Constable is the oldest law enforcement position in the world. The position originated from the Eastern Roman Empire. His primary duty was commander of the King’s armies and upheld the Crown Rule of Orders. The Constable was the only one permitted to carry the King’s sword. In England, by the turn of the sixth century they were the Chief Household Officers
Constables have served the Justice Court system since 1362. William Lambard published the first policy and procedures manual in 1583. In 1632, America’s, first constable was appointed in Plymouth Colony. The constable enforced the orders of Colonial and County officials in both civil and criminal matters. The Sheriff was appointed two years later in 1634. In 1700’s, records indicate the position was elected by the parishioners until the Metropolitan Police Force was established in 1829.
On March 5, 1823, in Texas, Constable Thomas Alley was appointed in Stephen F. Austin’s original colony, later, another constable was sworn in making the two constables the first law enforcement in Texas. Three months later, with all the issues across Texas, the original two stayed to protect the local colonies and 10 others were sent out to protect the range and guard the frontier. These men later formed the Texas Rangers.
The Constables and Rangers, combined, became an active group of roughly 200 men. In 1836, that same group was strategically used to go in and move out the Native Americans from the areas surrounding San Jacinto. This allowed Sam Houston’s army the opportunity to quietly attack Santa Anna at the battle of San Jacinto. The Constable was later written into Constitutional law and was the only law enforcement defined by the original Texas Constitution. At that time, Sam Houston formally separated the two groups. The constable would be elected by the people in each local area, known as precincts. The Texas Rangers became an officer of the new Republic. Both groups would be commissioned and report directly to the governor, that still holds true today.
Over the years some familiar figures have spent part of their lives and careers as a constable or deputy constable, including Virgil and Wyatt Earp, John Sleman, “Wild Bill” Hickok and Texas Ranger Clint Peoples for whom the Montgomery County Regional Training Academy was named.
During the civil war, most constables joined their brothers, the Texas Rangers, and fought for the Confederate Army. From 1869 to 1872 there were no elected constables in Texas and only a couple appointed by a few local Justices of the Peace. The Constitution of 1876 mandated once again that constables be elected at the local precinct level.
Currently only 23 states have Constables and each state varies from elected to appointed, city or county/parish, to legal jurisdiction and authority. Today, these constables are elected and serve a four-year term, which runs on the same cycle as the President of the United States. They are the officers of the Justice of the Peace Court. Each constable will appoint deputies to work under his expert, and they are given the same authority. A constable is considered to be the “Peoples Police” because of their Constitutional origin and local elected representation of the people.
Constable is given Constitutional authority to enforce both civil and criminal laws. State and city police officers are given the authority to only enforce criminal laws. Constables have the authority to enforce almost every law in the State of Texas. It is not uncommon in Texas for constable offices to have traffic divisions or criminal investigation divisions; as well as, patrol and special response teams. Each Texas County is divided into precincts. Counties will have between four and eight precincts depending on size (Montgomery County has five), but no less than four. It is the constable’s responsibility to observe and uphold the law and order for that precinct. Today there are more than 750 elected constables to serve the citizens of the Sate of Texas.
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