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What’s the Difference Between Sheriff, Police and Constable?

What's the Difference Between Sheriff, Police and Constable?

What’s the Difference Between Sheriff, Police and Constable?


This article was written by a contributing author and is not meant to be taken as legal advice or otherwise. Kindly contact us if you have any suggestions to improve this article here.

There are various law enforcement officials operating in the United States, with each state giving different titles to these individuals based on their power to arrest, jurisdiction, and the duties that fall under them. All of these law enforcement officers have their own responsibilities for public safety, and all are responsible for helping deter crime. 

The main types of law enforcement officials are sheriff’s deputies, police officers, and constables. A constable is an elected official that does not have many of the same benefits as a police officer or deputy sheriff, but still plays an important role in collecting fees and enforcing the law. A deputy sheriff has broader duties than a police officer, as they are in charge of a county, whereas police officers are only in charge of their local jurisdiction (city, town, school).

What is a Sheriff’s Deputy?

It’s easier to understand the role these law enforcement officials play by understanding their jurisdiction and scope, beginning with the broadest title. A sheriff’s deputy has the broadest jurisdiction between them, police officers, and constables.

A sheriff’s deputy works for the county sheriff and has arresting power throughout the entire county. This means they can arrest criminals within their county, including in cities with their own municipal police departments. In addition, a deputy sheriff also has additional duties that deal with the county, including:

  • Working inside of jail facilities within the county. Jails are different than state prisons. State prisons use correctional officers that are trained and paid for by the state. On the other hand, jails within a county, such as San Diego or Los Angeles, are staffed with sheriff deputies funded by that particular county. The county jail acts as a temporary holding facility until a defendant is sentenced or released pending their trial.
  • Appearing in courtrooms. Sheriff deputies can also act as bailiffs or officers whose duty it is to protect the courtroom from disorderly events and keep order. Bailiffs are sometimes court officers, but most of the time it is the role of a sheriff deputy assigned as a bailiff temporarily.
  • Conducting the regular duties of a patrol police officer. This can include initiating traffic stops, responding to calls about crimes taking place, helping victims, taking reports, and completing documentation to reflect all of these calls.

Jurisdiction of a Deputy Sheriff

A sheriff’s deputy can respond to calls within the entire county. This is important when it comes to the jurisdiction of local police departments. For instance, let’s say there is a high-speed chase involving a police officer from a local department (from a city or town) that then leads into another part of the county. Most of the time, police officers will either disengage or ask the sheriff’s department to take over. This is just one example of how sheriff’s deputies and police officers can work in unison to protect the entirety of the city from crime.

In addition, when police officers arrest criminals and take them to jail to get them processed, it is a deputy sheriff who will conduct the processing and make sure they get a full report from the incoming police officer. 

Election of the Sheriff

Before we move on to describing how a police officer differs from a sheriff’s deputy, it’s important you understand the distinction between a sheriff’s deputy and the local sheriff.

A sheriff’s deputy is much like a police officer in that they are on patrol working in local communities, courthouses, transporting inmates, or in jails. However, the elected official that oversees the entire sheriff’s department is simply known as the sheriff or county sheriff. When referring to this elected official, the proper term is “Sheriff,” not “Sheriff Deputy.” Similarly, you can refer to a deputy sheriff as simply “Deputy,” but never “Sheriff.”

The County Sheriff is a political office that is elected by voters. The county sheriff will have experience as a deputy sheriff or in law enforcement and will serve an average term of four years. However, this will differ by county or department.

What is a Police Officer?

A police officer has authority within their city, town, or other jurisdiction to arrest people and enforce laws. There are patrol officers that work for a city, such as the NYPD or LAPD. However, police officers can also be part of the federal government.

For instance, the Veteran’s Affairs department has their own set of police officers known as VAPD. A police officer within the VA cannot arrest or enforce laws outside of the veteran’s affairs grounds. Similarly, there are military police officers that can only enforce laws and have the power to arrest criminals within their military bases.

Unlike a sheriff’s deputy or highway patrol officer, a police officer can only arrest people within their jurisdiction. This can be a bit confusing, so it’s best to find out more information from your specific department on where your jurisdiction ends and begins. For instance, in the city of Long Beach in California, there is a separate city within this city known as signal hill. Signal hill has its own police officers and police department! This is just one example of how jurisdictions can overlap.

What is a Constable?

Constables are elected officials that operate in many states. Texas constables, for instance, are written in the Texas constitution and have the right to be referred to as a peace officer. However, constables cannot arrest individuals that have active warrants, suspected of a crime, or for any reasons that are not visible. Unlike a police officer, they can only arrest a criminal they have seen being involved in an active crime.

Constables take separate training courses to prepare them for the role. However, they must purchase their own uniforms (although these are not required), handcuffs, guns, boots, and other accessories to help them complete their daily duties. These duties can include:

  • Collecting fines
  • Issue traffic citations
  • Issue subpoenas
  • Issue restraining orders
  • Serve warrants
  • Act as a bailiff in a courtroom
  • Helping in the transport of people to and from jails

Unfortunately, there is also little funding for constables. They can only operate within the jurisdiction in which they reside, and they receive compensation from the fees they collect from people who owe them. However, the payments they do receive are funded by the county taxpayers. 

Constables are not part of the sheriff’s department, although they have many similar duties to a sheriff’s deputy. 

Other Types of Law Enforcement

While a deputy sheriff has jurisdiction over a county, there are also highway patrol officers and state police that work for the state and within the highest system. With the United States having over 164,000 miles of highways, the highway patrol plays a vital part in enforcing the law and keeping the highways safe.

One of the most famous examples of this law enforcement agency is the California Highway Patrol. The California Highway Patrol, or CHP, is a law enforcement agency where highway patrol officers oversee the highways of the state of California. Their duties include:

  • Helping stranded passengers on the side of the road
  • Enforce traffic laws 
  • Be involved in high-speed chases that span multiple counties and are on the highway
  • Conducting traffic stops based on DUIs, suspicious activity, etc.
  • Arresting people who commit crimes on the highway
  • Investigating crimes that happen on the highway, such as road rage incidents, erratic driving, or even highway shootings

Final Thoughts

Law enforcement officers work together to prevent crime and protect different parts of the United States. Without constables, the city or county could not bring in valuable income from fees, and deputies and officers would be overwhelmed with duties such as serving warrants and subpoenas.  Without highway patrol, state trooper officers, police officers, and sheriff’s deputies, the state, its counties, and cities would be left vulnerable. All of these law enforcement agencies play a vital role in ensuring help for a victim is never too far away.

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