Almost half of the 186 Boston constables who serve as debt collectors have criminal arrest records, reports the Boston Globe in the third of an investigative series. The charges include firearms violations, indecent assault and battery on a child, and impersonating a police officer. Seven have been appointed in spite of guilty verdicts, among them one convicted twice in the last four years of beating his wife. Constables are an anachronistic leftover from colonial days. No training is required, no oversight is provided, and no state agency keeps track of their identities, much less their numbers – an estimated 1,500 to 2,000 statewide.
Many of them, says the Globe, are foot soldiers for the most aggressive debt collectors in Massachusetts. They make their money by night, or at first light, with a thump on the door, seizing cars by the thousands from intimidated debtors who have missed, or ignored, court orders to pay their creditors. Constables have well-armed competitors: the county deputy sheriffs, who sit one short rung up the law enforcement ladder and have grabbed an increasing share of the business. For sheriffs the pursuit of a payout can sometimes take precedence over fairness. In one case this year, two deputy sheriffs in Worcester County threatened to arrest a woman who stood between them and her car – waving bankruptcy papers that should have exempted it from seizure. Nonetheless, she lost her car for 10 weeks.