The Louisville Metro Council is discussing ways to restrict the power currently held by local constables after a controversial shooting raised questions about the positions usefulness.
Three council members met with Chief Robert White Thursday to talk about the recent use of force by Jefferson County Constable David Whitlock, who was first elected to the position in 2007.
Last week, Whitlock shot a woman accused of shoplifting at a Walmart in the arm and face. Whitclock claims Tammie Ortiz ran over his foot with her car, but her attorney denies she stole anything and says Whitlock never identified himself as an officer.
The controversy has renewed a debate about the 150-year-old elected post, which is a state constitutional office that gives three constables in Jefferson County certain law enforcement powers, including writing parking tickets, executing warrants and making traffic stops.
However, critics point out that constables are not required to undergo any police training in order to hold the position.
Councilman David James, D-6, is a former Louisville police officer who currently serves as a lieutenant with University of Louisville police. He met with Chief White and says having an elected official without proper training acting as a law enforcement agent poses a danger to the community.
“In Jefferson County, I feel it is a problem. We have a person that has a badge and a gun and absolutely no training. And I consider that a public safety issue,” he says.
Over the past few days Whitlock has been criticized as a “loose cannon” but eliminating the position could be difficult considering it is a state constitutional office.
The police department’s public integrity unit is investigation the matter and will forward its findings to the commonwealth’s attorney. But council members are also looking at ways to rescind certain powers the elected position holds.
Councilman Kelly Downard, R-16, also met with the chief to go over the investigation. He says Whitlock may have violated restrictions put on constables by Metro Government.
“If everything that has been alleged—and I key the word alleged—is true, then I think it gives me great concern that he has violated the law,” he says.
Under former Mayor Jerry Abramson, the city prohibited constables from having deputies after Whitlock had several men given the titles of colonel and sergeant. The council also took steps to stop constables from using vehicle blue lights or sirens and having their uniforms similar to other law enforcement agencies.
Observers have raised serious questions about Whitlock since the story broke, including accusations of theft and aggressive enforcement. It has also been revealed that he has not passed courses through the state’s Department of Criminal Justice Training.
From the Courier-Journal:
Mark Handy, a deputy Jefferson County sheriff, who was in that 2008 class with Whitlock said it included firearms recertification and driving skills. But Whitlock didn’t get to the driving section because he failed the shooting portion and was sent home, Handy said. The certification included shooting at targets from various positions and distances in a set amount of time.
“He flunked shooting,” Handy said. “I was there. I thought it was an embarrassment.”
Whitlock acknowledged that he failed the course, but said it was because he had a neck injury that prevented him from doing one of the required maneuvers.
The incident has sparked a number of criticisms from former law enforcement officers, who call Whitlock a “wannabe” posing as a police agent. Asked about how Whitlock is regarded by law enforcement, James says just because state law allows peace officers to do certain things doesn’t mean they should.
“We only have one constable who is actually attempting to do law enforcement activities. The other two constables are doing what they should be doing. And that one constable who is causing the issues is not highly regarded,” says James. “You have a badge and gun on the street without any training, and that’s not a good thing.”