The term "constable" means different things in different jurisdictions. In some places it is a title or a rank in law enforcement. In others, it refers to a specific assignment for certain law enforcement officers. However, in Arizona, a constable is an officer of the county justice courts. Like justices of the peace, constables are elected by the people of their local precincts to serve four-year terms. Constables and their deputies are the executive enforcement branch of the county justice courts.
A common misconception about constables is that they are a part of the county sheriff's office. While constables perform many of the same roles in justice courts that sheriffs do in surperior courts, and occasionally they may provide assistance to one another, the two offices are not related. While constables are certified by the same board that certifies training for police and sheriffs, they do not perform many of the more traditional law enforcement duties that police and sheriffs do, such as traffic enforcement or criminal investigations. It is likely that, because they are not highly visible, constables are the least understood branch of law enforcement in Arizona.
Constables are elected officials, and along with their deputies, they attend to the justice courts. Since justice court precinct lines are determined by the number of people living in a certain area, some counties only have one or two constables, while larger counties may have up to twenty-five. Depending on a precinct's caseload and if they have the approval of their county board of supervisors, a constable may appoint deputies and a staff. In most cases, there are no more than one constable and one deputy in a given precinct.
Constables have the same legal authority as a county sheriff, but generally only work within their own precincts. The primary duties of Arizona constables are:
- Executing and returning writs of possession or restitution (evictions);
- Serving orders of protection or orders prohibiting harassment;
- Serving civil and criminal summons and subpoenas;
- Providing judicial security to the justice courts;
- Levying and returning writs of execution (seizing property to satisfy judgments);
- Storing personal property that has been levied; and
- Conducting constable sales of levied property (like sheriff's sales)
Perhaps the most common concern about constables is their qualifications. Constables wear badges but they generally do not wear uniforms or drive marked cars, so most people do not recognize them. Due to the nature of their work, there can be some confusion among members of the public as to whether they really are qualified peace officers. Although any registered voter may run for the office, many constables are former federal, state, county and/or local law enforcement officers. In addition to this, every constable is required to undergo a basic training course within 6 months of assuming office, as well as maintain a certain number of training hours every year thereafter. This ensures that constables are trained and proficient in their duties. In fact, over the past few years the CESTB has adopted new rules that doubled the number of required training hours. Tracking the training of each constable is one of the main responsibilities of the CESTB.