Constables, Marshals, and More: Forgotten Offices in Texas Law Enforcement

Constables, Marshals, and More: Forgotten Offices in Texas Law Enforcement

by Lorie Rubenser, Gloria Priddy

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Most students of criminal justice, and the general public as well, think of policing along the three basic types of municipal, sheriff, and state police. Little is known about other avenues of police work, such as the constable. In policing textbooks, when a position such as constable is mentioned, only a line or two is presented, hardly enough to indicate it is of


Most students of criminal justice, and the general public as well, think of policing along the three basic types of municipal, sheriff, and state police. Little is known about other avenues of police work, such as the constable. In policing textbooks, when a position such as constable is mentioned, only a line or two is presented, hardly enough to indicate it is of any importance. And yet constables and numerous other alternative policing positions are of vital importance to law enforcement in Texas and in other states.
Constables, Marshals, and More seeks to remedy that imbalance in the literature on policing by starting with the state of Texas, home of more than 68,000 registered peace officers. Lorie Rubenser and Gloria Priddy first lay the groundwork for how to become a peace officer. A guest chapter by Raymond Kessler discusses legal issues in alternative police work. Rubenser and Priddy then examine the oft-overlooked offices of constable, railroad police, racing commission, cattle brand inspector, university police, fire marshal, city marshal, Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, bailiff, game warden, and district/county attorney investigators.
This book will be useful for any general policing courses at both the undergraduate and the graduate levels. It will provide more in-depth analysis of these lesser known law enforcement positions and will spur student interest in employment in these areas.

"There are so many law enforcement agencies in the State of Texas that we know so little about, such as game wardens, the constables, or the railroad police. At last we have an informative book that explains the legal and historical aspects of these positions and explains the roles and duties of these officers in Texas law enforcement. This is a valuable book for anyone interested in the more unusual Texas police agencies."-Willard M. Oliver, criminal justice, Sam Houston State University

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“There are so many law enforcement agencies in the State of Texas that we know so little about, such as game wardens, the constables, or the railroad police. At last we have an informative book that explains the legal and historical aspects of these positions and explains the roles and duties of these officers in Texas law enforcement. This is a valuable book for anyone interested in the more unusual Texas police agencies.”—Willard M. Oliver, criminal justice, Sam Houston State University

“Most introductory policing works mention POST commissions but rarely go into such detail. This reference work is well written—it is clear, to the point, and informative.”—Daniel M. Stewart, criminal justice, University of North Texas

Product Details

University of North Texas Press
Publication date:
North Texas Crime and Criminal Justice Series, #7
Product dimensions:
5.90(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.60(d)

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Constables, Marshals, and More

Forgotten Offices in Texas Law Enforcement

By Lorie Rubenser, Gloria Priddy

University of North Texas Press

Copyright © 2011 Lorie Rubenser and Gloria Priddy
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-57441-327-4



Ask people to describe what they think of when someone mentions police and the answer will be remarkably similar from one person to another. Largely, people will picture a white male who works for a city police department and drives quickly through the city in a marked patrol car. Occasionally, a picture of a state trooper or sheriff's deputy will emerge.

Most textbooks dealing with policing in general, or in a specific place in America, also deal only with the three basic types of police: municipal, sheriffs and state police. Federal law enforcement may also receive some level of attention. Entire chapters of policing books are devoted to special units and functions. Even a thorough review may lead the student to feel that their future in policing will take place in only these areas. Where a position such as constable appears, often there is only a line or two of information provided, hardly enough information to indicate the position is of any importance. Criminal Justice students will not seek jobs they do not know about and perhaps some will even turn away from policing because they are not aware of jobs that would suit them.

Much of the problem of coverage for various law enforcement positions relates to the big city focus of research. Very few researchers spend time exploring small or rural policing agencies. The reasons for this focus are obvious. Most researchers are from universities or the federal government. Geographically, they are more likely to be located in urban areas near the large police departments. Additionally, large municipal departments offer a greater variety of subjects to study. Large departments have more personnel, more contacts with the public, and more organizational units: three common areas of study.

Research on a large sample is traditionally considered more reliable and valid. It is more easily generalizable to other populations. It is therefore only natural to see researchers focus on large departments and ignore smaller departments that would not offer them the variety of subjects or the numbers needed.

The public also focuses on large municipal departments, largely due to the attention given them by the media. While corruption and other scandals can and do occur in all types and sizes of law enforcement departments, larger-scale corruption scandals and sensational crimes tend to be located in large departments. These stories are popular media fodder, following the "if it bleeds it leads" idea for choosing stories. OJ Simpson and Rodney King focused the attention of the country, and indeed the world, on Los Angeles. The controversial shooting of a groom on his wedding day focused attention on New York City. Large-scale drug seizures or activities relating to terrorism also seem to center on large departments or federal agencies, particularly those within the Department of Homeland Security.

An additional problem contributes to the narrow focus of research on policing. A variety of state level agencies exist that are so specialized in function as to be routinely ignored by researchers. Most of these agencies are small and have a limited scope of operation, thus not generating large numbers or variety of subjects so greatly desired in quality research. The Texas Racing Commission is one example of such an agency, with only seven law enforcement officers.

The State of Texas

Texas is the second largest state in the United States, covering a land mass of 261,797.12 square miles and containing a population of 24,326,974 persons. Two hundred fifty-four counties of both rural and urban types subdivide the state. Houston is the largest city in Texas and ranks fourth in size in the US.

The state also displays one of the largest varieties of law enforcement agencies in the United States. Over two-thirds of the law enforcement in Texas operates at the municipal or county level. Departments range in size from the 3,465 officers working for the Texas Department of Public Safety down to agencies of one officer like the constable's office in Crosby County. Each department, large or small, contributes something important to the law enforcement picture of Texas.

History of Texas Law Enforcement

Constitutional Roots:

There have been five constitutions in Texas while under U.S. control, and four while Texas was independent or a possession of Mexico or Spain. The first Constitution in Texas under U.S. control took effect in 1845 when Texas became a state. Subsequent versions took effect in 1861 when Texas joined the Confederacy and in 1866 and 1869 during Reconstruction. The 1876 constitution remains active currently and employs a 17-article Bill of Rights and a variety of Amendments to stay current. Each constitution held provisions for law enforcement. The position of constable, for instance, received specific mention in each one.

The First Police:

Issues of law enforcement first came to Texas in 1823 when Stephen F. Austin created a cadre of 10 rangers whom he charged with protecting his new colony. These men and their work evolved into the modern Texas Rangers. Even though Texas Rangers were essentially a military force for some years during Texas Independence, they commonly receive credit as the first state policing agency in the US.

Positions such as sheriff or constable came to Texas in the early years as general law enforcement needs emerged with the spread of the population. Municipal police in towns and cities across Texas emerged in the middle of the 1800s with Houston establishing its city policing in 1849. Other positions such as railroad police or Racing Commission officers emerged later and in response to very specific needs.

The Scope of Crime in Texas:

The volume of special needs in a state the size of Texas has created a unique variety of law enforcement positions not found in every state. As with all states, need for policing, either general or specific, relates to crime types and levels. All the crimes existing elsewhere also exist in Texas. Additionally, a variety of border-related crimes involving drugs, illegal aliens, and violence occur in Texas.

Since 1976, the Texas Department of Public Safety has gathered crime statistics from all policing agencies in the state on a monthly basis. All law enforcement agencies in the state of Texas must report statistics on crime in their jurisdiction in a standardized format. These crime statistics form a crime index whereby measurement of crime trends, safety issues, and law enforcement needs becomes possible.

The Texas Department of Public Safety forwards the crime statistics to the FBI for their national data collection efforts, culminating in the Uniform Crime Reports (UCR). From this data, the FBI publishes a crime index. Both the Texas version and the FBI version of the UCR use a set of eight crimes for the Part 1 Offenses or Index Crimes. These offenses include murder, forcible rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny-theft, motor vehicle theft, and arson. The Index Crimes represent the most serious criminal behaviors. By gathering data on these crimes on a statewide and nationwide basis, comparison between locations is possible. Other, less serious offenses, create the Part 2 Offense listing.

Data from the Texas UCR indicates that in 2009, law enforcement officers made 1,205,202 arrests. Drug offenses represent the most common reason for arrest, with 149,789 arrests. Public drunkenness represents the next most common reason for arrest with 142,631 arrests. Larceny-theft represents the most common Index Crime. Law enforcement officers arrested 120,068 persons for this crime in 2009. Murder resulted in 837 arrests in 2009. It should make readers feel safer knowing that the most serious crimes are also the least common.

Drug, gambling, prostitution, and liquor offenses are some of the most common in Texas.

These so called "vice" crimes represent a large portion of the work a law enforcement officer will engage in. These crimes also demonstrate the need for specialized law enforcement agencies in Texas.

Modern Texas Law Enforcement

Jurisdiction is the geographic or subject area assigned to an official. For a police officer, jurisdiction can be both geographic, as in countywide, or subject area-specific as in drug-related crimes. As in other states, in Texas there are four general levels of law enforcement and associated jurisdiction: federal, state, county, and local/municipal. Each level handles a certain set of crimes and within a certain jurisdiction or geographical area.

Federal law enforcement has the largest jurisdiction in terms of geographical area, but is perhaps the most limited on the types of crimes they have authority to handle. Each federal law enforcement agency receives authorization through Congress to deal with specific crimes or situations. With few exceptions, only violations of federal law or offenses that cross state or national boundaries come under the jurisdiction of federal law enforcement.

The most visible federal agencies in Texas now revolve around Homeland Security. US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) combines Immigration, Customs, and Border Patrol and has a particularly high level of visibility in West Texas along the US-Mexico border.

The agency is responsible for regulation of cross-border traffic of people and goods. As with all federal agencies, CBP does not usually engage in policing activities such as traffic stops. Exceptions may exist, but the average citizen will normally only deal with CBP when passing through a border area checkpoint.

In addition to federal agencies, Texas has a variety of state-level policing agencies. State level agencies typically operate anywhere within the boundaries of the state. The most well-known state law enforcement agency is the Department of Public Safety. Within this department are both Troopers and Texas Rangers. Troopers are the uniformed patrol officers who commonly interact with motorists on the state's highways. Rangers are plainclothes investigative officers. Troopers do not normally patrol within the incorporated city limits, but due to their statewide jurisdiction, they can exercise that option. Rangers investigate crimes anywhere in the state.

Other state-level policing agencies in Texas focus on specific areas of law enforcement. The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, for instance, focuses only on crimes and regulatory violations relating to alcohol. These specialized, or limited purpose, agencies normally operate on a statewide basis but within the narrow scope of subjects assigned to them. They do not normally engage in routine policing such as writing speeding tickets.

At the county level, most law enforcement positions are political in nature. A sheriff or constable requires election by voters in order to achieve the position. Most sheriffs' offices engage in regular policing and maintain the county jail. Other county level officers, like the constable, may engage mostly in duties for the courts with regular policing a secondary function. Although an incorporated area of a city occupies a geographic area within a county, normally county level officers like sheriffs do not engage in routine police work within these areas unless requested to do so.

The vast majority of policing everywhere in the US is accomplished through local, municipal policing agencies. These officers' jurisdictions are limited geographically to the city limits. Of all the levels of law enforcement in the state, municipal police have the widest range of crimes in their jurisdiction. Municipal police also hold the most responsibility for order maintenance and community service activities.

The combined efforts of officers at all four levels of law enforcement provide Texans with protection from things ranging from the criminal to the annoying. They accomplish this through activities ranging from random patrol to crime investigations and prevention efforts.

According to Lillian Alderete of the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement Officer Standards and Education, in the state of Texas 68,410 persons hold licenses as Texas Peace Officers. Many of these persons hold a commission with more than one agency. Of this total, 39,878 work for municipal departments, 31,701 for sheriff's offices, and 3,465 for the Texas Department of Public Safety. An additional 13,178 persons are licensed peace officers but do not work for these agencies. One may ask what role these other 13,178 officers play in Texas law enforcement.

The state of Texas displays a wide variety of specialized policing positions, many of which exist in other states: constables and university/campus police for example. Some of these positions, such as cattle brand inspectors, may be unique to Texas or a few select other states.

Along with the great variation in policing positions in Texas, great variation exists within positions. A constable in East Texas around the Dallas/Ft. Worth metroplex will be paid differently and do a completely different job than a constable in rural West Texas. Similar differences between urban and rural officers occur within any law enforcement position in Texas.

Overview of the Book

All law enforcement officers in the state of Texas begin their careers in a similar fashion. Regardless of the position, each officer has met the same basic entry criteria and must abide by the same legal foundations. Our discussion must therefore begin with the basics and then move into the specialized areas of Texas law enforcement.

Chapter 2 explains the process whereby an interested individual would become a Texas peace officer. The chapter begins with the criteria for initial consideration and moves through the hiring process. It concludes with information on the requirements for maintaining an active peace officer license throughout a career.

Chapter 3 examines the basic constitutional and statutory foundations of Texas law enforcement. Coverage includes the types of officers who are designated peace officers, their basic responsibilities and duties, their jurisdiction, and some of the limitations on their authority.

The remaining sections of the book focus on expanding the reader's view of law enforcement in Texas. Plenty of books concerning municipal police, sheriffs, and state police exist. The Texas Rangers in particular are the subject of many books and articles.

Even police academy training in the state of Texas receives coverage. We have deliberately left those positions out in order to focus on the lesser known but equally important positions that exist in the wide array of Texas law enforcement.

Chapter 4 begins the exploration of the specialized law enforcement positions by describing constables. The chapter begins with a historical overview of constables and progresses through the modern position and its specialized requirements. It concludes with a discussion of the actual day-to-day activities of modern constables in the state of Texas.

Some of the most specialized positions in Texas law enforcement appear in chapters 5—7: railroad police, Texas Racing Commission officers, and cattle brand inspectors, for instance. Each agency is small in scope but they represent some of the most important law enforcement functions in the state when considered in terms of their impact on the state's development. By ensuring safe transport of persons and cargo, fair sporting practices, and upholding property rights of ranchers, these officers have contributed to the livelihood of Texas citizens and to the state's economy in ways that cannot be overestimated. Each chapter will demonstrate the impact of these small but important agencies both in law enforcement and in the overall picture of the state of Texas.

Many readers are probably familiar with university police at a basic level. College students often interact with university police over parking tickets, troubles in dormitories, and petty thefts. This is, however, only the beginning of the responsibilities assigned to university police departments. Many universities assign fire protection, risk management, issuance of campus ID cards and keys, and other tasks not traditionally thought of as police work to their campus police departments. University police are also under increasing scrutiny concerning their ability to maintain campus safety due to the shootings at Virginia Tech in 2008 and Northern Illinois University in 2009. Chapter 8 will explore university police and this wide variety of tasks assigned to them, demonstrating just how complex this job really is.

Another Texas law enforcement position that is relatively unknown is the fire marshal. While most people probably think of fire marshals as persons who check fire alarms and investigate arsons, many do not know that fire marshals are also law enforcement officers with all the normal policing powers. Chapter 9 explores this position and demonstrates how law enforcement powers are essential to the work of the fire marshal.


Excerpted from Constables, Marshals, and More by Lorie Rubenser, Gloria Priddy. Copyright © 2011 Lorie Rubenser and Gloria Priddy. Excerpted by permission of University of North Texas Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

LORIE RUBENSER is associate professor of criminal justice at Sul Ross State University and the author of several articles and chapters on policing and special units. GLORIA PRIDDY has taught criminal justice courses at Angelo State University and currently teaches online at Sul Ross State University. She has published on Texas Rangers and constables.

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