County constables: A history and overview of their role as peace officers in Washington County

ST. GEORGE — During a recent Washington County Commission meeting, a resolution was passed increasing the term of county constables from four years to six. It was a short agenda item that was quickly swept aside as the meeting progressed. However, a question came about from that quick resolution: What is a county constable and what exactly do they do?

You wouldn’t be wrong if you associated the term with a form of law enforcement. In Utah, constables are state-certified peace officers, and it’s not uncommon for them to come from a law enforcement background.

Andre Brazzle, one of Washington County’s two appointed constables, was a patrol officer with the Washington City Police Department and a reserve officer with the Tooele Police Department before that.

“We are fully empowered peace officers who are appointed by the County Commission,” Brazzle said, adding that he’s served in the position for around eight years.

The constables are not paid by the county nor are they affiliated with the Washington County Sheriff’s Office or other police agencies. Rather, the constables’ work is funded by private groups and firms.

So just what to the constables in Washington County do? They serve civil documents of various kinds, as well as court orders like warrants, writs of execution for repossession, evictions, protective orders and other documents that state law limits to certified peace officers.

State-employed and licensed private investigators can also serve civil process documents and bench warrants yet lack the authority to perform arrests like constables or sheriff’s deputies.

5th District Courthouse, St. George, Utah, Oct. 30, 2014 | File photo by Kimberly Scott, St. George News

As a constable, Brazzle said he has a little more leeway than regular officers when it comes to working with people. One example of this leeway involved letting a man to whom he was serving a warrant use his phone to call multiple individuals to help with bail. He said he likely wouldn’t be able to do that as a police officer.

“I strive to treat each person with dignity,” Brazzle said, adding it’s a practice he carries over from his time as a patrol officer. “It’s not my job to make their lives worse.”

Constables tend to be closer to the people than sheriff’s deputies or police officers, said John Sindt, who served as a constable in Salt Lake County for 53 years and retired at the end of last month.

Sindt is also on the board of directors for the National Constables and Marshals Association, formerly serving as president of the group.

Speaking with St. George News from his home in Sandy, Sindt said being a constable gave him an opportunity to serve people he’s come to love and, like Brazzle, aid them in ways regular officers may not be able to.

“I think we’re providing a service that is good for the public,” Sindt said.

In addition to their other duties, constables can accept a bail amount owed on a warrant and deliver it to the court.

“We have the power and authority to do that,” Sindt said. “A sheriff doesn’t.”

How constables work in other parts of the state and across the country varies. In parts of northern Utah, they not only serve civil papers and warrants, but can also provide court security as bailiffs and serve as guards for prisoners between the courthouse and jail.

“We’ve kept our use of (constables) quite narrow and focused,” Washington County Commissioner Dean Cox said.

The Washington County Commission, St. George, Utah, July 2, 2019 | File photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

Sheriff’s Office personnel currently act as bailiffs and prisoner transportation, though Cox said constables could be used in this capacity if circumstances changed in the future.

Cox said he believes constables are cost-effective and help the county save money. However, he also noted the county has not done a study to determine how much the money constables may save over having sheriff’s deputies serve papers.

Currently, the county has one sheriff’s deputy dedicated to serving court papers and warrants, though others may also serve papers as needed.

Among Washington County’s first constables was Jean Dickson, who has served in multiple jurisdictions since 1980. Back then, constables were elected by the public and served under a justice of the peace who oversaw a precinct in Salt Lake County where Dickson originally served. The process of selecting constables was moved from elections to county appointment in the mid-1990s.

Jean Dickson, one of Washington County’s original constables, St. George, Utah, July 12, 2019 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

By that time, Dickson moved to Washington County and was appointed to the constable position in 1995.

“We’re a private business appointed by the county,” Dickson said, noting that constables cover their own costs and liability insurance.

Dickson served as a county constables for several years, though these days she is semiretired and working as a deputy constable. She said she enjoys the work she does.

History of constables in Utah

Constables were the face of law enforcement in the Utah Territory until statehood in 1896. After that, the office of the county sheriff was established.

Utah’s first known constable, according to Sindt, was Orrin Porter Rockwell, the bodyguard of Brigham Young who also served as a U.S. Marshal for a time.

Portrait of Orrin Porter Rockwell. Retired constable John Sindt, of Sandy, Utah, says the famed Mormon gunslinger was Utah’s first constable. | Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons, St. George News

Sindt became a Utah constable in 1965 and at one point had 80 deputies serving under him. He had a hand in initiating a state requirement that constables undergo Peace Officer Standards and Training, or POST, so they have proper training and accountability.

Throughout his career, Sindt estimated that he’s served nearly two million court process papers, which includes around 4,000 warrants.

Because the constable position has offered flexibility and leeway in dealing with people, Sindt said people he’s arrested over the years have thanked him and sent Christmas cards on occasion.

“I feel good about who we are,” Sindt said. “I believe in the constable system.”

Brazzle said much the same, while also expressing gratitude for the support constables receive from the county and area law enforcement agencies.

“When it comes to St. George, Washington County and the sheriff, those guys are great,” he said. “It’s an honor to serve in Washington County.”

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @MoriKessler

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2019, all rights reserved.

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