringing constables under his umbrella. If constables do not have to answer to sheriff, he should not have to answer for them.

Personally I would not have a problem with removing their law enforcement powers, and leaving the position itself in place as symbolic of the public services they do perform, or may be called upon to do at some point.

This Saturday the Commission will decide whether to pass the resolution on second reading removing them of their powers, or have a do-over of its January action because that event may have been in violation of the state's Open Meeting Law.

If you are concerned about which action your commissioner takes, give him a call and let them know where you stand on the issue. In the end the ultimate power belongs not with the constables, county commissioners or the sheriff, but rather the people they all serve.