Bettering Plainfield with the facts since 2005

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Constable sighting suggests Council questions

The shirt of a Constable at Plainfield's National Night Out celebration
had a designation of 'POLICE' at odds with explanation given the Council.

A Constable sighting at Plainfield's National Night Out 2011 celebration on Tuesday suggested two questions facing Plainfield's City Council regarding these recently appointed 'peace officers'.

When Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs proposed the appointment of Constables earlier this year, the vagueness with which Council's questions were answered by then-Acting City Administrator Dan Williamson and then-Acting Corporation Counsel James Ventantonio, gave rise to considerable research by the bloggers about what Constables were, how they were selected and what their duties are.

I had several posts on the topic (see here), including a humorous take on whether Plainfield was ready for a 'modern costabulary' (see here). Bernice had several posts on the topic (see here), as did Olddoc (see here).

An online Yellow Pages search yielded a page of Constables servicing Plainfield (see here), with interesting language casting some light on tasks they perform --

When you contact the constable company, ask them where they are located. You might find that some of them are national companies while others are statewide or local. You might also find that some of the national companies have locations in your area. If you find the company on the Internet, then you should ask them if they are strictly an online entity or if they have a physical location as well. There are several questions that you might need to ask in order to determine which company can give you the constable services that you need such as Database, process server, software, civil process, divorce, probate, landlord, sheriff, deputy, education, training, law enforcement, criminal justice, economy, finance, information, system. If you choose a private company, then you should ask if they can provide written quotes so that you can compare the prices of each company. Some constables only have authority within certain geographic limits, so you should make sure that the one you choose has access to software and databases that will allow them to proceed as a process server for the civil process. You might also need a constable that is able to serve subpoenas for attendance at probate, small claims, or divorce court as well as eviction notices, so ask if they provide these services if you need them. When the companies' reps are answering your questions, pay attention to the level of courtesy that they use. This can often indicate how you will be treated in the future. By knowing what questions to ask, you should be able to find the constable that is best for you.
Among the many questions asked by the City Council in its deliberations was whether or not Constables were police. Though they are referred to as 'peace officers', I believe the Council was told that in making the appointments, they were not considered police officers. In fact, Bernice reported on PBA Local 19's opposition to the creation of the Constables.

When things finally settled down and the Constables were appointed by the Council, unanimously as I recall, the questions disappeared like smoke at a rock concert.

That is, until I spotted the Constable whose shirt identified its wearer as also 'POLICE'.

So, what is it? Are they police or not?

That led to a review of the statutes, which state (40A:9-126.1, see here) that Constables must make MONTHLY reports on their activities, including fees collected --
Every constable shall on or before the first Wednesday following the first Monday of every month file with the governing body by whom he was elected or appointed, a report of his official activities, other than in connection with court or judicial proceedings, for the month immediately past. The governing body shall forward a copy of the report to the municipal chief of police.

The report shall list the names and addresses of all persons contacted by the constable in his official capacity, together with the date, time and purpose of the contact. In addition the report shall contain an accurate statement of all fees collected by the constable and from whom and for what service each fee was collected.

Upon receipt, the governing body which made the appointment (the Plainfield City Council) is to forward the reports to the chief of police.

Has the Council gotten any reports since the Constables were appointed? I don't recall any discussion by the Council of having received them.

For one thing, reports would certainly clear up some of the confusion about what it is the Constables are supposed to be doing.

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Anonymous said...

"The vagueness with which Council's questions were answered"

Then, why did the council vote for them?

Jim Pivnichny said...

Your photo led me to wonder if the constable was carrying a gun on his belt. Can you tell me if indeed he was? This could have serious implications.

Michael Townley said...

Is that a firearm the "constable police" is carrying on his right hip?I read through the relevant statute but didn't see anything about the constable carrying firearms.

Dan said...

Jim & Michael -- Constables are armed peace officers. As I understand it, they must qualify on the police gun ranges.

Anonymous said...

I was there and yes he was armed and exceptionally friendly with the crowd.

Anonymous said...

In reading the list of activities a constable can perform, they seem more appropriate for augmenting the work of the county sheriff's office such as serving eviction notices and divorce decrees- or standing guard at public events. In fact, I do think Union County does you constables to collect small claim judgments (for a percentage of the "take") if they are not recorded.

Does anyone know if Sheldon Green is a constable and a firefighter? OldDoc suggested the constabulary is just a ploy to enable certain full-time employees to hold a second job.

Anonymous said...

Why is all of this a big deal... We need more good guys in our city than bad guys...Before you comment please read on the constitution on what a constable can and cannot do...