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A commissary is a government official charged with oversight or an ecclesiastical official who exercises in special circumstances the jurisdiction of a bishop.[1]

In many countries, the term is used as an administrative or police title. It often corresponds to the command of a police station, which is then known as a "commissariat". In some armed forces, commissaries are officials charged with overseeing the purchase and delivery of supplies, and they have powers of administrative and financial oversight. Then, the "commissariat" is the organization associated with the corps of commissaries.

In some countries, both roles are used; for example, France uses "police commissaries" (commissaires de police) in the French National Police and "armed forces commissaries" (commissaires des armées) in the French armed forces.

The equivalent terms are commissaire in French, commissario in Italian, Kommissar in Standard German, Kommissär in Swiss German and Luxembourgish, comisario in Spanish, commissaris in Dutch and Flemish, komisario in Finnish, komisarz in Polish and comissário in Portuguese.


The word is recorded in English since 1362, for "one to whom special duty is entrusted by a higher power". This Anglo-French word derives from Medieval Latin commissarius, from Latin commissus (pp. of committere) "entrusted".

Government and administration[edit]

Governmental or administrative structures (or bodies) headed by a commissary (or composed of several commissaries) are often referred to as commissary governments or commissary administrations. Such terms were often used during the colonial era, and it was also used to designate various provisional governments of administrations. Executive or administrative body composed of several commissaries is often called Council of Commissaries or Board of Commissaries. Deputy of a commissary is styled as vice-commissary or sub-commissary.


A Spanish police Commissary is considered to be equal in rank to a commandant in the Spanish army.

In the French National Police, a commissaire is assigned to a commune with a population of more than 30,000. Larger communes have more than one. Paris has well over one hundred commissaires. All commissaires are graduates and can fulfill both administrative and investigative roles.

In the Romanian Police, similarly to the French National Police, the rank of comisar is equivalent to the British police rank of superintendent (see also Romanian police ranks).

In the Soviet Union, commissaries' powers of oversight were used for political purposes. These commissaries are often known as commissars in English.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Wikisource Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Commissary". Encyclopædia Britannica. 6 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 774.