Court constables have new rules

New rules won’t have a huge affect on Blair and Cambria County constables working for the courts because a majority of the new regulations are already commonplace here.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court issued new rules last week to bring uniformity to the way constables conduct themselves while working for the judiciary.

But many of the policies and procedures being implemented are standard procedure for Blair County court constables, Blair County President Judge Jolene G. Kopriva said.

In 2002, court officials, in conjunction with Blair magisterial district judges and county constables, developed standardized payment forms for constables’ use – one of the new changes implemented under the policy.

“I think that we’re ahead of the curve here in Blair County,” Kopriva said.

The “policies, procedures and standards of conduct” adopted by the state Supreme Court ensures universal best-practices for all constables across the state, said Amy Kelchner, spokeswoman for the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts.

“These policies and procedures relate only to the constables for the courts,” Kelchner said.

Constables work as independent contractors. Constables doing work for the courts must be insured and if carrying a firearm, must undergo 40 hours of basic firearm training, plus additional hours for advanced and annual firearms training.

Once certified and insured, constables are eligible to serve warrants, mediate landlord-tenant disputes, provide security at magisterial judicial hearings and transport criminals, Kelchner said.

Of Blair County’s 24 elected constables, five are insured and work for the courts, Kopriva said. The remainder mainly provide security at the polls during elections.

Constable Ray Benton, who has served as a constable in Blair County since 1991, estimated he already complies with 98 percent of the new regulations, including liability insurance and firearms training requirements.

“I think it’s bringing some more professionalism to the job,” Benton said.

Magisterial district judges already hold constables to a high standard, Kopriva said, and the new standards of conduct only formalize the conduct and what was already expected of constables here.

Under the new policies, the county’s president judge has the authority to create a constable review board comprised of the president judge, county controller, a magisterial district judge and a constable to oversee any problems.

Kopriva said she does not anticipate a need for a review board.

“We never had a need for that because there’s never been reported bad behavior,” Kopriva said.

The new standards also include mandatory identifying uniforms, a permanent cage in vehicles used to transport prisoners to separate the front and back seats, a standardized payment sheet for all constables and the requirement that at least one constable be certified and in possession of a firearm while transporting prisoners.

“I think most of the people that are working for the county are already following what’s being written here,” Blair County Controller Richard J. Peo said. “I don’t think it’s going to produce any burden.

Cambria County Controller Ed Cernic Jr. agreed.

About 30 constables are certified to work for the courts in Cambria County, Cernic said.

Liability insurance rates may increase for those constables, Cernic said, but the biggest change will be enforcing the mandatory uniforms policy.

The standards were adopted mainly to reign in constables operating in larger counties such as Philadelphia and Allegheny where rules and standards were not universal, Kopriva said.

Kopriva stressed Blair County constables are professionals and well prepared for what little changes the new statewide regulations may bring.

Blair County constables are meeting today to discuss the new policies and plan to address any concerns with Kopriva, Benton said.

“There’s a few things that, as a group, we may have questions” about, including restrictions on political activity for constables, Benton said.

Benton said he is confident his business is prepared to address any necessary changes as part of the new regulations.

“Let’s face it, we’re independent contractors for the court system,” Benton said. “It’s our own business. We are a professional group of law enforcement officers that are out there doing a job for the court.”

“If you are a professional, you don’t mind the rules and regulations.”

Mirror Staff Writer Zach Geiger is at 946-7535.