Pa. lawmaker wants to eliminate elected constables, report

    (Zegen77/Flickr)

    A Republican state House member from Berks County says he wants to eliminate Pennsylvania’s elected constables and their deputies and transfer their work to county sheriffs.

    State Rep. Barry Jozwiak, retired state trooper and former county sheriff, wants to eliminate the constables through attrition, The Morning Call of Allentown reports, noting that Philadelphia undertook a similar action in 1970, and that the change seemed to work just fine.

    In a Jan. 7 co-sponsorship memo, Jowziak argued that other counties have either eliminated constables or restricted their duties.

    “Though some of the structure and duties have changed in the 60 years since the Philadelphia Constable Report was published, the core characteristics of the office – independently elected officials, law enforcement power unchecked by any meaningful oversight or chain of command, and a fee for service compensation system remain,” he wrote. “The systemic lack of accountability and oversight, limited training and financial incentive to cut corners have, no doubt, contributed to the many well- publicized instances of abuse of the office.” 

    The memo continues:

    “Though there have been and currently are proposals to “reform” the constable system, the fact is the problems with the system will continue even under the proposed changes. It is time to recognize that the office of the elected constable is a vestige that is no longer needed in the 21st Century. For that reason, I believe it should be abolished altogether and will soon be offering legislation that will phase it out as the term of office of present constables expires. 

    “Pennsylvania Sheriffs are currently doing the same duties professionally on the County level. They have the manpower, vehicles, knowledge & training as well as a chain of command to ensure appropriate oversight. Under my bill, all monies collected by the Sheriff’s would go into the county general fund and not be a cost to the County, which will provide substantial income to the Counties.” 

    The odds for passage, The Morning Call notes, are not good. Jowziak introduced a similar bill before only to have it go nowhere. The constables still wield significant lobbying clout in the Capitol.

    “That bill’s not going anywhere,” John-Walter Weiser, an Adams County constable who serves as president of the Commonwealth Constables Association, which is one of at least three lobbying groups in Harrisburg, told the newspaper.

    Allentown attorney Ron Clever, who works with constables, told The Call’s Steve Esack that it would be better for lawmakers to pass a bill allowing locally elected constables to work for district judges, “instead of allowing district judges to play favorites. Favoritism, Clever said, is why constables let their licensing lapse.”

    An award-winning political journalist with more than 25 years' experience in the news business, John L. Micek is The Pennsylvania Capital-Star's Editor-in-Chief. Before joining The Capital-Star, Micek spent six years as Opinion Editor at PennLive/The Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pa., where he helped shape and lead a multiple-award-winning Opinion section for one of Pennsylvania's most-visited news websites. Prior to that, he spent 13 years covering Pennsylvania government and politics for The Morning Call of Allentown, Pa. His career has also included stints covering Congress, Chicago City Hall and more municipal meetings than he could ever count, Micek contributes regular analysis and commentary to a host of broadcast outlets, including CTV-News in Canada and talkRadio in London, U.K., as well as "Face the State" on CBS-21 in Harrisburg, Pa.; "Pennsylvania Newsmakers" on WGAL-8 in Lancaster, Pa., and the Pennsylvania Cable Network. His weekly column on American politics is syndicated nationwide to more than 800 newspapers by Cagle Syndicate.

    2 COMMENTS

    1. What does the expansion of the sheriff department COST compared to just reforming the constabulary? The job description of a Constable is the same as the sheriffs department…both elected peace officers. They tried this before and found out that in one county they couldn’t hire and train 2 deputies for the cost of all their constables and after a couple years brought the constabulary back. I know that there is abuse in the system but rather than eliminate the most cost effective law enforcement officers that Pennsylvania has,why not expand the training of constables and give them more enforcement authority and let them answer to the police department like in the old days… there’s your oversight. Perhaps mandating uniforms and marked vehicles and an expanded role in the community would drive people of better character to run for the offices. I am a Constable and I take my job seriously. I put the best public face on and wear a uniform very similar to state troopers. There is no reason that someone representing the law to NOT be in uniform. There needs to be standardization so that every county judge doesn’t run everything differently. The sheriffs department,while necessary HAS its place…the constabulary was the first law enforcement here and preceded ALL others. It CAN work better,and people like ME are willing to put the effort forth to make it happen and bring the constabulary into the 21st century. The sheriffs department is EXPENSIVE and whether anyone will admit it or not has the same job and same authority as a Constable does…elected peace officers. The SD gets defensive driving training as well as crime scene investigation training…the SD doesn’t really do either one of those things in Pennsylvania,nor does it NEED to. Truth is the Constable is essentially the “Sheriff “ of the municipal level…Pennsylvanians deserve to be represented on every level as intended, we just need to take the stigma out of the constabulary as a bunch of knuckleheads…some are…they need to GO. If a judge declares a Constable unfit to serve inhis or her jurisdiction,then they shouldn’t be able to serve anywhere…pending a hearing to determine the validity of the ban. I’m willing to work to make the constabulary better…it’s just too bad that you can’t get other Constables on board…

    2. I’m a Constable in Lawrence county, pa. And I also take my position seriously and I to wear my uniform proudly and I serve my people that put me here with respect and and Dignity ! I drive a marked and Equipped 2014 Dodge Charger and I will always serve and Respect my constituents in the area of which I am elected And also will respect all local, city,County,and state police officers with the upmost respect and also would like to get the same respect from them to as we all are here to Protect and serve the people of our communities ! We are all one in Law Enforcement and I will always have my brothers and sisters in blue have their (6) 👮🏻‍♂️👮‍♀️🇺🇸

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