Constables are as old as Texas — with jobs being created to help patrol the frontier. But some Bexar County leaders are questioning the relevance of the position, especially after the FBI raided the office of Precinct 2 Constable Michelle Barrientes Vela this week.
In addition to the raid, County Judge Nelson Wolff held a press conference claiming Vela must step down from her position after announcing plans to run for Bexar County Sheriff in 2020.
“If it was up to me there would not be one constable left in this county or anywhere else. It’s a duplication of what the sheriff’s office would do. It’s a relic of the past that’s stuck in the Constitution,” Wolff said. “And most people that go to vote on these offices have no idea who they are voting on.”
But Precinct 1 County Constable Ruben Tejeda said the jobs aren’t relics and they’re not redundant.
He explained constables are certified Texas Peace Officers, the same as deputies and police officers. And those agencies don’t question their qualifications when constables come to their aid on the streets, he said.
“A lot of these guys might have a chip on their shoulders... But let me just tell you when you are in a bad situation you don’t care, man,” Tejeda said. “You just want to get help. That is the bottom line.”
A large function of constables and deputy constables is to serve warrants and court papers related to civil cases.
“We stay very busy,” Deputy Constable Alex Chavez said, pointing to the court papers filling the backseat of his patrol unit. The paperwork is from the Attorney Generals’ Office, waiting to be served.
“I usually have some appointments already scheduled to go. And some I’ll have to go make an attempt at the residence and finally get the individuals served their documents,” Chavez said.
Between visits to deliver court papers this week, he stopped to assist at a dangerous grass fire that was blowing smoke across a busy freeway.
“The pressure’s there. It’s tremendous, but you have to love this job,” he said. “You have to love what you do.”
Training And Revenue
Deputy Constable Salvador Rodriguez handles training for the Precinct 1 Constable’s Office. He said the staff receives diverse training from firearm procedures to handling civil matters to protecting the Justice of the Peace Courts.
“We also have mandated courses that we have to take now under the Senate Bill 42 for the judges and the courts under the judicial protection act,” Rodriguez said. “We now have to provide increased security for the court.”
Tejeda said Bexar County Commissioners can’t eliminate constable positions entirely because they are protected by the state constitution. But they can — and do — cut constable budgets.
Deputy Constable Mauricio Aragon is in charge of keeping an eye on budget matters for the Precinct 1 office, and said they don’t cost the county money.
“It’s been my personal experience and fact that the revenue this office creates is a lot more than we get budgeted from the Commissioners Court,” he said.
He said the fees Precinct 1 collects for serving warrants covers the office budget of $1 million given to them by the county, and they have an additional $3 million for the county.
The constables said serving around 30,000 warrants and court papers can be dangerous work, and they are trained to handle it just like any other officer. Eviction notices are often met with anger.
Deputy Constable Adam Salazar remembers when he got into a life-and-death struggle with a man on the West Side of San Antonio two years ago.
“He tried to take my weapon away. He ended up breaking the holster,” Salazar said. “And as a matter of fact, I gained knowledge after the fact that it takes over 500 pounds of force to break that type of holster.”
The constables also patrol schools and slow speeders near schools, and they have a lot of face time with community members at events. Constables claim their nickname is “the people's police.”
The Father of Texas himself, Stephen F. Austin, backed the constables’ role of patrolling early settlements like San Antonio — patrols that continue to this day.
And constables don’t see those duties going away anytime soon.