TRI-CITIES, Tenn. (WJHL) – The elected office of constable is the oldest law enforcement position in the United States, according to the Tennessee Constables Association.
The president of the East Tennessee Constables Association Robert Kent Harris estimates more than 50 constables serve in the Tri-Cities area alone.
Constables have full law enforcement power, meaning they can do anything a regular officer can do.
“It just kind of got in my blood,” said Harris. “I thought about becoming a deputy or state trooper, but I had a good job at that ink factory so I thought, ‘what can I do to help our community?'”
Constable Harris is a second generation volunteer constable, and in addition to his duties as President of the East Tennessee Constables Association, he also serves Sullivan County.
During his time as a constable, he’s made a total five arrests, largely uncommon in the work of a constable.
“You’ve got the authority to do it if you have to,” he said, “and if I need to arrest somebody, they need to be arrested.”
A constable’s responsibilities normally revolve around serving civil warrants.
They can also assist the sheriff’s office in 911 calls and conduct traffic stops.
Harris said constables are more prevalent in rural counties and less frequent near bigger cities.
“In the world we live in today you need all the extra eyes and help that you can get,” said Harris.
Constables are elected to office through county municipal elections and serve for four year terms, with no cost to the tax payer.
To become one, you must live in the district you are running in, obtain 25 signatures of registered voters within the district, have a high school diploma or GED, and never been convicted of a felony or received dishonorable discharge from the military.
Constable Ken Potter serves in Carter County and also as the lead trainer for the East Tennessee Constables Association.
“We do about 20 topics each year over a 40-hour course,” said Potter.
One of those topics includes active shooter training.
In 2018, Harris and Head trainer Ken Potter helped create legislation requiring constables to take part in 40-hours of in-service each year.
Before that, constable were only required to complete that training within their first year in office.
“We have sheriff’s that come and teach, we have a special agent from homeland security,” said Potter, “it’s not just me doing all of it, it’s me calling on other people who are trained experienced instructors to come in and help with the training.”
Tennessee has constables in majority of its counties.
Virginia no longer has constables.