The Lead

Pa. lawmaker wants to eliminate elected constables, report

By: - February 14, 2019 10:07 am

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.”

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John L. Micek

A three-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's former Editor-in-Chief.