COMMENTARY: Middle Ground Needed On Constables

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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.

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Members Opinions:
April 14, 2011 at 5:34pm
I would think that the constables would be more of an asset to the county, than road commissioners,But if you can keep the road in front of your house an behind your junk yard paved it would be worth the $25.00 pay check you receive from the county.
April 14, 2011 at 8:41pm
If the elected by the people constables are given law enforcement powers by the Constitution of the State of Tennessee, how can a County Commission strip them of those powers? Somebody who is knowledgeable, please answer this question. If voters did not want them, they could not be Constables in the first place. Think about this County Commissioners and Sheriff, there will be another election before too long.
April 15, 2011 at 12:42am
I think during the initial meeting it was stated that the powers that be wanted the law Enforcement powers removed due to the county being liable for a lawsuit if the Constables did something wrong. Well my opinion is that the county is held responsible for mistakes or poor decisions made by all ELECTED OFFICIALS AND EMPLOYED PERSONS. Basically what is being said is the citizens of Cannon County can go to their district Commissioners and request change or removal of the duties or position of a ELECTED OFFICIAL if they are not doing their job correctly. I think the focus of the meetings should be changed, The COMISSIONERS and Mike Gannon need to focus on actually helping the county by means of new businesses that provide value to this county. This growth brings jobs,taxes and products that keep citizens from having to spend money in other stores in surrounding counties. I have tried to stay bias, but it seems like if the effort and time that has been spent on trying to remove Constables was used in the best interest of the citizens, we would already have new companies to provide Cannon County with jobs, grocery stores so we don't drive to other counties and a tax base that would help to lower taxes on the residents but still provide more than enough money to fund better schools, roads that are in need of major repair and services offered to the residents of Cannon County. The voters of Cannon County elect people to hold these positions and if you look at prior elections when someone is not doing what they where elected to do they would get replaced. Just about every County office has a person or people that assist them in some way without recieving compensation for the help they provide, Is the county not liable for these people to?. Whether you are elected,volunteer or employed with the county the practice is always the same that person is fired or voted out but not the whole office. I think that liability is just another tactic that is being used to settle personal issues because the leadership of Cannon County does not use constables in any capacity. If the training is the problem why not include them in all department training to help expand their knowledge of the job so they do not make mistakes. This would create oppurtunities where the departments and citizens would benifit in some form or fasion regardless of how large or small of a task they complete. Its hard to help anyone succeed in what they are doing if you continue to close the door in their face or just don't offer access to help they need.
April 15, 2011 at 10:16am
Please consider these thoughts:

1. Affective law enforcement isn’t judged by the number of people arrested. Law enforcement is judged upon willful compliance with the law which is the result of community involvement and education.

2. Sheriff’s and Constables are required to get basically the same education. In Cannon County – the sheriff and all 5 constables have satisfied the legal requirements of their office.

3. Sheriffs in Warren, Dekalb, and Coffee Counties work with their constables – Why not Cannon County?

4. There appears to be no case in Tennessee, where a County has been held liable for the actions of any of their elected constables. The liability issue – isn’t an issue it is a distraction.

5. As a constable, I have stopped extremely dangerous acts perhaps saving the lives of many or preventing harm to the people that elected me.

6. I have question suspicious individuals, hopefully sending a message to go back to Rutherford County to commit your crimes.

7. I have assisted management with a difficult person at Higgins Flea Market, which is in my constable district.

8. I have stood by deputies on traffic stops alone on dark roads to protect them as they do their sometime thankless job. They seem to appreciate the concern and help. Maybe they should be asked what they think.

9. My law enforcement powers are very valuable to the people I serve. They might not realize it, but they would lose the benefit of those powers. For example:

a) I once offered to teach anti gang and anti bullying for the schools – FREE -- I would not be able to offer that program without my law enforcement powers. The city police nor the sheriff have offered a program ---

b) I am involved in setting up Neighborhood Watch programs in Cannon County – I am listed as a law enforcement officer with the National Sheriff’s Association, and because of that allowed restrict information as a law enforcement officer which I can then share with the citizens. We would lose that.

c) As a law enforcement officer I am listed as the training coordinator with FBI Law Enforcement Virtual Academy – I could not do that without law enforcement powers. While not a direct benefit to Cannon County, I help constables statewide – We would lose that which is an honor.

d) If I stop a suspicious person prowling around your property, as a law enforcement office I have a right to check that person for weapons to protect myself while protecting the people that elected me. I would hate to lose that.

e) As a law enforcement officer, If I was to lose my life while doing my duty, a federal insurance program would assist my wife with getting on with her life without me. – My wife gives up a lot for me to be a constable – she shouldn’t be required to give up her way of life.

f) Over the years 21 Tennessee Constables have lost their lives in the line of their duty --- Most of those from gunshots. They have, and still do serve honorably as law enforcement officers.

So there you have it – I believe if the position of constable ended today, there is a lot which Cannon County citizens would miss tomorrow, they just might not know it.
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