Sheriffs and deputy sheriffs, police officers, and constables and deputy constables are all peace officers licensed by the state of Texas and have certain powers of arrest throughout the state.
Most wear distinctive uniforms or badges, drive clearly marked patrol vehicles and often perform similar job functions, but there are several differences, too. Many of these differences involve:
- Their primary jurisdictional boundaries
- The primary funding source for their particular agency
- Distinct differences in their duties as designated by the Texas Legislature.
A sheriff is a peace officer who holds public office; the voters in each county elect their sheriff once every four years.
The Texas Constitution mandates that one sheriff exist for each of the 254 Texas counties. Each sheriff has countywide jurisdiction. Sheriffs may appoint deputies and jailers to assist in the performing of their duties.
By statute, sheriffs’ duties include:
- Serves as a licensed peace officer and is responsible for enforcing the criminal laws of the state
- Manages and operates the county jail
- Provides security for the courts
- Serves warrants and civil papers
- Regulates bail bondsmen in counties with no bail bond board.
In addition, the sheriff transports prisoners to local courts from throughout the United States, transports juvenile offenders and mental health detainees throughout Texas, rounds up estrayed livestock in the county and performs many other duties.
The sheriff’s office is funded by local tax dollars administered by county commissioners court.
A municipality may create and fund a police department but it is not required by law to do so. If created, the police jurisdiction extends only within the boundaries of the municipality they serve.
A chief of police is not elected. Either the municipality’s governing board or the city manager hires the chief of police and determines the length of their stay, as well as how many additional police officers to hire.
Police officers may enforce state criminal and traffic laws and local ordinances adopted within their jurisdiction. Police serve arrest warrants and as bailiff for the municipal court. Police are not required to keep a jail but may operate a municipal jail for housing misdemeanor violators or detainees awaiting transfer to the county jail.
Police officers do not have responsibility for transporting prisoners, serving civil process, rounding up estrays or conducting many of the other duties designated to sheriffs.
Constables are also peace officers whose offices were created by the Texas Constitution. They are elected to office once every four years. A county may have multiple constables but only one per precinct. The voters who reside within a particular precinct of the county elects the constable for that precinct and that constable’s primary jurisdiction is the geographic boundaries of that precinct.
Constables may appoint deputies who are peace officers to assist in performing their duties.
By statute, constables duties include:
- Serves as a licensed peace officer and performs various law enforcement functions, including issuing traffic citations
- Serves warrants and civil papers such as subpoenas and temporary restraining orders
- Serves as bailiff for Justice of the Peace Court.
Like the sheriff, the constable’s office is funded from local tax dollars administered by the county commissioners court.
Jurisdictional overlap occurs between county sheriff’s offices, municipal police departments and county constables as well as with the state highway patrol and state park rangers and the federal law enforcement agencies. These state and federal agencies frequently cooperate but each may investigate a criminal matter that occurs within their jurisdiction.