Difference Between a Deputy Sheriff & a Constable

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The difference between what a constable does and what a sheriff does will vary by jurisdiction. Many communities employ constables and sheriffs, along with their deputies. The path to becoming a constable or deputy sheriff may include winning an election, along with a combination of education and law enforcement training. Deputy sheriff and constable salaries differ widely by location and community size.

What’s a Constable?

A constable definition often varies by jurisdiction. In some locations, the term applies to certain types of law enforcement officers. But in many jurisdictions, constables serve the needs of county court systems.

Typically, constables are elected to their positions, often serving four-year terms. While they perform some of the same duties as sheriffs, constables do not work for sheriff’s departments. The duties and responsibilities of constables vary by jurisdictions, but all constables primarily serve the needs of courts.

Constables cover specific precincts, usually defined by the population of an area. Some communities elect one or two constables, while in large cities twenty or more constables my serve in multiple precincts. In many large precincts, numerous deputy constables work under the supervision of one or more elected constable.

Although constables are sworn law enforcement officers, many do not wear uniforms. However, constables typically carry badges and firearms and often have the same law enforcement authority as police commissioners or sheriffs.

What Does a Constable do?

Duties and responsibilities define the difference between constable and sheriff roles. The duties of a constable vary by jurisdiction. In Arizona, constables have the same authority as sheriffs do. However, the duties and responsibilities of Arizona’s constables and sheriffs differ in many ways.

Arizona constables work within defined precincts. In large precincts, a constable may head a team of deputy constables, who provide security in courtrooms. Constables serve legal documents and court orders, including evictions notices, criminal and civil subpoenas and court summons, as well as property seizure notices. Some Arizona constables store confiscated property and conduct sales of items seized from criminal enterprises.

Texas constables provide court security for justices of the peace, but they also perform some of the same duties as police officers. They issue traffic, substance abuse and faulty vehicle citations. Texas constables serve civil subpoenas and summons, along with warrants, writs of possession, hot check warrants, rent due notices and restraining orders. When serving warrants, constables often take defendants into custody and transport them to jail.

In Texas, constables run truancy programs, working with children and their parents to ensure students attend classes. They serve as bailiffs in juvenile and family courts. Some Texas constables work in public schools, providing security by performing drug tests, pat downs and arrests, when necessary.

Constables must keep detailed records of the documents they serve and the law enforcement actions they conduct. They often must appear in court, to give testimony about their actions and observations related to criminal or civil cases.

Many states require constables to attend periodic continuing education programs or training sessions on topics such as civil process, cultural diversity or firearms use and safety.

What Is a Deputy Sheriff?

Sheriffs serve as chief law enforcement officials for counties. In most states, citizens elect their sheriffs. Deputy sheriffs serve as rank-and-file law enforcement officers, under the supervision of sheriffs. Many sheriffs begin their careers as deputies and work their way up the ranks of a department, before running for office. Typically, their deputies begin their careers after graduating from high school or college.

In counties with large populations, sheriffs often work as law enforcement administrators, spending much of their time in offices, while their deputies patrol streets and highways enforcing laws. However, in some sparsely populated counties, sheriffs spend more time in the field, working alongside a handful of deputies.

Jurisdictions of sheriffs typically encompass large areas, which can include towns, unincorporated areas near cities, rural areas and highways.

What Does a Deputy Sheriff Do?

Sheriff’s deputies enforce local and state laws. Typically, a deputy sheriff patrols a designated district, often with a partner. Deputies deal with a wide variety of situations that fall under the “protect and serve” motto of law enforcement.

They investigate property crimes such as burglaries and petty theft, along with violent crimes such as armed robbery, assault and murder. Deputies also apprehend and arrest perpetrators.

The role of a deputy sheriff requires her to work closely with the public. She takes crime reports and interviews crime victims and witnesses. At times, she must perform welfare checks on at-risk people such as senior citizens or mentally ill individuals. She may participate in the investigation or search for missing persons. Deputy sheriffs also respond to noise complaints, neighbor quarrels and family disputes. At times, a deputy sheriff must intervene when an individual threatens suicide.

Deputies sometimes remain in contact with crime victims or witnesses to provide up-to-date information about investigations. Regularly, deputy sheriffs provide referral information to citizens who need help from government services such as departments of human services or mental health agencies. They may refer parents and children to programs designed to prevent truancy or juvenile delinquency.

While on patrol, a sheriff’s deputy investigates and reports unsafe infrastructure. For instance, a deputy may respond to a call about a malfunctioning traffic light and report it to the proper county department for repair. He may cordon off a section of damaged highway and direct traffic while a road crew makes the repair.

A deputy sheriff may serve subpoenas, warrants and civil orders such as eviction or foreclosure notices. She may respond to reports of activated burglar or fire alarms, or assist in crowd or traffic control at fire sites. She may assist stranded motorists experiencing automobile problems. Deputy sheriffs transport prisoners, as well as mental patients who need medical attention.

Deputy sheriffs prepare reports, detailing the incidents they respond to during a work shift. Their reports often play a critical role in criminal investigations and prosecutions. They are responsible for maintaining their weapons, along with equipment such as automobiles and communication equipment. Deputies must handle and transport evidence according to department standards.

Sheriff’s deputies often work irregular hours, including nights, weekends and holidays. They must work in all types of weather conditions. At times, deputies face dangerous situations, related to crimes such as murders, kidnappings and armed robberies.

Deputy sheriffs must appear as witnesses during trials to present information about their actions and observations related to crimes. They also may give depositions regarding officer-related shootings, or appear in court to give testimony about incidents involving the actions of other law enforcement officers.

Deputy sheriffs must maintain a high level of proficiency in firearm use and safety. They must maintain a physical fitness level that meets department standards. Most sheriff’s departments require deputies to attend seminars and training sessions on topics such as civil rights, cultural diversity, conflict management, criminal apprehension and vehicle operation and safety.

What Is the Difference Between Sheriff and Police?

Police officers and deputy sheriffs perform many of the same duties. Typically, sheriffs and their deputies handle law enforcement responsibilities within county limits, while police departments work within the boundaries of cities and towns.

Police officers usually work within a small area of city or town. They patrol streets, apprehend criminals, respond to domestic disputes, conduct traffic stops and handle automobile accidents. Deputy sheriffs deal with many of the same responsibilities, but in larger jurisdictions, oftentimes in rural areas or unincorporated neighborhoods bordering cities.

Jurisdictions vary and in some instances deputy sheriffs and police officers work together. For instance, a police department and a sheriff’s department may respond to a traffic accident that occurs on an interstate highway within the city limits. They may also collaborate on events such as terrorist attacks or mass shootings, which require the response of many law enforcement officers.

How Do I Become a Constable or Deputy Sheriff?

Qualifications for constable positions vary by jurisdiction, but most are elected. In elected constable positions, many state constitutions allow almost anyone to run for the office, as long as they meet age, residency and citizenship requirements. Lengths of terms vary by state. Texas’ constitution requires constables to serve four-year terms.

Many states require constables to undergo law enforcement training or to complete periodic continuing education courses. For example, Arizona requires its constables to complete a training course during their first few months in office. Texas requires its constables to attend 40 hours of training, two times per year. The Texas training program includes courses in crisis intervention, cultural diversity and investigation. Texas constables also receive training in civil process, firearm use and family violence.

Typically, deputy sheriffs must meet the same educational and training requirements as police officers do. While some sheriff’s departments accept candidates who have earned a high school diploma, others seek deputies with college degrees. In most jurisdictions, deputy sheriff must be at least 21 years old, U.S. citizens and meet physical requirements. Typically, law enforcement agencies do not accept officer candidates who have felony convictions. Some departments have residency requirements and restrictions about past or present drug use.

Although sheriff’s departments typically do not specify the type of degree their officers must attain, many aspiring deputy sheriff’s earn degrees in criminal justice. In some locations, sheriff’s departments actively recruit candidates who speak a foreign language, particularly Spanish.

Most sheriff’s departments provide extensive training for their deputy sheriffs. Training courses usually take several months to complete. For example, Pennsylvania deputy sheriffs must complete a 760-hour basic training course, which includes coursework in criminal investigation, criminal law, patrol procedures, court security, motor vehicle collision investigation, family crisis intervention, cultural diversity, prisoner transport, law enforcement technology, emergency vehicle operation, criminal procedure and communication. Pennsylvania deputies also receive training in firearms, anti-terrorism tactics and first aid. Typically, training courses include extensive physical conditioning programs.

Most law enforcement agencies require officers to attend periodic training sessions and continuing education courses. For instance, every two years, Pennsylvania sheriffs and deputy sheriffs must attend 20 hours of continuing education.

How Much Money Do Constables and Deputy Sheriffs Make?

According the employment website PayScale, constables earn an average income of around $60,000. High earners take home more than $350,000, while constables at the bottom of the pay scale make around $31,000. Wages vary widely among constable and deputies. For example, Bexar County, Texas, pays its Constable about $94,000, while deputy constables earn $50,000 to $62,000.

In 2017, police officers and detectives earned a median salary of around $63,000, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The median salary represents the middle of the police officer and detective pay scale. During the same period, sheriff’s deputies took home a median salary of about $61,000.

Wages for police officers, detectives and deputy sheriffs varies by state. For example, in 2017 law enforcement officers in California earned an average salary of around $100,000, while their counterparts in Mississippi made just $36,000.

Likewise, salaries vary widely according to the size and location of a city. For instance, law enforcement officers in Rome, Georgia, earn an average salary of less than $40,000, while their colleagues in California’s Silicon Valley area make an average wage of $124,000.

What Is the Job Outlook for Constables and Deputy Sheriffs?

The BLS does not provide job outlook data specific to deputy sheriffs. However, the Bureau expects employment opportunities for all police officers and detectives to grow about around 7 percent, from now until 2026.

Not all counties have constables. Counties that elect constables typically offer just a few positions, usually one to 25. Many constables have staffs of five to 10 deputy constables. Nonetheless, the number of constable positions is quite low and likely will not substantially increase in the foreseeable future.