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Constables

[Record group 96]
Agency Function
The post of constable does not exist as such in Philadelphia's modern government. Their police functions were assumed by the Philadelphia Police Department. Their court responsibilities are handled by the writ service and court attendance officers of the Philadelphia Traffic Court.

Agency History
Under the Duke of York's Laws constables were chosen annually by the electors of each township and given their traditional peace officer and writ serving authorities and court attendance duties. An Act of November 27, 1700, assigned the earliest of an additional number of functions to them, directing that they return to the County Assessors lists of all taxables and their property within their bailiwicks, and that they assist the tax collectors in their duties. Early in the eighteenth century constables were also elected by the voters of each City ward. In 1705 Common Council placed the constables in charge of the watch in their respective wards and in 1711 directed them to furnish to the City Assessors lists similar to those they provided the County Assessors. An Act of 1715 appointed them collectors of provincial taxes and in 1739 they were directed to administer the elections of Inspectors of Elections, a function they retained until 1839. At the dissolution of the Corporation in 1776 those constables in office were confirmed in place and, in addition to many wartime functions, were empowered to administer the elections of justices of the peace. After the re-incorporation of the City in 1789 constables were appointed by the Mayor from among the two chosen by the electors of each ward. County areas outside the City continued to elect their own constables directly. The office of High Constable was created in 1796 and with the gradual evolution of a full scale police force in the first half of the nineteenth century the Mayor was empowered to appoint an increasing number of them who were given charge of each police district headquarters. The office was dispensed with shortly after the City-County Consolidation of 1854, after which time constables were made directly elective by the voters of each ward. In 1851 their terms were extended to two years, and in 1864 to five. With the adoption of the present State Constitution of 1873 constables continued to be elected by the voters of their wards but were then appointed by magistrates to the service of their courts and are paid by them directly from court fees. Their effective functions today are those of writ service and court attendance.

Archival Records
96.1 Constables' Returns to Assessors (1762-1780)


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Last updated on November 8, 2000