AskDefine | Define constable

Dictionary Definition



1 a lawman with less authority and jurisdiction than a sheriff
2 English landscape painter (1776-1837) [syn: John Constable]
3 a police officer of the lowest rank [syn: police constable]

User Contributed Dictionary



ME conestable, Latin comes stabuli Officer of the stable.


  1. A police officer ranking below Sergeant in most British police forces. (See also Chief Constable).
  2. Officer of a noble court in the middle ages, usually a senior army commander. (See also marshal).
  3. Public officer, usually at municipal level, responsible for maintaining order or serving writs and court orders.
  4. (Channel Islands) A elected head of a parish (also known as a connétable)


police officer rank
  • Italian: appuntato (carabinieri) , agente (polizia)
  • Russian: констебль
  • Swedish: konstapel
officer of a noble court
elected head of a parish

Derived terms

Extensive Definition

For other uses, see constable (disambiguation).
A constable is a person holding a particular office, most commonly in law enforcement. The office of constable can vary significantly in different jurisdictions.


Historically, the title comes from the Latin comes stabuli (count of the stables) and originated from the Eastern 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, Commonwealth of Nations and some European countries, a constable is the lowest rank of police officer, 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.
Historically, a constable could also be someone in charge of the defence of a castle. Even today, there is a Constable of the Tower of London.
The equivalent position is that of Marshal.

Historical usage

Byzantine Empire

The position of constable originated from the Byzantine Empire; by the 5th century AD the comes stabuli, or count of the stable, was responsible for the keeping of horses at the imperial court.


mainarticle Constable of France 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 sword in a sheath of royal blue.
The office of Lord High Constable, one of the Great Officers of State, was established in England and Scotland during the reign of King Stephen (1135-1154) 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 the legal role of a constable 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, whether or not they were a constable. 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, which "constituted two constables in every hundred to prevent defaults in towns and highways". There are records of parish constables by the 17th century in the county records of Buckinghamshire; traditionally they were elected by the parishioners, but from 1617 onwards were typically appointed by justices of the peace in each county. and outside London by the County Police Act 1839, which allowed counties to establish full-time professional police forces. However, the term "constable" was still used by officers of the new police forces, and most outside London were headed by a chief constable. This system is still used today.

Other European nations

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. 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".

United Kingdom and the Commonwealth

In the legal systems of the United Kingdom and similar jurisdictions, a constable has the additional legal powers of arrest and control of the public given to him or her directly by a sworn oath and warrant, rather than being delegated powers that he or she has simply because of employment as a police officer. Technically this means that each sworn constable is an independent legal official rather than simply an agent of the police. It also means that all sworn police officers of all ranks in these countries legally are constables, since it is from this office that they derive their powers, although the term usually refers to a police officer who holds no rank.
Senior Constable can sometimes mean the head of the police force in an area, but this is not the case in the UK. In Australia it generally refers to a police officer of the rank above constable. The New South Wales Police Force has three grades of Senior Constable, namely Senior Constable (2 chevrons), Incremental Senior Constable (2 chevrons and a bar) and Leading Senior Constable (2 chevrons and 2 bars). However Leading Senior Constable is not a rank per se, rather it is a temporary "training" position and is not senior to Incremental Senior Constable.
Head Constable is the title for a police sergeant in some Commonwealth police forces. It was also the title of some British police force chiefs until police ranks were standardised.
For more information, see police or United Kingdom police.


In Canada, as in the United Kingdom, Constable (translated to Canadian French as Gendarme) is the lowest rank in most police services, including the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
In addition, the chief officers of some municipal police services in Canada, notably Vancouver Police Department, carry the title of Chief Constable.

Channel Islands

In Jersey and Guernsey, the elected heads of the Parishes are titled "constables" (connétables in French). The constables are entitled each to carry a silver-tipped baton of office.
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.

United States

In the United States, there is no consistent use of the office of constable across the states, and use may vary even within a state. A constable may merely 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. Or, they may be fully empowered law enforcement officers. They may also have additional specialized duties unique to the office. In some states, a constable may be appointed by the judge of the court which he or she serves; in others the constable is an elected or appointed position at the village, precinct or township level of local government.
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 a county. 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 Mobile County, all constables are required to complete law enforcement training, except for those currently in office who are grandfathered in. In some other counties, the office of constable has been largely abandoned.


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, a 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 sheriff or police agencies. Constables as such had full police powers and carried out occasional to frequent patrol work in addition to their paper serving duties, and were attached to the former justice courts, and were either elected by popular vote or appointed by the presiding judge of the county's supreme court.


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 & 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. The election 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 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 & 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 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.
Constables still serve the Justice of the Peace courts and they 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.
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 shall be 21 years of age or older and 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.
Constables are appointed to Bayhealth Medical Center, Christiana Care Health System, Delaware Technical and Community College, Division of Revenue, Dover Downs, Port of Wilmington, St. Francis Hospital, and Wilmington University.


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.
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.
The Mississippi Constables Association maintains a website at


The constable is an elected peace officer. They are primarily process servers; the Nevada statutes define their responsibilities and fees.

New Hampshire

Constables are elected peace officers. They have broad law enforcement powers, including motor-vehicle laws.

New Jersey

A constable is considered a "peace officer" under NJ 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, 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.

New York

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 (NY Criminal Procedure Section 2.10) and have arrest powers within their jurisdiction while on duty (section 2.20) and must complete peace officer training as approved by the NY Division of Criminal Justice Services. see
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 process?


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 officers, 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.
It has been suggested that the office is redundant and should be eliminated; a proposal was mounted to give counties the option to eliminate the office of constable where it is no longer required.


Constables in Pennsylvania are elected and serve a six-year term, they are Peace Officers by virtue of the office they hold, upon completing state 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.
Constables are considered to be the "People's Peace Officers" because of their Constitutional origin, and as elected officials they are independent of other governing bodies; this gives the Constable the freedom and authority to perform his duties according to statute, in the interest of justice.
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 have powers that differ from those of police officers and sheriffs. 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, civil and traffic laws.
Link to laws governing Constables in PA:

South Carolina

Constables are appointed by the Governor of South Carolina and are generally used to assist the police in any particular jurisdiction. They mainly have arrest authorities while they are escorted by police in that jurisdiction. They can act with full police powers in instances of emergencies when police are not immediately available and when a threat of life is present. Any handguns they carry must be concealed unless they are in a state approved uniform.
South Carolina State Constable Alliance


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 of the years coincident with presidential elections; unexpired terms are filled by special election, but such special election must be held coincidentally with another, scheduled election. In some counties, constable is a partisan office; in others all candidates run as independents.


See article: Texas Constable
The Texas Constitution of 1956 (Article 5, Section 18) provides for the election of a constable in each precinct of a county, and counties may have between one 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 court of the respective county has the authority to appoint a replacement to serve out the remaining term.
In Texas, constables and their deputies are fully empowered peace officers with county-wide jurisdiction and thus, may legally exercise their authority in any precinct within their county ; 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 the political governing body which they serve - County, City, etc. They are fully empowered peace officers but are not tasked with "General Law Enforcement Duties." 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.


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.


Constables are responsible for enforcing Town ordinances and assisting with animal control.

West Virginia

David F. Green of Davy, West Virginia was the last person to hold the elected office of Constable in West Virginia.

External links

constable in Danish: Konstabel
constable in German: Konstabler
constable in Spanish: Condestable
constable in Estonian: Konnetaabel
constable in French: Connétable
constable in Galician: Condestábel
constable in Ido: Konestablo
constable in Italian: Connestabile
constable in Georgian: კონეტაბლი
constable in Dutch: Constable
constable in Norwegian: Konstabel
constable in Narom: Connêtabl'ye
constable in Portuguese: Condestável
constable in Russian: Коннетабль
constable in Swedish: Connétable
constable in Chinese: 治安官

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

G-man, John Law, MP, bailiff, beadle, beagle, bobby, bound bailiff, bull, captain, catchpole, chief of police, commissioner, cop, copper, deputy, deputy sheriff, detective, fed, federal, flatfoot, flic, fuzz, gendarme, government man, inspector, lictor, lieutenant, mace-bearer, marshal, mounted policeman, narc, officer, paddy, patrolman, peace officer, peeler, police captain, police commissioner, police constable, police inspector, police matron, police officer, police sergeant, policeman, policewoman, portreeve, reeve, roundsman, sergeant, sergeant at arms, sheriff, superintendent, tipstaff, tipstaves, trooper
Privacy Policy, About Us, Terms and Conditions, Contact Us
Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2
Material from Wikipedia, Wiktionary, Dict
Valid HTML 4.01 Strict, Valid CSS Level 2.1