Pennsylvania constables wanted to be paid $1,403 for tracking down a man who owed $3,429 in parking tickets. A county official said the constables had overcharged and knocked the fee down to $741. The constables’ explanation for their fees was “really unclear and confusing,” said one official quoted by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “Unclear and confusing” describes the methods used to pay constables, a corps of quasi-law-enforcement agents who serve polling places, district justices, and private attorneys, but answer to no official authority. Four counties are examining how their constables work and how they should be paid.
State constables do essential, street-level jobs. They take a training course, sometimes wear uniforms and carry guns, and can serve papers anywhere in Pennsylvania. Ten constables in Westmoreland County earned $204,233 last year. Constables billed the county $308,727 in 2004, but fines and fees collected from offenders totaled only $28,096. Westmoreland taxpayers lost $280,631 in the deal. “Some of the constables are getting greedy,” said one official. “The law provides no audit, no watchdog for them. They could write anything on those bills. We’re just a series of rubber stamps.”