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Constable Carlos Lopez and his deputies assist the citizens and courts of Travis County

Carlos B. Lopez, Constable

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Bruce Elfant

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Notebook Archives



Constable's Notebook - November 2005

Throughout my campaign for re-election as Constable for Precinct Five, the most frequent question I was asked was “what exactly is a Constable?”

The term “Constable” originates from the medieval title of an important official in the days of the Eastern Roman Empire called “comes stabuli”. In old France “comes” was defined as an officer and Count, “stabuli” was defined as an officer of the Stable, Chief Equerry, or Marshall, generally of the “stabulum” stables. During that period of time, the Constable was chief officer of the King’s household, court and often acted as commander in chief of the army, second only to the king. Constables in England can be traced back to the Kingdom of Alfred the Great who reigned from 871 to 899 AD. In about 1066 King William the Great divided England into 55 districts and appointed constables to keep the peace within these districts. By the 1620s the colonies had been divided into counties which became the most important unit of local government. The first American Constable was appointed in 1632 to assist the Justice of the peace in dispensing justice, enforcing the orders of colonial and county officials in both civil and criminal matters, and collecting taxes.

Constables in Texas can be traced back to 1823 when Texas was under Mexican rule. The Mexican government authorized Stephen F. Austin who had been settling large numbers of individuals along the Colorado and Brazos rivers, to create 7 districts with an appointed sheriff over the entire colony and appointed constables for each district. The first constables were elected in precincts of 500 inhabitants in 1828. Constables were included in the Texas Constitution of 1836 and remain (except during Reconstruction following the Civil War) to the present day.

Texas Constables and Justices of the Peace are commonly referred to as the offices closest to the people. Constable’s duties vary widely throughout Texas and are based on the needs of individual counties and the ability and willingness of commissioners’courts to provide funding. In addition to serving process and serving as bailiff for justice courts, some constables in Texas enforce traffic laws and patrol neighborhoods, perform criminal investigations for drug violations, identity theft, truancy, handicap parking enforcement and other criminal matters.

Constables have survived and flourished as a part of local government for more than a thousand years because they have effectively met the needs of their constituents and have been willing to evolve as changing circumstances have dictated. The role of constables or any local office holders, will continue to exist only as long as they continue to provide the services that citizens need, want and are willing to pay for. I only wish we all could be around to see what local government looks like a thousand years from now.



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