On the surface, a county constable’s job looks pretty cushy.
You get to be your own boss, meet lots of people, ride in parades and set your own hours. The pay can be great. One Harrison County constable cleared $223,000 in 2017.
Constables have to reapply for their jobs every four years because county voters elect them. But once a constable is in office, he tends to stay until retirement. When he retires, contenders line up for the job, as demonstrated by the list of Coast constable candidates on the 2019 statewide election roster.
But the job is a lot tougher than most voters realize.
“We’re going about out business,” says Alan Weatherford, Harrison County’s District 3 constable. “People don’t know what we do.” Weatherford happens to be a career law enforcement officer who retired as Gulfport’s police chief.
What does a constable actually do in Mississippi? They serve papers for Justice Court, all kinds of papers: Eviction notices, wage garnishments, arrest warrants, summonses to appear in court and something called “replevins” that are akin to repossession of merchandise or vehicles.
Justice Courts handle civil cases that involve $3,500 or less, county traffic violations and misdemeanor criminal cases, among other matters. The number of court districts in a county is based on population and the constables districts align with the judges’ districts.
“The function of the constable is crucial,” said Harrison County Justice Court Judge Melvin Ray. “The court can’t function without constables, period.”
Constables are paid $35 for each court paper they serve. The fee doesn’t go up if a constable has to make multiple trips to serve an individual. No service, no pay.
The job can be dangerous, especially evictions. Weatherford always notifies the law enforcement agency in the appropriate jurisdiction before he serves an eviction.
When he knocks on a door with an eviction notice, Weatherford never knows who or what will be on the other side. He’s found pot and guns. He’s found empty apartments trashed by tenants.
And, he’s found angry tenants who don’t want to move. In January, Weatherford was calling for police backup when a man who refused to leave his apartment stabbed the landlord in the arm and torso. The landlord was not critically injured.
Court records show the tenant barricaded himself inside the apartment and had to be coaxed out by Biloxi police.
The eviction was one of 1,178 Harrison County Justice Courts handled in 2018, court records show.
The job can be heartbreaking. Weatherford has driven into a mobile home park and had a child running beside his patrol car to ask if the constable is bringing papers for his family.
He once had to leave an elderly woman in tears when he dropped off a court summons over an unpaid medical debt. She said that she was already struggling to pay off other medical bills.
He helps where he can, calling a social service agency to get a quadriplegic woman’s rent paid so she wouldn’t be on the streets. Help doesn’t always help indefinitely, though. The woman was back in the same situation a month later. She had vacated the apartment before Weatherford arrived with the eviction notice.
Some other things you may not know about constables:
- The job is as old as our country, migrating to the colonies from England.
- Only 32 states still have constables.
- In Mississippi, 13 constables have died in the line of duty, with 12 shot and one stabbed, according to the state Constable’s Association.
- Constables are sworn law enforcement officers.
- Constables must pay their own expenses; they even supply their patrol vehicles marked with county constable insignia.
- Constables visit public schools, throw goodies at parades, even help sponsor fish fries for worthy causes. Community visibility and public service go with the job.
- Constables provide an extra layer of law enforcement visibility, with marked patrol cars and uniforms.
- Constables depend on law enforcement agencies when they need backup.
- Constables receive training after election, but the only qualification to run is that the candidate live in the district he or she will serve.
- When they see crimes committed, constables can and do make arrests.
And now, about that salary. Constable pay varies widely, depending on the size of the district, the court’s caseload and how hard a constable works. Like chancery and circuit clerks, they are fee-paid officials who must cover all expenses out of their gross earnings.
The $223,695 in annual earnings belongs to Sammie Taylor and was his gross salary. After expenses, he netted $64,651.
Taylor said he works six days a week, sometimes seven, starting around 5:30 a.m. and sometimes going until 7 or 8 p.m.
“Mine is not an eight-to-five job,” he said. “I doubt any constable’s is. I keep moving and moving and moving. I don’t want my papers to pile up on me.”
Taylor is also unopposed for re-election.
He and Weatherford both say their job requires compassion. You don’t kick somebody when they’re down. Also, Taylor said, it could be him going through a hard time.
Even so, there comes a point when a constable must be more forceful.
“You have to know when to step it up,” Weatherford said. “When you have somebody get out of line and tell you, they’re not going to do this or that, you have to let them know: ‘This is the way it’s going to be.’
“On your evictions, compassion only goes so far, especially when they tell you they’re not going to get out. They know the law.”
Constable pay in 2017
|Location||Gross income||Expenses||Net Income|
|James Morgan, Dist. 1||$135,755||$19,413||$116,340|
|Paul Johnson, Dist. 2||$119,850||$92,655||$27,195|
|Alan Weatherford, Dist. 3||$54,600||$32,029||$22,571|
|Sammie Taylor, Dist. 4||$223,695||$159,044||$64,651|
|Jeff Migues, Dist. 5||$123,380||$19,306||$104,074|
|Ty Thompson, Dist. 1||$68,525||$13,595||$54,930|
|Calvin Hutchins, Dist. 2||$127,130||$34,812||$92,318|
|Shane Langfitt, Dist. 3||$60,200||$41,310||$17,091|
|Kerry Fountain, Dist. 4||$76,515||$18,672||$57,843|
|Terry Necaise, Dist. 1||$16,075||$7,051||$7,224|
|Ray Seal Jr., Dist. 2||$29,660||$18,315||$11,345|
|Theresa Beeson, Dist. 3||$38,410||$16,479||$21,931|
BEHIND OUR REPORTING
Why did we report this story?
A candidate for constable called to say an opponent was running solely for the salary. The caller said constables in Mississippi can earn more than $200,000 a year. The news tip proved only partially true, as is so often the case. We pursued the story to find out how much constables earn and give readers a better understanding of the job.
Read more by clicking the arrow on the upper right.
Who did we speak to?
We interviewed two Harrison County constables, both with no opposition in upcoming political races, to avoid any appearance of favoritism. Justice Court Judge Melvin Ray, the spokesman for the court in Harrison County, also was quoted in the story.
Key facts also were provided by Glenn McKay of Vicksburg, president of the Mississippi Constable’s Association; Mississippi State University professor emeritus Marty Wiseman, who specializes in state and local government; Harrison County Justice Court Clerk Greg Illich; and Alabama Constable Leo Bullock, historian and board member with the National Constables and Marshals Association.
What records did we rely on?
The Harrison County Chancery Clerk’s Office provided annual financial reports for its constables at no charge as a public service. Jackson and Hancock counties were unable to provide their constable reports. Instead, reports for those counties came from the Secretary of State’s Office, also free of charge.