Police officers protect the public from crime, as well as supporting victims and witnesses of crime, providing reassurance to local people in the community

As a police officer you'll work in partnership with the communities you serve to maintain law and order, protect members of the public and their property, prevent crime, reduce the fear of crime and improve the quality of life for all citizens. You'll use a range of technology to protect individuals, identify the perpetrators of crime and ensure successful prosecutions against those who break the law.

The key priorities for the 45 police forces in the UK include:

  • maintaining public order through combating organised crime
  • countering the threat of terrorism
  • acting against antisocial behaviour.

Police officers work closely with members of the criminal justice system, social workers, schools, local businesses, health trusts, housing authorities, town planners and community groups to provide advice, education and assistance to those who want to reduce crime or have been affected by crime.

Responsibilities

As a police officer you'll need to:

  • provide a visible presence to deter crime and reassure the community
  • conduct patrol duties on foot, by car and bicycle
  • develop community knowledge to identify individuals and locations at risk of being involved in crime
  • respond to calls and requests from the public to assist at incidents
  • work alongside communities, liaising with community groups and individuals
  • keep the peace at public meetings, social events, processions, trade disputes or strikes
  • diffuse potentially volatile situations with due regard for the safety of all involved
  • act with sensitivity when dealing with situations such as delivering news of a sudden death or when dealing with sexual crimes
  • conduct initial investigations, gather evidence, take statements and comply with relevant legal requirements
  • interview suspects, victims and witnesses in accordance with relevant legislation
  • conduct arrests with due regard for the human rights, security and health and safety of detained individuals, members of the public and colleagues, as well as yourself
  • prepare crime reports and present case files to senior officers and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) (England and Wales), the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) (Scotland) or the Public Prosecution Service for Northern Ireland (PPSNI)
  • attend and give evidence in court and at other hearings
  • complete administrative procedures
  • submit internal crime reports and criminal intelligence reports
  • take action on information received from members of the public
  • gather, record and analyse intelligence to achieve community safety and crime reduction objectives and provide crime prevention advice
  • take direction on specific duties from senior colleagues
  • attend road-related incidents including collision scenes, vehicle check points and traffic offences
  • enforce road traffic legislation and issue fixed penalties for relevant offences
  • deal with lost or found property.

Salary

  • The starting salary for police constables in England, Wales and Northern Ireland is between £20,880 and £24,177, rising to £40,128 at the top of the scale - achievable after about seven years. In Scotland starting salaries are slightly higher at £26,037, rising to £40,878 after about ten years' service.
  • The range of salaries for sergeants is £41,500 to £45,098.
  • Inspectors can earn between £51,414 and £55,768 (£53,665 and £58,038 in London), rising to between £56,909 and £59,249 for chief inspectors (£59,175 and £61,509 in London).

Police officers in London and the south of England receive additional pay allowances of up to £6,735.

Income data from the Police Federation and Police Scotland. Figures are intended as a guide only.

Employee benefits

  • A minimum of 22 days' annual leave, plus fully-paid sick leave.
  • Police officers are automatically enrolled on to the police pension scheme.
  • Depending on your location, you could benefit from free local travel.
  • Some forces offer flexible working opportunities.

Working hours

Full-time police officers complete an average of 40 duty hours per week, in eight hour shifts. However, since they provide a 24-hour public service, unsocial hours, shift work and emergency call-outs are a regular feature of the job. Regular shifts are not usually longer than ten hours, but overtime may be available and is paid at a higher rate.

Part-time working, job-sharing and flexible hours are available. Career breaks are possible after the probationary period.

What to expect

  • The daily working environment is variable. You may be in a patrol car, outside on the beat, at the station or attending court.
  • Officers within the Police Service of Northern Ireland are routinely armed.
  • The work environment can be physically demanding, potentially dangerous and at times harrowing. The work is pressurised, with officers facing continual calls on their time and resources. However, it can also be an extremely rewarding role, working with communities and keeping the public safe.
  • Work conditions may be influenced by regional factors such as local terrain and culture, and the size of the force.
  • On appointment, police officers become members of the Police Federation of England & Wales, the Scottish Police Federation (SPF) or the Police Federation for Northern Ireland, which act in matters of police welfare and pay and provide a range of ancillary benefits.

Qualifications

You don't need a degree to become a police officer and the role is open to graduates and non-graduates. There are three new routes available to become a police officer, depending on your qualifications and experience. These are:

  • Police Constable Degree Apprenticeship (PCDA) - available in England and Wales. This route usually takes three years to complete and provides the opportunity to both learn and earn while working. You'll typically need a level 3 qualification (A-level or equivalent) or equivalent work experience as a special constable, for example.
  • Degree holder entry - graduates with a degree in any subject can apply for a two-year work-based training programme, paid for by the force you work for, that includes off-the-job learning. Successful completion of the programme leads to a graduate diploma in professional policing practices.
  • Pre-joining degree - a self-funded, three-year academic degree in professional policing undertaken at a university or college before you join the police. Completion of the degree doesn't guarantee you a job and you'll need to apply for a job as a probationary police constable within five years of graduation. Check with course providers for entry requirements.

For information on these routes, see the College of Policing.

The original route into the police service, direct entry via the Initial Police Learning Development Programme (IPLDP), is still currently available but is gradually being replaced by these three routes.

Recruitment and selection procedures are managed by police forces at a local level (using a nationally-agreed, competency-based framework). Different routes are offered at different times, so you'll need to check with the force you're interested in to see which routes are available.

The recruitment process varies for the different routes but will include the following:

  • submission of an online application form
  • a selection assessment day and interview
  • a medical assessment and fitness test
  • reference and security checks.

Entry is open to British and Commonwealth citizens, EC/EEA nationals and foreign nationals who have no restrictions on their leave to remain in the UK.

There is also a two-year salaried national leadership development programme open to graduates with a 2:2 or above in any subject called Police Now. The aim of the programme is to develop your leadership skills in areas such as negotiation, problem-solving, decision-making and emotional intelligence, whilst working as a neighbourhood police officer.

For details on how to apply to be a police officer Scotland, see Police Scotland. For Northern Ireland, see Careers in the PSNI.

Skills

You need to have:

  • effective communication skills, including tact and diplomacy for dealing with sensitive situations
  • community focus
  • a sense of personal responsibility, integrity and resilience
  • problem-solving skills
  • a confident and calm manner
  • good literacy skills in order to accurately record details and write reports
  • respect for diversity
  • teamwork skills and the ability to work independently
  • professionalism, honesty and trustworthiness
  • sound judgement and a proper respect for confidentiality
  • ability to act with resolve, tolerance and restraint.

You'll also need physical fitness in order to pass the job-related fitness test and medical assessment.

Work experience

Pre-entry experience is not essential, although it's useful to have some experience of working with individuals or groups in the community, such as sports coaching or working with local youth groups.

You could volunteer with organisations such as the Volunteer Police Cadets in order to gain valuable relevant experience. There are also opportunities to volunteer as a police community support officer (PCSO), working with the police and sharing some of their powers.

Other options including volunteering as a special constable, often referred to as a Special. Special constables are volunteer police officers who, after full training, have the same powers as a regular police constable.

When applying, it's important to be able to explain your reasons for choosing a career in the police force, and provide details of any contacts made within the service. You should be able to demonstrate knowledge of the local force, the area which it covers, its senior officers and its structure and key challenges. For more information, see College of Policing - Special constables.

Employers

There are currently 45 police forces in the UK:

Other areas of employment include specialist forces, such as the:

Look for job vacancies at:

Vacancies are also advertised on the websites of individual services.

Recruitment agencies advertise roles for police officers who want to transfer services and for retired officers. See:

People with minor convictions and/or cautions are not automatically precluded from entry to the police service, although certain offences and conditions will make you ineligible, so check with your local force. Details of spent convictions, as defined by the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974, must be disclosed.

Professional development

All new police officers need to complete probationary training. Probation lasts two years for those on the degree-holder and pre-joining degree routes, and three for those who join via the degree apprenticeship route, in line with completing your degree.

The training you receive varies depending on your chosen route but will include classroom learning, role plays and practical sessions. Once out on patrol, you will receive mentoring from an experience tutor constable to help develop your practical skills. Throughout your probationary period you will return to the classroom to learn more skills and undertake coursework and assignments.

Graduates on the two-year Police Now programme attend an intensive six-week summer academy, before completing a week of in-force training. This is followed by an 8-12 week immersion period, where you'll be partnered with a police constable who will act as your mentor. You'll have placements in some of the most challenging communities, allowing you develop techniques and ideas for tackling a range of issues.

For information on the probation period in Scotland, see the Scottish Police College. For Northern Ireland, see the Northern Ireland Police College.

Police officers are required to undertake ongoing training throughout their careers, and emphasis is placed on regular supervision, guidance and support.

Career prospects

Following successful completion of the probationary period, there are a variety of career opportunities available to police officers. The police force has a clearly defined rank structure for officers and there are opportunities to progress into more senior roles:

  • police constable
  • sergeant
  • inspector
  • chief inspector
  • superintendent
  • chief superintendent
  • assistant chief constable
  • deputy chief constable
  • chief constable.

In order to progress up the ranks to the role of sergeant or inspector, you'll need to show competency at your current level and then sit and pass examinations before applying for a job at the next rank up. For more information, see the national police promotion framework.

The Fast Track Programme for serving police constables supports talented police officers to rise through the ranks to the most senior roles more quickly. To be eligible you should be looking to rise to the rank of inspector within two years and have the ambition and skills to make it to at least superintendent level.

If you've completed the Police Now programme, you can continue as a neighbourhood police officer, apply to join the Fast Track programme or leave policing and work in a different sector.

You can also apply to work in specialist units such as:

  • child protection
  • cyber crime
  • criminal investigation department (CID)
  • dog handlers
  • drugs squad
  • fire arms
  • fraud squad
  • mounted branches
  • traffic
  • underwater search units.

There are limited places available for these types of work so competition is strong. You may want to request a secondment before applying to get some experience and decide whether the work suits you.

Find out how Dylan became a police constable at BBC Bitesize.

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