There will no longer be any unmarked constable vehicles on Wise County roads.
County commissioners decided Monday that all constable vehicles should be marked in accordance with the Texas Transportation Code.
The issue was brought up when Precinct 3 Constable Doug Parr, who currently drives an unmarked vehicle, asked that regular license plate tags be put on his car.
He currently has exempt tags, which according to the state Transportation Code, are to be used only on marked vehicles.
“I was asking (Judge Glenn Hughes) about getting that fixed so that I’m running legally just like the sheriff’s civil deputies and the county attorney investigators and D.A. investigators and everybody else,” he said. “That was my request, just to put tags on it, so it’s legal.”
But the discussion quickly shifted from the topic of tags to the issue of marked versus unmarked cars.
Commissioners attorney Thomas Aaberg said section 721.004 of the Texas Transportation Code requires that county-owned vehicles be marked, but section 721.005 allows commissioners to exempt certain vehicles from inscription, including those belonging to constables.
“The question for the court is whether you want constables to have unmarked vehicles,” he said. “That would allow them to go down and have regular plates.”
Currently, vehicles used by Constables Dennis Hudson and Larry Short, in Precincts 1 and 2 respectively, are marked, and Parr’s is unmarked. Precinct 4 Constable Kevin Huffman’s vehicle is marked, but it’s white-on-white, which is potentially difficult to see.
Precinct 1 Commissioner Danny White was the first to speak up.
“I personally would like to see our constable cars marked,” he said. “Tags on it impress me none.
“If they go out to serve papers or something, they need to be identified when they’re driving up,” he said. “They should have some type of marking visible. I don’t like the black lettering on black cars.”
Precinct 3 Commissioner Harry Lamance said as a retired police officer, he understands why Parr might want an unmarked car, but in his current position he agrees with White.
“The citizens are going to call us and are going to say there’s some jasper out there with a gun on, and we don’t know what he’s doing and all that,” he said.
“My question would be why is my department different from others in the county doing the exact same job?” Parr asked.
White said he wasn’t opposed to marking all of them because he sees it as a safety issue.
“Why are we going around with marked cars and unmarked cars for law enforcement?” he asked.
The Sheriff’s Office uses two unmarked cars to serve civil papers and has other unmarked vehicles used by investigators and administrators.
“We have two that both have regular tags, and (the deputies serving papers) wear a gun and a badge and a Sheriff’s Office shirt, not a uniform,” said Sheriff David Walker.
He said at training, unmarked cars are recommended because the papers being served aren’t criminal in nature, and an unmarked vehicle is less conspicous and therefore, less embarrassing for citizens.
“A lot of times you’re serving people civil papers, divorce papers, evicting someone out of a house, and this, that and the other,” he said. “That’s why we do it. Could it be a safety issue? Yes, obviously it can. (The deputies) are both in unmarked vehicles but wear identifiable clothes. They’re forbidden from making traffic stops unless it’s an emergency situation. That’s how we have ours set up.”
Precinct 2 Commissioner Kevin Burns said he’d heard from local constables and those in other counties that marked constable vehicles deter crime while patrolling, even though they’re not stopping people.
White said he wasn’t trying to run down anyone’s department, but he wasn’t sure a badge and uniform were enough to properly identify an officer.
“You hear in the Metroplex all the time about a man dressed up like a police offer,” he said. “He gets out of a car, rapes a woman or whatever he does, robs them … just because he’s got a badge on doesn’t tell me he’s a peace officer, but if he drives up in a marked car, not everyone is going to drive around in a car that says ‘constable.’ Then if you see them get out with a gun and a badge, you pretty well know they’re employees of the county.
“I’d hate to get out of an unmarked car and serve papers,” he said. “It’s a good way to get shot in my opinion.”
Parr said he’s been shot at before, so that was “of paramount concern.”
“And that was in a marked car,” he said, “so if they’re going to shoot at you, it really doesn’t matter which kind of car.”
Parr said he simply has better luck serving papers in an unmarked car.
“I’ve had a marked car, and as soon as you round the corner in a marked car, half the people you deal with hit the door and won’t answer and that causes me two or three more trips, and I have to get an order from the judge to post it because they won’t answer the door.”
He said some of the people he deals with may also have criminal history and assume a marked car is tied to a more serious infraction, causing them to run or just not answer the door. If he pulls up in an unmarked car, he said people are more likely to at least answer the door, and he can simply hand them the papers.
He also echoed Walker’s statement, saying since his work is not criminal in nature, it’s less embarrassing for citizens when he’s serving papers to have an unmarked car parked in front of their home or business.
“Whatever you guys decide, I’ll be fine,” he said. “Safety is obviously my main concern going out anyway, and I’ll do what I have to do to protect myself.”
Precinct 4 Commissioner Gary Potts made a motion to have proper signage on all constable vehicles, and Lamance gave it a second. The motion passed unanimously.
According to the state Transportation Code, marked vehicles should have the name of the county and the office to which the vehicle belongs on each side of the vehicle. The decals must be in a “color sufficiently different from the body of the vehicle so that the lettering is plainly legible.”
It also says the inscription must be legible 100 feet away.