History of Texas Constables
Texas Constables go way back in Texas history. In 1823, the first Constable was appointed to be the first law enforcement officer in the future Republic of Texas and eventually the State of Texas. His name was Thomas Alley. In 1836, The Constitution of the Republic of Texas set forth an election for constables. During the ten years of the republic’s existence, 38 constables were elected in twelve counties, the first being Nacogdoches County.
When Texas became a state, the Texas Legislature passed a law saying the constable would be the “conservator of the peace” and added it was his duty to suppress all riots, routs, affrays, fighting, and unlawful assemblies. The constable was to keep the peace and arrest all offenders. Due to the Civil War, no constables were elected from 1869 to 1872. The Texas Constitution of 1876 mandated that all constables be elected at the precinct level. Thus, all Texas Constables became constitutional office holders elected by the people. In 1954, a constitutional amendment required all constables to be elected to a 4-year term instead of two. This is the case today. The Texas Constable is a Texas Constitutional office holder.
In Texas, constables and their deputies are fully empowered peace officers with county-wide jurisdiction, and in most cases, state-wide jurisdiction. Constables have the same training requirements as all other peace officers in the State and the same — and sometimes more — continuing training requirements. The Texas Commission on Law Enforcement (TCOLE) licenses all peace officers in Texas, and the constable and his deputies fall under the jurisdiction of TCOLE along with all Texas peace officers.
There is a popular myth that a Texas Constable is the only person who can arrest the governor or sheriff. That’s simply not the case. Further, Constables are authorized to make warrant-less arrests for any offense committed in their presence or view anywhere in the State of Texas, except some traffic violations not occurring in their county. A Texas Constable may enforce all state and local laws in their county, including traffic offenses.
The Texas Constable is commissioned by the Texas Governor as a Law Enforcement Agency. Interestingly, the Constable is an associate member of the Texas Department of Public Safety. The Department of Justice and the Bureau of Justice Statistics consider the Texas Constable to be a “unique” peace officer. According to the Handbook of Texas, “Today, constables numbering approximately 780 are elected from precincts in most Texas counties. Their law-enforcement roles vary widely, but in general their police powers are no different from those of other peace officers in the state. Complete records do not exist, but the most recent estimate is that at least ninety-three Texas constables have died in the line of duty, including sixty-seven in the twentieth century.