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September 1, 2015

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Constables in outlying areas see merit in effort to eliminate Las Vegas Township Constable’s Office

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Steve Marcus

Deputy Constable Patrick Geary works on paperwork during an eviction in an apartment near Desert Inn Road and Joe W. Brown Drive on Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2013. The resident had already moved out.

Within the next month, Clark County commissioners could vote to do away with the Las Vegas Township Constable’s Office, a source of consternation for the board since 2011.

Although the ordinance that will be introduced at today’s commission meeting specifically mentions abolishing the Las Vegas constable, the same statutory powers could be used to do away with the 10 other constable’s offices throughout the county.

The behavior that put the Las Vegas Constable’s Office on the county commission’s radar and prompted an examination of the services it provides hasn’t been found at outlying constable’s offices, many of which are much smaller than in Las Vegas.

Commission Chairman Steve Sisolak said he’s happy with the job other constable’s offices were doing and had heard positive feedback from constituents in the areas they serve.

“I’ve been told in outlying areas it’s extremely important. They’re a reliable service agency, and private options aren’t always available there,” Sisolak said of the other 10 constable’s offices. “I’ve never contemplated nor have I heard anyone else contemplating getting rid of or eliminating the other township constables.”

The primary job of a constable’s office is to enforce evictions and serve civil documents such as subpoenas, property liens, court summonses and wage garnishments. Constables officers carry guns and Tasers but rarely take people to jail. The offices are self-funded, using fees collected from serving documents.

If the Las Vegas Constable’s Office were abolished, its duties likely would be split between private companies and Metro Police.

Henderson Township Constable Earl Mitchell called the actions of Las Vegas Township Constable John Bonaventura and his deputies “a rare level of abuse of power” and said he supported actions by the commission to rein in the office.

But he said constable’s offices provided much-needed services and outsourcing them to a private company would reduce oversight and accountability.

"The preservation of the constable's office itself is imperative to protect our community and save our taxpayer dollars, as well as avoid burdening Metro (Police), who (have) their hands full protecting our streets,” Mitchell said in an email. “We must work together to ensure competent and qualified people are in charge of this important office and it is again able to do what it was designed to do, which is assist our law enforcement and support the courts in a professional and respectable manner.”

Mitchell’s office, as well as the Laughlin Constable’s Office, is the subject of a lawsuit currently before the Nevada Supreme Court that Bonaventura filed in July, accusing deputies from those offices of encroaching on territory under the jurisdiction of the Las Vegas Township Constable’s Office.

Unlike the Las Vegas office, which uses a number of deputies to serve the large area it covers, Boulder Township Constable Steve Hampe said he did most of his work with only occasional help from deputies.

Hampe, a retired Boulder City police officer, said he knew most of the people he’d served documents to and brought a personal touch to the job.

“If they decide to go ahead and eliminate the office, I would be unhappy because now we have someone coming in to deal with citizens of Boulder City who might not know the citizens,” he said. “Unfortunately, they’re not going to give it the care that I give it.”

Because they are self-funded, constable’s offices already act like private businesses, Hampe said, and they benefited from an added level of oversight because constables are elected by the public.

“John Bonaventura, it’s his problem what he’s done. If there is anything that pours over onto us, there’s nothing we’re going to be able to do about it,” Hampe said. “Hopefully, the county realizes we’re doing a good job out here. We haven’t had any problems, and we don’t anticipate having any problems.”

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