Topic:
MUNICIPAL OFFICIALS/EMPLOYEES; LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICERS;
Location:
POLICE;
Scope:
Connecticut laws/regulations;

OLR Research Report


The Connecticut General Assembly

OFFICE OF LEGISLATIVE RESEARCH




October 5, 1994 94-R-0903

TO:

FROM: Lawrence K. Furbish, Assistant Director

RE: Elected Town Constables

You want to know what the duties, powers, and authority of elected town constables were.

SUMMARY

As you know, there are two types of constables, elected and appointed. The basic difference is that usually appointed constables have law enforcement functions while elected constables are primarily responsible for serving civil process and tax warrants and carrying out other sheriff-like civil duties. But this general rule does not always hold since towns can, by ordinance, make elected constables law enforcement officials. It appears that such officials would have to take some sort of police training such as that offered by the Municipal Police Training Council. However, there are a number of ambiguities in the statutes concerning constables.

BACKGROUND

The office of constable was transported to Connecticut from England and has undergone gradual changes since its institution. The earliest Connecticut statutory cite for constable appeared in 1650 and authorized constables to have legal powers similar to sheriffs. Some of the basic language contained in the earliest codification of the statutes remains unchanged today.

The main purpose for continuing a constabulatory form of law enforcement in the state was the “preservation of peace.” As time progressed, the responsibilities were altered to adapt to what was deemed illegal and a priority by society, for example searching out bootleggers during prohibition. At one time, each town was required to appoint one constable specifically to collect its portion of the state tax (such as the corporation tax) on towns. The office has developed to the point where the constable provides the main law enforcement authority in some towns with no organized police department or resident state trooper. In towns with resident state troopers, the constables are under the direct supervision of the trooper.

ELECTED CONSTABLES

Constables are elected during the regular municipal elections for two year terms. Towns cannot elect more than seven constables each, except Groton which can elect up to 14. The law prohibits judges, except judges of probate, from holding the office of constable (CGS 7-87). When the number of constables to be elected is an even number, no person is allowed to vote for more than one-half the number. In cases when the number is an odd number, the person cannot vote for more than the basic majority of the number (CGS 7-187 and 200).

The elected constable is required to take a proper oath of office prior to beginning his term. In addition, elected constables are prohibited from receiving a license to serve alcoholic beverages (CGS 7-87, 30-45).

There are a number of duties of elected constables that are very clear under the statutes.

Service of Process

Constables may serve and execute any and all civil process (CGS 52-50) and they have the same power in their towns when doing so as sheriffs, as well as the same liability for neglect in doing so (CGS 7-89). The statutes establish and authorize fees and expense payments to sheriffs and constables who serve process (CGS 52-261 and 261a). The statutes specifically mention certain types of summons that can be served by constables: mechanics liens (CGS 49-35a), prejudgment remedies (CGS 52-278c), attachments (CGS 52-325a), and postjudgement procedures (CGS 52-350(a)(12)). Constables are also authorized to serve redevelopment agency compensation notices (CGS 8-129).

Probate Court

The statutes authorize constables to take possession of decedents' estates in certain circumstances and at the direction of the probate court (CGS 45a-316). They are also directed to serve probate court notices in certain types of cases: to respondents in sterilization cases (CGS 45a-693) and for hearings on conservatorships and guardianships of mentally retarded persons (CGS 45a-649 and 671).

Command of Assistance

Constables may command necessary assistance in the execution of their duties from any person (CGS 7-90).

Tax Collection

Constables can serve tax warrants in any part of the state and they may be authorized by a local tax collector to collect taxes due the municipality (CGS 12-135 and 162). They are also included in the definition of “serving officer” in the statutes on state collection agencies for state taxes (CGS 12-35). They may also be directed to file a distraint (seizure) order against the property of a delinquent lottery sales agent (CGS 12-569).

Animal Related Duties

Constables have several responsibilities related to animals. They are directed to cooperate with the United States Department of Agriculture in its program for the eradication of bovine tuberculosis and other contagious diseases (CGS 22-286) and the eradication of avian (poultry) diseases (CGS 22-326b).

Court Attendance

The sheriff may authorize constables, in place of deputy and special deputy sheriffs, to "attend” the Superior Court when it is transacting business (CGS 51-30) and constables must be paid $20 per day when attending such courts (CGS 6-41).

Other Duties

Constables may be required to deliver to members of the General Assembly notice of special and reconvened sessions of the General Assembly (CGS 2-7).

APPOINTED CONSTABLES

Under the statutes, appointed constables usually have some sort of law enforcement status. And the statutes specifically provide that “ no constable elected pursuant to the provisions of section 9-200 shall be considered a peace officer for the purposes of this subsection (which governs warrantless arrests), unless the town in which the constable holds office provides, by ordinance, that constables shall be considered peace officers” for these purposes. Constables who perform criminal law enforcement duties are considered “ peace officers” for purposes of the penal code (CGS 53a-3(9)). Appointed constables who perform criminal law enforcement duties are considered police officers for purposes of the municipal police training laws (CGS 7-294a).

There are a number of statutes that impose duties on constables without specifying whether they contemplate elected or appointed constables. By the nature of the duties imposed, it seems likely that they would only apply to law enforcement constables. These include the following:

1. preventing disorders at elections (CGS 9-230),

2. prohibiting certain activities at elections (CGS 9-236),

3. assisting judges in campaign finance violation inquires (CGS 9-346b),

4. dealing with abandoned motor vehicles (CGS 14-151),

5. enforcing motor vehicle theft and recovery laws (CGS 14-152 and 197),

6. enforcing other motor vehicle laws (CGS 14-224, 225, and 226),

7. enforcing snowmobile/all-terrain vehicle laws (CGS 14-386),

8. taking custody of abandoned aircraft (CGS 15-76),

9. taking custody of delinquent children (CGS 17a-8),

10. regulating highway and water nuisances (CGS 19a-335 and 340),

11. carrying out hazardous waste vehicle forfeiture (CGS 22a-250a),

12. enforcing various dog and animal control laws (CGS 22-367, 369, 370, and 377), and

13. taking custody of a military court witness who refuses to appear (CGS 27-189).

LKF:lav