Back in the 1600s constables, appointed by the British, were used to perform rudimentary law enforcement services in the colonies.

A new report from the State Commission of Investigation finds a lot of New Jersey towns are still appointing constables, with some of these individuals engaging in dangerous and unlawful conduct.

“A lot of these constables have designed uniforms that look nearly identical to law enforcement and they also sometimes think they can act like law enforcement," said Kathy Hennessy Riley, the assistant director for communications and public affairs at the SCI.

She said it’s important to stress constables are definitely not police officers.

“What constables are, are untrained, unsupervised private citizens.”

What are they doing?

The report, "Abusing the Badge," finds some constables have faced criminal charges for impersonating police officers, including one who allegedly pulled over a cab driver in Newark last year and demanded his motor vehicle credentials after the two were involved in a traffic dispute.

In another incident, several Essex County constables showed up at the mass shooting scene in Jersey City in 2019 that left six people, including a police officer dead. Riley said the group pulled out their weapons and announced they were providing backup for the police, even though they had no authority to do so.

Another constable reportedly flashed his badge and told law enforcement officers who stopped his vehicle that he was actually a police officer just like them.

Riley said in many towns constables have no authority whatsoever but “in some communities they have low level policing tasks assigned like enforcing noise ordinances or issuing littering summonses.”

Mounting concerns

Riley said a number of bona fide law enforcement organizations, including the New Jersey State Association of Chiefs of Police, the New Jersey Prosecutors Association and the Police Benevolent Association, have raised concerns about constables, pointing out “they’re going to not only confuse the public but also possibly endanger the public.”

The report also finds some constables have tried to use their positions to promote their own private business interests, touting their alleged law enforcement credentials to get a higher hourly wage with security firms.

What happens next?

Riley said after reviewing all the facts, the SCI has recommended that state lawmakers put an end to this practice.

"Abolish the statutes that enable local governing bodies to appoint constables. There’s no need for this position in today’s world, and it is simply a recipe for disaster.”

Riley said “it’s really hard to understand why there would be any need whatsoever for constables today in our modern sophisticated system of law enforcement.”

A copy of the SCI report is available here.

You can contact reporter David Matthau at david.matthau@townsquaremedia.com.

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