Bexar County commissioners to review use of unpaid, reserve deputy constables

Reserve deputies given same powers as other peace officers without the paycheck

Several controversies surrounding Precinct 2 Constable Michelle Barrientes Vela has raised questions about what exactly the four constables' office in Bexar County do.

SAN ANTONIO – The Bexar County Commissioners Court is preparing to decide whether to allow the continued use of reserve deputy constables, and, if so, how many.

Constables are allowed to appoint people to the unpaid positions, but only if the Commissioners Court provides for it. The commissioners also have the power to limit how many reserve deputies a constable can appoint.

According to state law, reserve deputies have the same “rights, privileges and duties of any other peace officer” when on duty for a constable. Much of what deputy constables do revolves around serving paperwork, handling evictions and providing security for Justice of the Peace courts.

In letters dated Nov. 21, the county manager asked each of the four constables for information on the number and use of their reserve deputy constables -- information that is meant to be used in a Dec. 3 Commissioners Court consideration of how many reserve deputies will be allotted for each office.

Judge Nelson Wolff said the Commissioners Court wants to know how the reserve deputies are being used. While he said it’s good they don’t cost the county any money, he said commissioners need to see they’re being put to good use.

"If you're just appointing someone for the glory of it, that's not what the statute says it should be for," Wolff said.

Precinct 3 Constable Mark Vojvodich said he has 11 reserve deputies to supplement his 15 paid deputies, and using them helps to save money.

"They're pretty (much) here very often, especially in (the) court security role," Vojvodich said. "We have them here at least two times a week or three times a week."

A Bexar County policy from 1999 currently permits up to 30 "full-time reserve deputy constables" and between 50 and 80 "part-time reserve deputy constables" per precinct, though Vojvodich said those terms are now outdated.

Outside of their duties for a constable's office, Vojvodich said the reserve deputies can get paid side work doing traffic assignments, but they are not allowed to work paid security gigs in uniform.

As with everything constable-related these days, this review of reserve deputies links back to extra scrutiny on the offices following the tumultuous tenure of the recently resigned Michelle Barrientes Vela. Vela was a reserve deputy in Precinct 2 before she became its constable.

"So it gives them some status," Wolff said. "And obviously, (Barrientes Vela) used that status to run for constable. And then we all felt the consequence of that."

Vojvodich said the reserve deputies shouldn't be painted with a broad brush. They're often retired peace officers or people with law enforcement experience who want to help their community, he said, and he believes the commissioners can be persuaded not to do away with them.

“If they’re talking to constables and they actually see the roles that they play, and they see the reports that are coming out, I don’t think that’s the decision they’ll make,” he said.

About the Authors:

Garrett Brnger is a reporter with KSAT 12.