- For the painter see John Constable. For the city in New York, see Constable, New York.
A Constable is a police officer in Britain and most countries with a British colonial history (now mostly members of the Commonwealth of Nations). This gives rise to the alternative name of Constabulary for the police force.
Technically, every sworn police officer in these countries is a constable, since it is from this office that they derive their powers, but in general usage it refers to a police officer without any other rank. In the USA, the equivalent position would be a patrol officer or deputy sheriff.
In British law and similar legal systems, a Constable has the legal powers of arrest given to him directly by a sworn oath and warrant, rather than being delegated powers that he has simply because he is employed as a police officer. Technically this means that each sworn constable is an independent legal official rather than simply an employee of the police.
The rank of Senior Constable can sometimes mean the head of the police force in an area, but this is not the case in the UK. The Chief Constable is the title of the head of all British police forces except the Metropolitan Police and City of London Police, which are headed by Commissioners.
Other British police ranks (outside the London forces) include:
The additional identification prefix of Detective is added to the ranks of members of the Criminal Investigation Departments and Special Branches up to Chief Superintendent (e.g. Detective Chief Inspector, Detective Constable, etc).
Every officer still only has the powers of constable, no matter what his rank. The Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis has exactly the same police powers as an ordinary constable. Section 30 of the Police Act 1996 says that "A member of a police force shall have all the powers and privileges of a constable throughout England and Wales and the adjacent United Kingdom waters". By agreement, however, these powers are only generally exercised within the officer's own force area and the immediately surrounding force areas (except in an emergency).
A Special Constable is a volunteer Police Officer, with the same powers as a regular officer. The main role of a 'Special' is to work with the local Constabulary to provide a heightened police presence on the streets and in the local community. They may also be requested to police particular events such as football matches and community events.
In the United States, a constable is charged with "process serving": serving summonses for people to appear in court on criminal and/or civil matters. Often this service is performed by private companies, except for some states like Texas, Tennessee, Arizona, Alabama, Pennsylvania and some others where the Constable is an elected position at the village, precinct or township level of local governments where they serve the local municipal/minor courts or justice of the peace. (In Pennsylvania, the constable is considered a locally elected state court officer as all courts are part of the state court system.) In these states, Constables may sometimes perform other duties normally required of law enforcement at a county level exercising the same duties of a sheriff but over a smaller jurisdiction. In Texas, Arizona and other states, the village or town constable may be called a marshal.
In the United States, Constables may be assisted by Deputy Constables as sworn officers and Constable's Officers as civil staff, usually process servers. Other states also have civilian process servers who are called constables.
In Jersey and Guernsey, the elected heads of the parishes are titled constables (connétables in French). In Jersey, the constables also represent their parish in the legislature.
Ancient Court Position
A courtier in some European countries during the Middle Ages, in charge of keeping the horses of his lord. The title comes from Latin "comes stabulari" (count of the stables).
In some countries this developed into a high military rank. See, for example, Bertrand du Guesclin, Constable of France; and the Lord High Constable of England.
The office 'constable' was held by the person in charge of the defence of a castle. Even today, there is a Constable of the Tower of London.