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A constable is a person holding a particular office, most commonly in law enforcement. The office of constable can vary significantly in different jurisdictions. A constable is commonly the rank of an officer within the police.
Historically, the title comes from the Latin comes stabuli (attendant to the stables) and originated from the Roman Empire; originally, the constable was the officer responsible for keeping the horses of a lord or monarch. The title was imported to the monarchies of medieval Europe, and in many countries developed into a high military rank and great officer of State (e.g., the Constable of France).
Most constables in modern jurisdictions are law enforcement officers; in the United Kingdom, the Commonwealth of Nations and some European countries, a constable is the lowest rank of police officer (it is also, when preceded by the term 'sworn', used to describe any police officer with arrest and other powers), while in the United States a constable is generally an elected peace officer with lesser jurisdiction than a sheriff. However, in the Channel Islands a constable is an elected office-holder at the parish level.
The titles of sparapet and spaspet, derived from the ancient Iranian spahbod, were used to designate the supreme commander of the armed forces in the medieval kingdoms of Armenia and Georgia, respectively.
The position of constable originated from the Roman Empire; by the 5th century AD the Count of the Stable (Latin: comes stabuli was responsible for the keeping of horses at the imperial court. The West European term "constable" itself was adopted, via the Normans, as konostaulos in the Komnenian and Palaiologan periods, when it became a high military office and dignity.
Late Roman administrative titles were used by Charlemagne in developing his empire; the position of Constable, along with the similar office of Marshal, spread throughout the emerging states of Western Europe during this period. In most medieval nations, the constable was the highest-ranking officer of the army, and was responsible for the overseeing of martial law.
Village-level Chinese officials – known as tingzhang[n 1] during the Qin and Han dynasties, lizheng,[n 2] during the Sui and Tang, baozheng[n 3] during the Song, and dibao and shoubao during the Qing – are sometimes translated constable for their functions of reporting crimes and administering local justice, although they also served as tax agents and notaries.
The Constable of France (Connétable de France), under the French monarchy, was the First Officer of the Crown of France and was originally responsible for commanding the army. His symbol of office was a longsword held by a hand issuing out of a cloud, a reference to the constable's duty of carrying the king's sword during a coronation ceremony. Some constables were prominent military commanders in the medieval period, such as Bertrand du Guesclin who served from 1370 to 1380.
The office of the constable was introduced in England following the Norman Conquest of 1066 and was responsible for the keeping and maintenance of the king's armaments and those of the villages as a measure of protecting individual settlements throughout the country. Some authorities place the origins of constables in England earlier, attributing the creation of the office during the reign of King Alfred (871, A.D.).
The office of Lord High Constable, one of the Great Officers of State, was established in the kingdoms of England and Scotland during the reigns of King Stephen (1135–1154) and King David (1124–1154) respectively, and was responsible for the command of the army. The term was also used at the local level within the feudal system however, describing an officer appointed to keep order. One of the first descriptions of one of the legal duties of a constable, that of the collation of evidence, comes from Bracton, a jurist writing between 1220 and 1250:
In whatever way they come and on whatever day, it is the duty of the constable to enroll everything in order, for he has record as to the things he sees; but he cannot judge, because there is no judgment at the Tower, since there the third element of a judicial proceeding is lacking, namely a judge and jurisdiction. He has record as to matters of fact, not matters of judgment and law.
In Bracton's time, anyone seeing a "misdeed" was empowered to make an arrest. The role of the constable in Bracton's description was as the "eyes and ears" of the court, finding evidence and recording facts on which judges could make a ruling. By extension, the constable was also the "strong arm" of the court (i.e., of the common law), marking the basic role of the constable that continues into the present-day.
In 1285, King Edward I of England passed the Statute of Winchester, with provisions which "constituted two constables in every hundred to prevent defaults in towns and [on] highways". Records of their narrower area successors, parish constables, appear in the early 17th century in the records of Buckinghamshire; traditionally they were elected by the parishioners, but from 1617 onwards were typically appointed by justices of the peace (magistrates) in each county.
The system of policing by unpaid parish constables continued in England until the 19th century; in the London metropolitan area it was ended by the creation of the Metropolitan Police by the Metropolitan Police Act 1829, and by the County Police Constabularies outside London by the County Police Act 1839. Together these led to all counties having various constabularies of full-time professionals. The lowest rank of the police forces and constabularies is "constable", and most outside London are headed by a chief constable.
The unique office of 'Parks Constable' was first created when Liverpool Corporation Act 1921 (Section 221) allowed for their appointment; although a body of constables had previously policed the parks whom were attested as special constables. Specific legislation for the Royal Parks of London continued the unique office of 'Parks Constable'. However, the Royal Parks Constabulary was disbanded in 2001. The Kew Constabulary are sworn in under the same legislation and remain as the holders of the office of 'Parks Constable. Whilst some local authorities have parks constabularies, their officers are attested as constables, not parks constables.
The position of hereditary constable persists in some current or former monarchies of Europe. The position of Lord High Constable of Scotland is hereditary in the family of the Earl of Erroll. There is also a hereditary constable of Navarre in Spain; this position is presently held by the Duchess of Alba.
Historically, many other hereditary constables existed as officers of state in former monarchies. Examples are the Constable of Castile (Condestable de Castilla) and the Constable of Portugal (Condestável do Reino).
In the Danish armed forces the ranks "Konstabel" and "Overkonstabel" are used for professional enlisted soldiers, sailors and airmen. The rank is more or less equal to a Private (rank) or Private 1st class (rank), but higher than the rank "menig" which literally translates into "private" and applies to a drafted soldier only.
In the Finnish Police, the lowest rank of police officer is called nuorempi konstaapeli, translated into English as (Junior) Constable. The next rank is vanhempi konstaapeli or Senior Constable. The next highest rank (equivalent to a Police Sergeant in the English-speaking world) is ylikonstaapeli (yli- "leading"), literally "Over-Constable".
Hong Kong Police Force have two ranks for constables:
In the Norwegian Police Service the rank "konstabel" was until 2003 the lowest rank in the police, the next ranks being "overkonstabel", "betjent", "førstebetjent" and "overbetjent", all with the unhyphenated prefix "politi-". All higher ranks higher than "politioverbetjent" are commissioned ranks. The Norwegian Police Service has an integrated prosecution service in which the Police lawyers ranks require the law degree "juris candidatus" or "master i rettsvitenskap". You do not need a law degree in the other ranks, all the way up to Chief of Police.
The "konstabel" and "overkonstabel" were replaced with "betjent I" and "betjent II" and "betjent" are now "betjent III".
The fire brigades (all municipal) still use "konstabel" as in "brannkonstabel" (fire-constable).
Head constable is the title for a police sergeant in some Commonwealth police forces. It was also previously a senior rank in the Royal Irish Constabulary, with authority lying somewhere between the ranks of Inspector and Superintendent in later British and Irish police forces.
The police forces of England and Wales have their origins in constabularies (bodies of constables). Legislation existed to appoint constables, but often did not direct how such bodies should operate and what organisational form they should take. The Police Act 1964 standardised arrangements through establishing wider geographical police forces, which merged many constabularies. The Police Act 1964 gave direction on the organisational form of police forces, the appointment of officers and disciplinary matters; in the broadest sense it provided a statutory governance framework. The Act established the 'tripartite' model of policing, which formed Police Authorities. This established a three-way balance of power between the Authority's Chairman, the Chief Constable and the Home Secretary. This arrangement varied within London for the Metropolitan Police and the City of London Police.
The Police Act 1964 was superseded by the Police Act 1996, which contained similar provisions. Further legislation was introduced for the British Transport Police and the Civil Nuclear Constabulary that was similar in defining their organisational form and embedding governance arrangements.
Legislation still exists to appoint constables that are not technically part of a police force. For example, local authorities can appoint constables to enforce parks by-laws and such officers are employed by the local authority.
Legislation provides for the appointment of constables to police ports, Oxford and Cambridge Universities, Epping Forest and markets. Such constables are the only people who while carrying out enforcement work may dress in a uniform resembling a police uniform although they are not members of a police force. Such bodies are often referred to as 'private constabularies'.
There are three eponymous offices bearing the legal power of constable: Police Constable, Detective Constable and Special Constable. The former two of these are paid, mostly full-time positions, while those holding the role of Special Constable volunteer their time unpaid and do so around their normal working commitments.
Within the British Police all police officers are sworn in as and hold the basic powers of a constable. Upon being sworn in, each officer starts at the rank of constable and is required to undergo a two-year probationary period. Upon successful completion, constables can remain at their current rank, specialise in criminal investigations or one of many other specialist units, or apply for promotion to sergeant, the first supervisory rank. Constables wear an epaulette attached to the uniform, displaying their personal identification number. Within Greater London's Metropolitan Police, all constables and sergeants display a divisional call sign, as well as an individual number.
A new probationary constable within a county police force is paid an annual salary of £23,259, with this rising to £25,962 after training, reaching a ceiling level of £36,519. Constables within the Metropolitan Police Service are paid an additional London weighting allowance which is currently set at £2,277.
Special Constable historically related to citizens who were appointed to act as constables on special occasions, such as to quell a riot. The office evolved from being used in times of mass disorder to being a volunteer police force. Special constables generally had powers within a designated area. However, legislation changed to give them identical powers as constables that are no longer regional but are enforceable across England and Wales.
Legislation exists that allows for three main categories of state officer to have the powers of constable yet not be sworn in as such.
In Jersey, each parish elects a constable for a three-year mandate to run the parish and also represent the parish in the legislature, the States of Jersey. The constable presides over the Roads Committee, the Conseil Paroissial (except St. Helier) and Parish Assemblies. The twelve constables also collectively sit as the Comité des Connétables. The constable is the titular head of the Honorary Police. With the Roads Inspectors, Roads Committee and other officers, the constable of each parish also carries out the visites du branchage twice a year.
In Guernsey, each parish elects two constables, the senior constable and the junior constable. Persons elected generally serve a year as junior and then senior constable. The senior constable presides over the Douzaine that runs the parish. The constables are responsible for enforcing the brancage (summer hedge-cutting) and also have the power to declare any parishioner insane.
In Australia, as in the United Kingdom, constable is the lowest rank in most police services. It is often categorised into the following from lowest to highest: Probationary Constable, Constable, Constable First Class, Senior Constable, Leading Senior Constable. These variations depend on the individual State/Territory Police Force in question.
Senior Constable generally refers to a police officer of the rank above Constable and is denoted by way of two chevrons/stripes.
The New South Wales Police Force has three grades of Senior Constable, namely senior constable (two chevrons), incremental senior constable (two chevrons and a horizontal bar) and leading senior constable (two chevrons and two horizontal bars). A senior constable is senior to a constable but junior to an incremental senior constable. Promotion to Senior Constable can occur after a miniumum of 5 years service, one year as a Probationary Constable in addition to 4 years as Constable and then upon passing probity checks and an exam. Incremental Senior Constable is attained after 10 years of service automatically. One is appointed the rank of Leading Senior Constable on a qualification basis but must have a minimum of 7 years service amongst other criteria in order to be eligible. Leading Senior Constable is a specialist position of which there are limited allocated numbers within any section/unit or Local Area Command. If an officer is transferred to another duty type or station, the officer is then relieved of the position of Leading Senior Constable. It is primarily a position for Field Training Officers who oversee the training and development of inexperienced Probationary Constables or Constables.
Within Victoria Police, a senior constable is the rank above a constable while above a senior constable is a leading senior constable. When first introduced into Victoria Police, the leading senior constable was a classification not a rank, somewhat like "detective". Leading senior constables were appointed specifically to assist in the training and mentoring of more junior members. The last round of wage negotiations however saw leading senior constable become a rank in its own right, one that a lot of members will pass on their way from constable to sergeant though it's not strictly necessary and is permissible to be promoted to sergeant direct from senior constable. The general form of address for both senior constable and leading senior constable is "senior" and this is acceptable even in courts.
Note: in Canadian French, only the federal police (RCMP) is known as "Gendarmerie" (GRC). The officers of the Quebec Provincial Police (Sûreté du Québec) are known as "policiers", not "gendarmes".
Appointments can further be separated into:
In Singapore, a police constable (abbreviated to PC) is the lowest rank in the Singapore Police Force. The rank of Special Constable exists, but is centralised under the Special Volunteer Constabulary in Singapore.
Police Constable (abbreviated PC) is the lowest police rank in India followed by Head Constable. General law and order being a state subject in India, each state government recruits police constables. A Police Constable has no shoulder insignia while a Head Constable has one strip or one Chevron depending upon the state. All senior officers are Indian Police Service officers appointed through Civil Services Exam. Since each state has its own police force, the uniforms and insignia of the police varies, though the rank structure is same. The central paramilitary forces under the Ministry of Internal Affairs also maintains the same ranks as state police even though their jurisdiction varies considerably.All the POLICE constable wear (khaki)coloured uniform which indicate that he/she is a police officer. Police Constables in India have been seen in possession of guns but their ability to use them is known to be subjected to authorization passed by the chain of command in the police force.
In the United States, there is no consistent use of the office of constable throughout the states, and use may even vary within a state. A constable may be an official responsible for service of process: such as summonses and subpoenas for people to appear in court in criminal and/or civil matters. On the other hand, they can be fully empowered law enforcement officers. Constables may also have additional specialized duties unique to the office. In some states, a constable may be appointed by the governor or a judge or magistrate of the court which he or she serves; in others the constable is an elected or appointed position at the state or local level of local government. Their jurisdiction can vary from statewide to county/parish and local township boundaries based on the state's laws.
The office developed from its British counterpart during the colonial period. Prior to the modernization of law enforcement which took place in the middle 19th century, local law enforcement was performed by constables and watchmen. Constables were appointed or elected at the local level for specific terms and, like their UK counterparts the Parish Constable, were not paid and did not wear a uniform. However, they were often paid a fee by the courts for each writ served and warrant executed. Following the example of the British Metropolitan Police established in 1829, the states gradually enacted laws to permit municipalities to establish police departments. This differed from the UK in that the old system was not uniformly abolished in every state. Often the enacting legislation of the state conferred a police officer with the powers of a constable, the most important of these powers being the common law power of arrest. Police and constables exist concurrently in many jurisdictions. Perhaps because of this, the title "constable" is not used for police of any rank. The lowest rank in a police organization would be officer, deputy, patrolman, trooper, and historically, private, depending on the particular organization.
In many states, constables do not conduct patrols or preventive policing activities. In such states the office is relatively obscure to its citizens.
A constable may be assisted by deputy constables as sworn officers or constable's officers as civil staff, usually as process servers. In some states, villages or towns, an office with similar duties is marshal.
In Alabama, a constable is traditionally elected in each precinct, a subdivision of the state. Constables are peace officers and have full powers of arrest, stop and search within their county. They are generally responsible for serving warrants and acting as process servers, as well as patrolling the streets and providing security for civic events. They are not funded from general tax revenues; instead, constables' fees are paid by the criminals they arrest.
In Alaska, a constable is an appointed official with limited police powers. The military police arm of the Alaska State Defense Force, a voluntary state defense force, is designated as the constabulary force of the State. This agency is empowered to act in a police capacity when called into service by the Governor. Some official missions the constables have officially performed include port security after 9-11, disaster relief, and Alaska Pipeline patrols. They were put on initial alert to deploy to Bethel in 2007 when 9 of the 11 officers of the city's police department resigned in protest over a pay and benefits dispute with city officials. They were not ultimately needed for that mission and were never deployed. Unlike many so-called militias, many of which are voluntary and non-state affiliated, even to the point of being derided by many military and law enforcement officials, the Alaska State Defense Force is state-recognized under the state's authority to have a state-exclusive militia or guard, in addition to the National Guard of the Army and Air Force. Alaska also has a naval militia composed of reserve US Marine Corps and Navy personnel, who serve as needed, but not in conflict with their federal military reserve duties. The Alaska constables receive police training from the Alaska Department of public safety and most of the constables of the militia are former, retired or part-time law enforcement officers or correctional officers, and many are prior military. They act in an official police capacity only when called into service by the State of Alaska, which has a broad statute governing citizen's arrests, which is why Alaska has unarmed Village Public Safety Officers (VPSO's) all of whom are fully academy-trained, employed by local tribal non-profit corporations and are deputized by the Commissioner of Public Safety to make misdemeanor non-traffic arrests and charge for violations. Other similar officers are Tribal Police Officers (TPO's) of local tribal communities and Village Police Officers (VPO's) all of whom receive limited training. This is due to the scarce availability of law enforcement personnel in remote areas of the vast state.
In Arizona, a constable is an elected officer of the county for the Justice of the Peace Court and must live in the precinct to which they are elected. The constable serves a four-year term and has similar powers and duties to sheriffs.
In Arizona law, the authority of constables is defined by Arizona Revised Statutes Title 22, Section 131. Constables have the same powers as sheriffs, but their primary responsibility is the service of process for the Justice of the Peace courts, serving summons subpoenas, and perform orders, injunctions, and writs. Constables must undergo training, and their expenses are paid by the county board of supervisors. Constables receive a salary from their respective counties based on the number of registered voters who reside in their precinct. Constables are peace officers but in Arizona do not regularly perform police functions such as patrol and criminal investigations. Although Constables do not regularly perform police functions, some Constables and Deputy Constables are certified officers by this state and take enforcement action when necessary.
In Arkansas, constable is an elected office at the township level, although constables are considered county officers. The office of Constable, which is a partisan office, is guaranteed by the 1874 Constitution of Arkansas, which provides for the election of a constable in each township for a two-year term. Constables are peace officers with full police powers.
Historically, constables in California were attached to the justice courts, the lowest tier of the state court system (whereas sheriffs were attached to the county superior courts, and marshals to the municipal courts). When the state courts were unified in 2000, with the superior court fulfilling all judicial functions, the need for the position of constable was eliminated. The few constables that remained on duty when the state courts were reorganized in 2000, even in remote regions of the state, were eventually absorbed into county marshal or sheriff agencies.
Constables were attached to the former justice courts with populations of less than 40,000 in the judicial district, and were either elected by popular vote or appointed by the presiding judge of the court. Constables had full police powers by state law and carried out occasional to frequent patrol work in addition to their civil court process or arrest warrant serving duties.
There are two types of constables in Connecticut.
Special Constables are appointed by Towns. In general, they are appointed to serve as police officers and expected to have or complete the requirements of the Police Officer Standards and Training Council in order to do so. Special Constables normally work under the supervision of a Resident State Trooper contracted by the town (a requirement of the Connecticut State Police if the town wishes their constables to be dispatched by the State Police or have access to the radio and computer system of the State Police). The system of Resident State Trooper and Constables is used by many medium sized towns as a cost-effective way of providing increased police patrols while the State Police retain primary responsibility to provide additional levels of supervision, dispatch, Detective, and other specialized services.
Constables who are elected officials are generally limited to serving civil process within the town they are elected by. Elections are held every two years, except communities which by local ordinance or charter have set the term of office at four years. While a small number of towns will also allow the constables to perform road traffic control and event security functions, most strictly prohibit their constables from acting in any official capacity on behalf of the Town. The authority to act as a law enforcement officer by nature of their office was removed in 1984, at which time they became subject to the Police Officer Standards and Training Council requirements. In 1984 these requirements were for 480 hours of training, which could be completed in 120 hour long "blocks" which were offered as part-time evening classes. With completion of each block came expansion of the types of law enforcement the officer could perform. While it was never common after 1984 to have elected Constables with law enforcement powers, there were a few who did complete certification. As of 2007, POST requirements of 680 hours of training provided on a full-time basis for new officers, followed by 400 hours of training provided by a certified Field Training Officer make completing the requirements to be a law enforcement officer impractical for elected Constables.
Historically, Constables had been the key office for providing law enforcement in rural Connecticut. Connecticut never developed a strong institution of County Sheriffs providing general police services. From colonial times through the 1940s, Town Constables would work with two other Town officials—the Investigating Grand Juror and Prosecuting Grand Juror—in the initial handling of criminal investigations, arrests, and the "binding over" of serious crimes from the Town's Justice Court to a higher court. A series of reforms in regulations, statutes, and the state Constitution in the 1950s and 1960s removed the involvement of towns in these matters. In towns without a local police chief, investigations became the exclusive responsibility of the Connecticut State Police, while State Prosecutors took over the prosecution of cases, and the court system was flattened by the elimination of courts with criminal venue below the level of the Superior Court.
Transplanted from England to Delaware in the early colonial period, the constable's main responsibilities were keeping the peace, serving the courts, and executing court orders and process. Under the Duke of York's government the constable was elected from one of four overseers of the town or parish. He had the responsibility to pursue and apprehend offenders and bring them before the justice of the peace, whip, or punish offenders by order of the court, take bail for a person arrested, help to settle estates, and keep proper accounts of fines collected. Legislation relating to constables does not appear in the Delaware Laws until 1770. This act required constables at the end of their terms to return the names of three freeholders to the Court of General Sessions, who then appointed one to serve the next year. At least one constable was appointed for each hundred, and appointees had to be residents of the hundred in which they served. After 1832 the Levy Court of each county appointed the constables, although the Governor could also fill appointments if Levy Court was in recess. The constable had a number of duties, many of which continue today. He executed all orders, warrants, and other process directed by any court, judge, or justice of the peace; ensured that the peace of the State be kept; arrested all persons committing riot, murder, theft, or breach of the peace, and carried them before a justice of the peace; attended elections to ensure that the peace be kept; and enforced the laws of the State.
(1) Justice of the Peace court constables are appointed by the Chief Magistrate. The constables duties include execution of court orders, writs and warrants, serving summonses and subpoenas, collecting debts and fines, and providing courtroom security.
(2) Any non-profit corporation, civic association, or governmental entity which has buildings and grounds open to the public may request for the appointment of constables to serve as law enforcement officers in order to protect life and property. The Board of Examiners shall appoint and commission such numbers of constables as it deems necessary to preserve the peace and good order of the State. To be approved by the Board of Examiners, a constable must meet the minimum standards established by the Council on Police Training. The constable shall exercise the same powers as police officers while in the performance of the lawful duties of their employment.
(3) Code enforcement constables are appointed by any county or municipal Chief Executive with limited authority to enforce only those ordinances pertaining to building, housing, sanitation, or public health codes. The Delaware SPCA may appoint animal control constables to enforce dog control ordinances and animal cruelty law.
In Georgia, constables are court officers whose powers and duties are: (1) To attend regularly all sessions of magistrate court; (2) To pay promptly over money collected by them to the magistrate court; (3) To execute and return all warrants, summonses, executions, and other processes directed to them by the magistrate court; and (4) To perform such other duties as are required of them by law or as necessarily appertain to their offices.
The office of constable was first established in Idaho in 1887; constables originally attended the Justice of the Peace courts and were officers of a precinct. Although the Idaho Statutes still provide for the appointment of election constables to keep order during elections (Title 34, Chapter 11) and define constables as peace officers, the position was effectively eliminated in 1970, when the Idaho Legislature's Election Reform Act removed all provisions for the appointment of constables. As such, there are no longer any constables serving in Idaho.
In Kentucky, constables are elected from each magistrate district in the state. There are between three and eight magistrate districts in each county. Under Section 101 of the Kentucky Constitution, constables have the same countywide jurisdiction as the county sheriff.
Prior to the 1970s, the main function of the constables was to provide court service and security to the Justice of the Peace courts. However, since these have been eliminated by judicial reform, the office of constable now has few real functions. Constables still have the power of arrest and to execute warrants, subpoenas, summonses and other court documents, and are required to execute any court process given to them. On the approval of the Fiscal Court (the legislature of the county) they may equip their vehicles with oscillating blue lights and sirens.
Most constables in Kentucky are not paid a salary, but are paid fees for services rendered. However, state law provides for payment of an annual salary of $9,600 to constables in counties with a population of over 250,000; as of the 2000 U.S. Census, this only applies in Louisville Metro/Jefferson County and the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government. The payment has become a point of controversy, since constables in Kentucky have few actual duties. The state has authorized a salary of up to $9,600 a year, but the Louisville Metro Council cut it to $100 a month, plus expenses.
Anyone standing for election as a Constable must be at least 24 years of age, a resident of Kentucky for at least 2 years, and a resident of the county and district for at least a year prior to election. Since Constables are Constitutional peace officers they are exempt from attending the mandatory Department of Criminal Justice Training academy, although they may choose to do so. Sheriffs, Coroners, and Jailers are also exempted law enforcement officers. The Kentucky Constables Association is affiliated with the National Constables Association.
In Louisiana, constables are traditionally elected in each voting ward, which is a subdivision of a parish. Constables are peace officers and have full powers of arrest, stop and search within their ward. Some voting wards that are in large towns have a marshal instead of a constable, and these marshals serve the same role as a constable, although marshals are generally more pro-active in law enforcement matters. Not all large towns have the position of marshal though, as the City of Baton Rouge has a City Constable. Constables in Louisiana are generally responsible for keeping the peace in the ward. They are paid a small monthly salary for their service.
The jurisdiction of Constables in Massachusetts is in most cases limited to the cities and towns in which they are appointed or elected, with limited exceptions. Constables usually serve civil process, they may however, serve both civil and criminal process and also enforce capias arrest warrants. M.G.L. c. 41 s. 98 provides the chief and other police officers of all cities and towns shall have all the powers and duties of constables except serving and executing civil process, allowing them to exercise common law arrest powers, state police are given the same powers throughout the commonwealth under M.G.L. c. 25 s. 97. Although the service of civil process makes up a major portion of their duties Massachusetts Constables have broad law enforcement authority. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court stated in Harley v. Granville supra, "the general duties of a Constable are to be vigilant to preserve the peace, to prevent the commission of crime and to arrest all offenders who might be arrested without a warrant and to procure warrants in other instances of crimes committed." Hartley also states, Constables “are not expected to devote a considerable portion of their time to the work of their office or to quit his ordinary occupation to act as a detective and search for offenders. In this regard they stand on a basis quite different from the members of an organized police force.” The Municipal Police Institute, now the MCJTC, issue a report in May 1977, on the powers of constables noting that modern police not only evolved from constables but they derive their common law powers arrest from constables, also stating “Constables still possess extensive law enforcement powers to this day”.
A constable requires an extensive knowledge of civil law, and the criminal law aspects that may arise from civil law violations. In this regard courts prefer constable to handle these matters rather than police officers as they can execute both civil and criminal process.
Another indication of a constable’s power is reflected in Boston Police Training Bulletin 9-85. “Constables, this is an ancient office with extensive powers. In relation to the enforcement of criminal laws, although not the usual function, it is important to know constable’s have the same rights of arrest as do police officers”. Bulletin 9-85, further states when a constable is serving criminal process or making a valid arrest, any police officer shall aid in the same manner as they would another police officer.
A constable is, however, a public peace officer and requires a bond as condition for faithful performance of their duties, and M.G.L. c. 23 s. 1 and 8 provides for their bond to be put in suit for failure to perform their duties by persons so aggrieved. Massachusetts Constables can also enforce motor vehicle law, M.G.L. c. 90, s. 1, definitions Police Officer or officer, “any constable or other officer authorized to make arrest or serve process, provided he is in uniform or displays his badge of office“.
Upon gaining statehood, constables continued to be appointed at the county level as had been done when Michigan was a territory. The Constitution of 1850, however, required that each township elect at least one but not more than four constables. The Constitution of 1908 continued the requirement. With few exceptions cities also elected constables by ward. In addition to serving the justice courts of their county, "constables have always been peace officers ... in the territory of their constituents," and, being constitutional officers, the legislature was without authority to limit the constables powers as they existed at common law. Allor v. Wayne County Auditor. 43 Mich. 76 (1880). However their role was vastly altered upon adoption of the Constitution of 1963 when their office was deleted as was the office of justice of the peace. They were not named as officers of the new District Court. And by the end of the 1970s their election was no longer statutorily mandated. Michigan Commission on Law Enforcement Standards (MCOLES) certification became required if they were to perform general peace officer duties. As of 2007 there were very few elected city constables and less than 10% of Michigan's 1242 townships continue to elect constables.
In Mississippi, constables are law enforcement officers elected from single-member districts in each county. Mississippi law provides us with fewer than 35,001 people, to a maximum of five districts in counties with more than 150,000 people.
By law, constables keep and preserve the peace within the county; advise justice court judges or other officers of all riots, routs, unlawful assemblies, and violations of the penal laws; execute and return all processes directed to them by any county, chancery or circuit court (not just the Justice Courts); and attend the justices' courts of their districts.
All counties are required to provide their constables with at least two complete uniforms, some type of motor vehicle identification which clearly indicates that the motor vehicle is being used by a constable in his official capacity, and a blue flashing light for use on official duty. Other than standard fees for attending court, serving processes, etc., state law does not otherwise require counties to pay or otherwise compensate constables for their jobs.
Mississippi code Title 19 Chapter 19 defines the roles, powers, and duties of constables.
Constables in Nevada are elected peace officers who have statewide powers similar to sheriffs, marshals and police officers, as per NRS 289.150, but in practice some constables maintain a relatively low profile in the law enforcement community. Constables and their deputies must be Nevada POST certified category 1 or category 2 within 1 year of being sworn in, in order to keep their peace officer status. However in some rural Nevada constabularies, constables and/or their deputies do not maintain POST status simply because they believe that it's not necessary in their particular jurisdiction.
There is some confusion over whether Nevada state law mandates that constables shall be peace officers a) regardless of what other provisions of state law require, b) the opposite; i.e., that state law requires that constables be certified peace officers to remain in office, or c) some nebulous legal point in between. Some of the confusion resulted from a 2002 elections case before the Nevada 8th Judicial District in Clark County, Hansen v Bell et al.. In Hansen the 8th District ordered a candidate's name to be removed from the ballot in the election for Constable of the Township of Henderson because the candidate would not be twenty-one years old before taking office. An administrative regulation governing peace officer certification set the minimum age requirement at twenty-one on peace officers. The primary statute the District Court relied on was NRS 258.070 which states that constables shall [emphasis added] be peace officers in their township. On appeal, the Nevada Supreme Court reversed the 8th District. Furthermore, the Nevada Supreme Court ruled that absent a statutory revision by the legislature, elected constables (but not their deputies) were exempt from the provisions of NRS 289.550, the primary statute establishing peace officer standards. Case Law
The primary duties of constables are to act as a civil enforcement agency. This includes the service in minor civil cases in the Justice Courts of subpoenas, evictions, summons, vehicle and property liens, and wage garnishments, and also enforcing vehicle registration laws. While many constables limit their duties to the above, the Incline Village Constable's Office is one example of a constabulary that actively engages in a full spectrum of law enforcement services.
Constables in Nevada serve a four-year term. In Nevada the office of Constable is the only partisan elected office below the county level. The office is not funded by taxpayers, but by fees collected for various forms of service. There is a Nevada Constable's Association consisting of the elected constables from throughout the state. Constables are generally paid only token salaries and earn most of their compensation through fees. The Constable of Las Vegas Township is a notable exception and is paid a higher fixed salary but earns no fees. For the term commencing on January 3, 2011, the Clark County Board of Commissioners set a schedule of salaries for constables in that county ranging from $1000 to $2050 per year plus statutory fees per NRS 258.125 except for the Las Vegas Township Constable whose salary is fixed at $103,456 per year.
A constable is considered a peace officer under New Jersey statutes. Modern-day New Jersey police officers inherit their authority from the constable. Constables may exercise their functions and perform their duties anywhere in the county wherein the appointing municipality is located. Constables are appointed by their city government (city council) via the Clerk's Office and their office term is determined by the municipal government body. They answer to the city council or police chief via monthly activity reports. There seems to be some confusion as to whether they should be identified as municipal, town, township, city or county constables.
Their powers are mainly focused on the enforcement of civil law although state legislature grants them the power to also enforce criminal and motor vehicle laws. Currently, there is legislation pending approval which will require all current and future NJ constables to undergo police training within six months of appointment.
Constables serve at the pleasure of the local towns and villages, usually in a civil aspect for the courts. However, constables are considered law enforcement officers under New York State law. Their powers can be limited by each jurisdiction.
Constables are considered peace officers, have arrest powers within their jurisdiction while on duty, and must complete peace officer training as approved by the NY Division of Criminal Justice Services.
There are restrictions on whether appointed constables can have peace officer powers based on the whether the municipality is a town or village and the number of residents. If a constable is not appointed as a constable with peace officer powers, they can only serve civil processes.
Constables were abolished in North Carolina in the mid-1960s. They were peace officers who served under the justice of the peace (JP) of each voting precinct. They were not salaried but received a fee of several dollars for each court order served from the presiding JP of their precinct. Constables were elected to four-year terms alongside that of the JP of their precinct and while they had full peace officer powers, their daily duties focused on serving orders of the JP and providing bailiff service to the JP court. In this revamping of the NC legal system, district court judges were required to be licensed attorneys at the same time that the office of constable, along with JP, mayor's court and city jail systems were phased out with the new NC court system changes of the mid-1960s. JP's were replaced by magistrates and the duties of constable were absorbed by sheriffs. Some cities continue to maintain temporary lockups, but city jails were abolished as a rule. Also in this set of changes, coroners who were elected judicial death investigators were generally replaced by medical examiners who were required to be a medical doctor, osteopath, dentist or veterinarian in the new system, though coroner still exists on the books in many NC counties.
The appointment of constables is authorized by the Ohio Revised Code, which defines several roles for them. Constables serve as police officers of some small towns and townships, or as officers of some minor courts. A "special constable" may also be appointed by a municipal court judge for a renewable one-year term upon application by any three "freeholders" (landowners) of the county, who are then responsible for paying the special constable.
Duly sworn Ohio constables are considered peace officers under Ohio law, as are sheriffs, municipal police officers, state park rangers, Highway Patrol troopers, etc., and have full law-enforcement authority within their jurisdictions (The Ohio Administrative Code defines a township constables jurisdiction as statewide). With some exceptions, constables must post bonds and undergo police training. They are required to serve court papers when so ordered, and to apprehend and bring to justice any lawbreakers or fugitives, suppress riots or unlawful assemblies, enforce state law and generally keep the peace.
Constables in Pennsylvania are elected and serve six-year terms. They are Peace Officers by virtue of the office they hold. Upon completion of Act 44 certification and training, they may also serve as the law-enforcement arm of the court. Constables primarily serve the District Courts but may also assist in serving the Common Pleas Court, when requested by the sheriff.
As public officials, constables are required to file an annual Statement of Financial Interests with the Pennsylvania State Ethics Commission.
Each constable may, with approval of the President Judge, appoint deputies to work under his authority. Each deputy is given the same authority as the constable himself, but serves at the pleasure of the elected constable.
The duty of the constable is to uphold the law fairly and firmly; to pursue and bring to justice those who break the law; to keep the peace; to protect, help, and reassure the community; and to be seen to do all this with integrity, common sense, and sound judgment.
Under Pennsylvania Law, Constables are Public Officers, elected or appointed to their position in accordance with the laws of elections.
A Constable is a sworn Law Enforcement/Peace Officer that can arrest for felony crimes and breaches of the peace committed in his presence, or by warrant anywhere in the Commonwealth.
A Constable is also an officer empowered to carry out the business of the statewide district court system, by serving warrants of arrest, mental health warrants, transporting prisoners, service of summons, complaints and subpoenas, and enforcing protection from abuse orders as well as orders of eviction and judgement levies.
Constables are also charged with maintaining order at the election polls and ensuring that no qualified elector is obstructed from voting, Constables are the only Law Enforcement Officials permitted at the polls on election day.
While Constables primarily serve the Courts, they belong to the executive branch of government.
Constables are elected at the municipal level, however State law governs Constables and they have statewide authority, thus the title became "State Constable".
Constables are empowered to enforce both criminal and civil laws, Police Officers are empowered to enforce criminal and traffic laws, Sheriffs are the chief law enforcement officer of the County and are empowered to enforce criminal and civil laws. Sheriffs do have the authority to enforce traffic laws as defined in Commonwealth v. Leet (1994), however are not empowered to independently enforce DUI checkpoint as defined in Commonwealth John M. Marconi (2010).
Deputy Constables Each constable may, with approval of the President Judge in the county the constable is elected in, appoint deputies to work under his authority. Each deputy is given the same authority as the constable himself, but serves at the pleasure of the elected constable.
It is noted in the Rhode Island Constable Application that constables are not permitted to carry guns during the commission of their duties. One can obtain the official application at the Rhode Island Judiciary - Homepage. Also one should study the complete constable manual for the written examination given after training.
South Carolina has several types of Constables described as a: State Constable, Special State Constable, Department of Public Safety (DPS) Special Constable and Magistrates' Constable. Constables are one of the State's earliest forms of law enforcement officer and they commonly served in rural areas where other types of law enforcement officers were not present compared to populated towns or cities. This is similar to their current purpose where Group I State Constables are employees of agencies that require law enforcement authority and a State Constable Commission establishes this authority by being appointed by the Governor. Group II and III State Constables assist law enforcement agencies on-duty as an auxiliary police officer and they also serve the public by use of their law enforcement authority when not actively working during imminent and urgent circumstances when it is necessary to preserve life or protect public safety with specific procedures set forth for Group III State Constables. A distribution of qualified auxiliary personnel is provided to the public by the various agencies that utilize Reserve Police Officers and State Constables throughout South Carolina and they serve an important function within the overall scope of public safety as intended.
State Constables are appointed by the Governor of South Carolina (SC ST SEC 23-1-60) and regulated by the South Carolina State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) to serve the public and assist in the detection of crime and enforcement of the Laws of the State.
All State Constables are certified as qualified for public service as a law enforcement officer by the South Carolina Law Enforcement Training Council and this varies from Class 1, 2 or 3 Certification to Advanced or Basic State Constable Certification in order to comply with SC ST 23-23-40 titled Certification Requirement. SC ST 23-23-40 states, "No law enforcement officer employed or appointed on or after July 1, 1989 by any public law enforcement agency in this State is authorized to enforce the laws...unless he has been qualified as certified..." In 1989 all State Constables, particularly those with honorary Commissions, were required to be certified if they were to maintain a Commission since they serve as law enforcement officers and have authority to enforce the laws. And ever since, SLED has continued updating the standards of the State Constable Program with care to regulate these personnel as they serve the public by helping maintain peace as they have for hundreds of years, but with qualifications, training and standards that meet the current requirements of a law enforcement officer.
State Constables are employees of the State, including uncompensated/volunteer State Constables, as stated in SC ST 42-1-130. Additionally, they are provided insurance related to tort liability as specified in SC ST 1-11-140 and workers' compensation as specified in SC ST 23-1-60 and SC ST 42-1-130 while working in a law enforcement capacity.
State Constables are appointed officers and officially sworn peace officers authorized to enforce the Laws of the State with statewide jurisdiction as specified by law and their Commissions. As defined by SC ST 16-9-310 "Law enforcement officer" shall mean any duly appointed or commissioned law enforcement officer of the State, a county or municipality. Additionally, defined by SC ST 23-23-10 (E)(1) "law enforcement officer" means an appointed officer or employee hired by and regularly on the payroll of the State or any of its political subdivisions, who is granted statutory authority to enforce all or some of the criminal, traffic, and penal laws of the State and who possesses, with respect to those laws, the power to effect arrests for offenses committed or alleged to have been committed. As with Reserve Police Officers being "appointed officers" by county or municipal agencies and uncompensated volunteers, Group II and III State Constables are also "appointed officers" by the Governor after approval from SLED is granted and are also uncompensated volunteers. As with other States in the U.S., recognition of these auxiliary police officers designated in South Carolina as Group II and III State Constables and Reserve Police Officers as "law enforcement officers" provides for the necessary compliance with Federal and State Laws since they work on-duty for patrol and special events within areas currently designated as Gun Free Zones like schools and government buildings (except for Federal buildings and military bases where only Federal law enforcement officers have exclusive jurisdiction.) The South Carolina Attorney General has supported this recognition whereby auxiliary police officers are considered "law enforcement officers" and they comply with the laws related to possession of weapons (i.e. qualified service weapons only) in publicly owned buildings and schools and there is no requirement for them to be on-duty or in uniform to do so. This recognition is further supported throughout the Basic State Constable Training courses by the instructor along with multiple references within the Policies and Procedures published by SLED for Group III State Constables. This establishes the basis for compliance with Federal and State laws and regulations governing actions of law enforcement officers as expected of all law enforcement officers and as stated within the Policies and Procedures for Group III State Constables.
When armed, State Constables have their credentials in their immediate possession for display if circumstances warrant.
Any handguns they carry are concealed unless they are in a state approved uniform. Credentials are issued by SLED and contain approval signatures and a photograph. State Constables are required to comply with the Federal and State Laws and Regulations governing actions of law enforcement officers.
A South Carolina State Constable Group I can be a uniformed police officer or a plain clothes investigator for the state with statewide jurisdiction. Agencies that have a law enforcement division or services (e.g. SCDC investigators, SC Dept. of Mental Health Public Safety, USCPD, CUPD, SCDHEC, state colleges, state universities) are commissioned constables through SLED (State Law Enforcement Division).
Group II and III State Constables serve the public and assist law enforcement agencies as a State reserve police force to help maintain public safety and officer safety for routine activities, special events, emergencies and fulfill needs for additional law enforcement personnel that arise during various circumstances.
Group II State Constables are retired police officers in good standing that can receive a State Constable Commission to continue to have authority and carry a weapon as set forth by SLED for Group III State Constables.
Group III State Constables are evaluated by the South Carolina State Law Enforcement Division for meeting required qualifications. The candidate must submit an application to SLED for approval involving an evaluation to determine suitability to serve in a law enforcement capacity. This involves a review of personal and professional details, interviewing, a background check, medical evaluation, etc. If approved the candidate must complete the Basic State Constable training program unless existing law enforcement certification (e.g. Class 1) is current and accepted by SLED Regulatory. Candidates who are required to complete the Basic State Constable training program must acquire written authorization from SLED to attend and they must successfully demonstrate competency via certification testing prior to receiving a recommendation for a State Constable Commission. SLED generates a recommendation submitted to the Governor upon successful completion of all requirements, qualifications and certification test results. The Basic Training program is regulated by SLED and established by the SC Law Enforcement Training Council. Courses are presented by the South Carolina Criminal Justice Academy instructors consisting of approximately 92 hours of basic law enforcement officer training at a Technical College in the State. This includes Firearms Training and Firearms Qualification Testing administered by a Certified Law Enforcement Firearms Training Instructor. Certification testing is administered at the South Carolina Criminal Justice Academy.
Group III State Constables are assigned to work on-duty with agencies (e.g. Sheriff's Departments, Police Departments, University Police Departments, State agencies, Airport Police, etc.) for routine patrol, special events (e.g. festivals, fairs, school events, parades or other scheduled events of limited duration or emergency or critical incidents) and other activities including law enforcement actions while off-duty under certain restrictions regulated by SLED as specified in the policies and procedures. State Constables may exercise law enforcement authority while not affirmatively covered by a law enforcement agency (i.e. off-duty) when it is necessary to preserve life or protect public safety during imminent and urgent circumstances and are required to notify the appropriate local law enforcement agency by the fastest means available as specified in the SLED policies and procedures for Group III State Constables.
Annual firearms qualification and annual training consisting of additional law enforcement officer training including standardized legal updates via in-service training are required for all South Carolina State Constables and all activities are required to be conducted in accordance with the South Carolina Law Enforcement Training Council and policies established by SLED. Group II and Group III (uncompensated) State Constables are required by law to submit quarterly reports with the Governor (SC ST SEC 23-1-80) via SLED Regulatory of all work assignments, training and actions taken as a law enforcement officer.
Many types of law enforcement officers have been created with titles throughout history. One of the most common types is 'Constable' and multiple references in South Carolina State Law describe various law enforcement officers having powers of constable with this authority originating from Common Law. Continual referencing by officials as to their authority and intent come from State Supreme Court rulings referenced throughout history in South Carolina with the following language, "...State Constables possess the authority of regularly commissioned peace officers, including powers of arrest." (State v. Luster, 1935), "Our Supreme Court has stated that constables perform all the duties of law enforcement officers and in particular 'a constable stands on the same footing as a sheriff.'" (State v. Franklin, 1908). However, with this language explaining their authority, State Law also specifies that SLED has regulatory authority of State Constables for specifying qualifications, training and general oversight of the State Constable Program including limits on use of their law enforcement authority. Constableship in South Carolina consists of a wide range of laws and regulations with the intent to help provide an effective and efficient resource of law enforcement personnel for the citizens and agencies of South Carolina.
In Tennessee, Constable is an elected position with full power of arrest and is a state peace officer. The Tennessee State Constitution was amended in 1978 so as not to require counties to have this office. Prior to this point, it was mandatory to elect constables in each county. Subsequent statutory law has allowed its continuance in certain counties, with the stipulation that there be no more than half as many constables in a county as there are county commissioners in that county, except in counties where the general law provides for an exception by county population brackets. Constables are elected to four-year terms in August, many of which are the years coincident with presidential elections, but not all. Some constable elections, as in Greene County are held during the presidential mid-terms. Unexpired terms may be filled by special election, but such special election must be held coincidentally with another scheduled election. An unexpired term may also be filled by an appointee elected by that county's legislative body. Candidates for office are not required to declare a party to run in many counties that still have them. In those counties, candidates may run as independents, however in some counties such as Greene, it is a partisan election.
The Texas Constitution of 1876 (Article 5, Section 18) provides for the election of a constable in each precinct of a county, and counties may have between four and eight precincts each depending on their population. Currently, the term of office for Texas constables is four years. However, when vacancies arise, the commissioners coempowered police officers with county-wide jurisdiction and thus, may legally exercise their authority in any precinct within their county and adjacent counties; however, some constables' offices limit themselves to providing law enforcement services only to their respective precinct, except in the case of serving civil and criminal process. Constables and their deputies may serve civil process in any precinct in their county and any contiguous county and can serve warrants anywhere in the state.
The duties of a Texas constable generally include providing bailiffs for the justice of the peace court(s) within his precinct and serving process issued therefrom and from any other court. Moreover, some constables' offices limit themselves to only these activities but others provide patrol, investigative, and security services as well.
In 2000, there were 2,630 full-time deputies and 418 reserve deputies working for the 760 constables’ offices in Texas. Of this number, 35% were primarily assigned to patrol, 33% to serving process, 12% to court security, and 7% to criminal investigations. The Harris County Precinct 4 and 5 Constables’ Offices are the largest constables’ offices in Texas with over 300 deputies each.
Utah Constables are appointed by municipalities whose courts they serve or elected to a precinct to serve the justice of the peace (JP) court. They are fully empowered peace officers but are not tasked with "General Law Enforcement Duties." They must go through the Utah Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) certification, and be at minimum POST Category II peace officers. Like sheriffs they may appoint deputies. They serve process, provide court security (Bailiff duties), transport prisoners, seize property, enforce writs of all types and effect service of arrest warrants and may make probable cause arrests.
In Vermont, constables are generally elected by the town. They are charged with service of process; the destruction of unlicensed or dangerous dogs or wolf-hybrids, and of injured deer; removal of disorderly people from town meetings; collection of taxes, when no tax collector is elected; and other duties. Constables have full law enforcement authority unless the town votes to either remove the authority or require training before such authority is exercised. Cities and villages may also have constables. Their duties and method of selection are governed by the corporation's charter.
Effective July 1, 2010 Town Clerks must certify constables are duly elected or appointed and the town has not voted to limit the constable’s authority to engage in enforcement activities. Further, Constables must certify they have successfully completed a basic training course and will complete the required annual in-service training.
David F. Green of Davy, West Virginia was the last person to hold the elected office of Constable in West Virginia.