This week local uniformed Pennsylvania State Constables have been seen patrolling downtown Stroudsburg, a town center plagued with vagrancy, panhandling and drugs. The patrol sparked by concerns expressed by local businesses as well as the town Mayor.
Mayor, Tarah Probst, shared her on ideas at a police commissioners meeting, to increase police presence in the downtown area to alleviate ongoing harassment and property damage from panhandlers. She presented the ideas for increased patrols from the police department and perhaps a presence of state constables or private security to pick up the slack.
Probst expressed a growing frustration with the increasing issues with panhandlers, telling council that she has seen human excrement on the sidewalks of Main Street from the same people harassing visitors. She called the situation “worse than you could ever imagine,”.
“Something needs to be done and it needs to be done fast,” Probst said. “Panhandlers are getting aggressive and doing lewd things. Rude, lewd, any word you can imagine.”
Probst said her ideas could also apply Pennsylvania State Constables to Stroudsburg. Constables are constituted to make warrant arrests and arrests on incidents that disturb peace or violate drug laws, among other allotments.
Her ideas were answered with a red tape request for more research by borough council.
Now a handful of these elected and appointed law enforcement officers have decided to help combat the problems on their own and have started patrolling the troubled areas of the town on their own time.
Pennsylvania State Constables have arrest powers in Pennsylvania boroughs according to TITLE 44 LAW AND JUSTICE . In addition to any other powers granted under law, a Constable of a borough shall, without warrant and upon view, arrest and commit for hearing any person who: (1) Is guilty of a breach of the peace, vagrancy, riotous or disorderly conduct or drunkenness. (2) May be engaged in the commission of any unlawful act tending to imperil the personal security or endanger the property of the citizens. (3) Violates any ordinance of the borough for which a fine or penalty is imposed.
But that didn’t sit so well with the understaffed local police department.
According to the Pocono Record – At about 10:30 a.m. Thursday morning, Manny Rodriguez, a State Constable since 1991, former NYPD officer and Viet Nam veteran was pulling into the Wawa parking lot in Stroudsburg. He was in casual clothes, but driving a patrol vehicle registered and insured under the Police Pennsylvania State Constable Northeast Division.
A Monroe County district attorney sports utility vehicle pulled Rodriguez over in the parking lot, Rodriguez said. Soon after, a local police squad vehicle also responded to the scene. Police Captain Jennifer Lyon said the vehicle was responding to a request for backup at the location heard over the scanner.
Rodriguez said a Monroe County Sheriff vehicle was also present, though the sheriff’s office could not confirm whether it had been at the time of publication.
When Rodriguez asked the district attorney detective who pulled him over what was wrong, Rodriguez said he was told, “You’re not a police officer. I’m a police officer, you’re a constable.”
The detective took concern with signage on Rodriguez’s vehicle that reads “State Constable Police,” Rodriguez said. After an argument, the detective returned to his vehicle and talked to someone on the radio.
When he returned, Rodriguez said he was told he was pulled over because his vehicle has tinted windows, which Rodriguez maintained is for his safety as constable. The detective told Rodriguez he would receive three citations in the mail — for his “police” signage, for the tinted windows and for not wearing a seat belt.
Rodriguez was also told he would have to remove a searchlight installed on the driver’s door and the “police” signage.
On Thursday evening, Christine said he could not comment on Rodriguez’s charges because they are pending.
Rodriguez, a retired New York Police Department officer and Delaware Water Gap constable since 1991, did not return to patrol Main Street following the incident. He said the responding officers were “very hostile,” and he felt afraid to be in the area.
“It was unbelievable,” Rodriguez said. “It was like I was a criminal, you know?”
Rodriguez defended that constables are members of the state’s executive branch that can be activated in any emergency, and that his vehicle is registered as a police car under his constable division.
“Constables have jurisdiction over the entire state of Pennsylvania,” Rodriguez said. “If we see crime happening in front of us, we have to intervene.”
Probst backed the concern of Rodriguez by saying she understood that constables have their “own right of law.”
“They report to the governor, not us,” Probst said. “We have no power to tell the constables what to do.”
Probst expressed further frustration with Christine’s implication that borough officials could be liable for the constables, saying they work for the state and are their own independent contractors.
“That’s one of the reasons why I like the idea of reaching out to them for help,”.
Since the downtown patrols began it has also been reported that local police officers have been seen flipping off Constables as they pass through town.
Probst said she’d be unhappy if she learned the incident was a result of “bullying” Rodriguez.