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By W. Gardner Selby August 23, 2012

Bruce Elfant says 88 Texas constables have died in line of duty

The day a Brazos County constable was shot to death in College Station, a Travis County counterpart pointed out that constables often confront risks.

"Texas constables serve as the enforcement arm for our courts," Bruce Elfant, the constable for Precinct 5, said in an Aug. 13, 2012, statement emailed to news organizations. "Every day we carry out court orders to arrest individuals, remove children from abusive conditions, seize property and evict people from their homes. Constables are also responsible for enforcing child-support orders and executing family violence protective orders. Quite often when serving court notices or enforcing court orders constables are confronted with hostility, resistance and, on some occasions, deadly force."

The statement continues: "Eighty-eight Texas constables have died in the line of duty while serving their communities."

We asked Elfant’s office to back up that count.

Elfant, who is also the 2012 Democratic nominee for Travis County tax assessor-collector, said by telephone that he based his figure on adding to a tally of 86 that was part of a video about constables posted a few years ago on the Travis County website. He said he must have miscounted when he penciled in 88.

Elfant said the original count came from information compiled by others. He later forwarded a list that he had fielded from Ron Hickman, the constable in Harris County’s Precinct 4, indicating that 215 constables or officers in constable offices in about 100 counties have died in the line of duty since Oct. 17, 1852. That tally includes150 constables, the list suggests.

About 60 of the deaths occurred in the 1800s with nearly 110 taking place from 1900 through 1939. Eleven took place in the 1940s, none in the 1950s, four in the 1960s -- and 10 through the rest of the last century. The list shows a dozen on-duty deaths since July 2003.

Listed causes of death are topped by gunfire, the cause in about 170 deaths. Less frequent causes include car accidents, heart attacks and stabbings.

By telephone, Hickman told us much of the research was undertaken by volunteers connected to the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas, which describes itself as the state’s largest union of law enforcement officers.

By phone, CLEAT spokesman Charley Wilkison told us the group’s members helped spearhead the creation of the Texas Peace Officers’ Memorial northeast of the Texas Capitol. He said the group’s special counsel and former president, Ron DeLord, has long guided volunteer research efforts to confirm officers who died in the line of duty.

Wilkison said volunteer retired police officers comb libraries and cemeteries and other resources, checking on whether officers died in the line of duty. Wilkison said relevant findings are then made available to the agency that determines whose names appear on the memorial, the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement Standards and Education.

Kaye Wilson, a commission executive assistant, told us by telephone that as of May 2011, the last time names were added to the memorial, 85 constables were shown as having died in the line of duty. She added by email that this count is likely not complete.

The Elfant-provided list shows three constable officers who have died in the line of duty since then; it does not yet include Brian Bachmann, the Brazos County Precinct 1 constable who died in the College Station shootout.

The count of 85 constables whose names are on the memorial is slightly less than the 88 Elfant originally aired. But it’s considerably less than the 150 tally of constables felled in the line of duty on the list Elfant offered to back up his claim.

Time for subtraction.

We counted more than 30 constables on the non-government list who have yet to be approved to appear on the memorial. At our request, DeLord compared the lists and identified about 30 additional constables whose names are on the memorial but were not shown on the state’s list. Also, he suggested that another one or two on the memorial were identified by the agency as deputy sheriffs but they also were constables. He pointed out that officers on the memorial are not identified by rank.

Ken Mobley, the agency’s legislative liaison, later told us by phone that it’s reasonable to say that at least 115 Texas constables have died in the line of duty. "It could be more," Mobley said.

Our ruling

It may not be settled precisely how many constables have died in the line of duty over the years. But we ultimately found agreement between the agency that oversees the Capitol memorial and outside researchers that the total is at least 115 deaths, not 88.

Featured Fact-check

Elfant understated the total. His statement still rates as True.

Our Sources

List, "Texas Constables, Deputies Killed in Line of Duty," Aug. 20, 2012 (provided by Bruce Elfant, constable, Precinct 5, Travis County)

Telephone interview, Ron Hickman, constable, Precinct 4, Harris County, Aug. 20, 2012

Telephone interview, Charlie Wilkison, director,Public Affairs, Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas, Aug. 21, 2012

Telephone interviews, Kaye Wilson, executive assistant; Ken Mobley, legislative liason; Texas Commission on Law Enforcement Standards and Education, Aug. 21 and 23, 2012

Telephone interview, Ron DeLord, special counsel, CLEAT, Aug. 22, 2012

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Bruce Elfant says 88 Texas constables have died in line of duty

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