The MMA testifies before the Joint Committee on the Judiciary on Oct. 8.

On Oct. 8, the MMA testified before the Joint Committee on the Judiciary in support of a bill that would remove constables’ criminal policing authority throughout state law.

Constables currently have broad authority to perform a variety of criminal enforcement actions, but they are not required to complete appropriate training and do not report to the local police chief.

The bill (H. 1372) would also reform long-outdated provisions relative to constables and the activities in which they participate, such as making warrantless arrests of vagrants or vagabonds, or of people riding free on the MBTA, or keeping order at polling stations during elections.

The MMA testified alongside Norwood Police Chief William Brooks III and Norwood General Manager Tony Mazzucco. Chief Brooks pointed out that constables were relied upon to keep the peace 200 years ago, but that function is no longer necessary.

Chelsea Police Chief Brian Kyes, president of the Massachusetts Major City Chiefs Association, also testified in support of the bill, noting that constables’ unchecked power is dangerous for the person being arrested, the public at large, and the constables themselves.

The office of constable is derived from its British counterpart during the colonial period. During the early 19th century, states began to enact laws allowing municipalities to establish police departments. Massachusetts granted police officers the powers of constables, including the common law power of arrest. The two positions continue to coexist, with constables performing mostly civil matters, such as serving summonses and executing court orders, civil arrest warrants, evictions and asset recovery and seizures.

There has been an increasing number of cases recently of constables acting to enforce criminal law. Constables work in the communities in which they are elected or appointed.

Police departments operate under numerous policies, procedures and best practices, and officers must complete mandated training, but constables are not subject to any of this, a reality that could result in injuries and significant liability for cities and towns. The MMA and others argue that constables are ill-prepared for criminal policing, and ungovernable.

The bill would not strip constables of their civil powers.

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