WINSTON COUNTY - Questions concerning what a county constable is, along with the roles and responsibilities performed by a constable have been answered, as qualifying for county candidates for the March 5, primaries is well underway.
Constables will be up for election in each of Winston County’s 18 precincts. The offices are placed on the ballot every four years, explained Election Officer Sheila Moore.
Winston County Republican Party Vice Chairman Greg Farris took an opportunity at the party’s October meeting to explain that constables have certain qualifications that must be met before seeking office.
Farris then pointed out there have been several questions about what constables do, with some constables confused about the roles they serve working with law enforcement.
The proper name for a constable is conservator of peace. According to state definition, constables can attend the circuit court of the county when summoned by the sheriff for that purpose, Farris began. Constables’ roles are also to execute and return all summons and other processes directed to that person by lawful authority.
“Constables can carry a pistol, make arrests, stop and question any person within reason and conduct searches for dangerous weapons,” Farris pointed out.
“Constables may also fulfill other duties such as escort a wedding or funeral, enforce traffic at a church or school and provide security at community events,” Farris added.
To be a constable, a person must be a citizen of the county where they are seeking office, have no criminal record and be old enough to carry a firearm.
“There can only be one constable elected by each voting precinct,” according to the state.
Constables take office the first Monday after the second Tuesday in January following the election, according to Farris.
“Constables must file paperwork pursuant to the Fair Campaign Practice Act,” he continued. “Those are things any candidate seeking office must file.”
If a constable wants to be affiliated with a particular party, he or she must file paperwork with that particular party in order to qualify, as well as pay the qualifying fees.
Constables do not receive a salary, and each constable must purchase a bond with a minimum value of $1,000, but not at the expense of the county, according to Farris.
“That means you have to pay for it yourself,” Farris noted. “You normally get those through insurance agents.”
Constables also must file the necessary paperwork with the Alabama Secretary of State’s office just like any political candidate, he further informed.
Although Winston County can have a constable in each of its 18 voting precincts, that is currently not the case, Farris pointed out.
Moore added that most of Winston County’s constables do not qualify with a particular party, with a space for each office on the general election ballot provided for a write-in.
“If nobody qualifies for a certain precinct, if somebody writes somebody’s name in, they have to accept that position,” Farris explained. “That would be the election of that person.”
If a person qualifies for constable and a write-in candidate for that same precinct receives the same number of votes, both names are placed into a hat and a name is drawn, Moore pointed out.
“That’s the only fair way to do it,” she said. “They are present when it is drawn out, and it’s done in front of all the constables, the sheriff and the chief deputy.”
A constable is required by law to cooperate with law enforcement, as well as the county sheriff, according to Farris.
“That should be a real serious thing they consider before they want to do that,” Farris pointed out.
Greg Howse, who has been a constable for 15 years and is seeking office once again in the primary, stated that many people do not understand the constable’s role.
“I didn’t know a lot about it to start with,” Howse admitted. “I did know some background on it.”
Howse informed the audience at the October Republican Party meeting that he was asked to run for constable 15 years ago and learned a lot about his role along the way.
“A constable is the oldest form of law enforcement in the United States,” Howse informed. “That’s before sheriffs. That is what was brought here from England.”
Howse informed that as constable he has arrest powers.
“I am a sworn officer,” he stated. “I am elected just like a sheriff. You put your hand on the Bible. You raise your hand and swear an oath to uphold the Constitution.
“That is what I wanted to make sure, that I was representing the people,” added Howse. “Yes, I want to uphold the law, but I want to make sure everybody got treated fairly.”
Howse has been elected to the office of constable four times, he said.
“By the grace of the good Lord, I have been elected by a landslide,” Howse noted. “I’ve had opposition every time.”
The thing Howse sought when first elected as constable was working with the sheriff, as well as law enforcement across the county, he said.
“I took it upon myself to seek training,” Howse said. Some of the training Howse has received has been how to properly dispose of a methamphetamine lab, active shooter training, close quarter battle and even post-blast investigation with the ATF, FBI and Homeland Security, he explained.
“All this, I paid for out of my pocket,” Howse stated. “I have done every bit of this because I love Winston County. I love the people of Winston County.”
The following 21 counties have constables: Barbour, Choctaw, Conecuh, Coosa, Dallas, DeKalb, Elmore, Etowah, Franklin, Greene, Jefferson, Marengo, Marion, Mobile, Monroe, Russell, Sumter, Talladega, Walker, Wilcox and Winston.
See complete story in the Northwest Alabamian.