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Constables battle for volunteers

Published On: Oct 01 2012 02:06:43 PM CDT
Updated On: Oct 02 2012 08:30:29 PM CDT

ABC-7s Matthew Smith reports.

EL PASO, Texas -

A battle appears to be brewing between the El Paso County Constables and County Commissioners Court.

Constables are asking County commissioners for a policy to allow for volunteer deputies. While the County seems open to the idea, they don't want the County to foot the bill for ammunition or allow the volunteer deputies to use County vehicles.

Several elected-Constables came before County Commissioners Court to discuss the issues they're having with a lean budget. Constables have a small budget, and perhaps, a smaller staff.

According to constables and deputies who talked with ABC-7 they're responsible for working as bailiffs, delivering eviction notices, delivering writs and responding to accident scenes. At a time when work is piling up they say volunteers should be trained and treated like a regular deputy.

"We really bombard them with a lot of work, we do supervise them a lot though," said Constable Hector Bernal.

Manuel Romero, of the County Attorney's Office, told Commissioners Court that the County would not recommend volunteers drive County vehicles or be reimbursed for ammunition used for training purposes. He also told Commissioners Court that volunteers shouldn't be allowed to carry their weapons when they are not working for the constable.

Constables argue that it would hamper the abilities of using volunteers.

"You're tying our hands ... that deputy is no good to us," said Constable Rick Gammon who stated the policies would make it impossible for a volunteer to work without the help of a paid deputy.

Romero said they're not trying to limit the constables, but there seemed to be a difference of opinion on what they will do.

Constables said they believe this will allow volunteers to merely serve as bailiffs. The County employees said they believe this will allow them to ride a-long with paid constable deputies to create numbers for sticky situations.

Commissioners moved to discuss the issue behind closed doors during an executive session. Gammon mentioned how he's unaware what goes on behind doors when he leaves.

It was a comment that seemed to anger some commissioners. Commissioner Tania Chozet and County Judge Veronica Escobar each chastised him for that public comment.

"This court does not operate on rumors," Escobar said to Gammon.

Following a lengthy executive session, there were questions whether the item should be discussed further. Constables opted to wait another week because they have individual meetings with commissioners scheduled for this week.

Escobar said she was ready to vote now.

Constable Hector Bernal, one of several constables in attendance, said he wasn't sure what she meant by that.

Asked if he believed she'd already made up her mind he said, "I hope that (Commissioners) will be opened-minded heading into our meetings next week."

Volunteer deputies are required to be certified as peace officers. Constables said that could include people fresh out of police academy looking for further training, or retired police officers who are looking to keep their skills sharp.

The item to discuss volunteer deputies, and what they'll be allowed to do, will be taken up at next week's County Commissioners Court meeting.

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