Police officers work in partnership with the communities they 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. They use a wide range of technology to protect individuals, identify the perpetrators of crime and ensure successful prosecutions against those who break the law.
Key priorities for the 45 police forces in the UK include maintaining public order through combating organised crime, countering the threat of terrorism, and 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.
The work of a police officer is both challenging and diverse. A variety of specialist roles are available to constables who have completed their probationary period and their Diploma in Police Service Leadership and Management (Scotland), their Higher Education Certificate in Policing (Northern Ireland), or their Diploma in Policing (England and Wales).
On entry, and during initial training, activities are likely to include:
- working in partnership with communities, liaising with community groups and individuals;
- providing a visible presence to deter crime and reassure the community;
- conducting patrol duties on foot, by car and bicycle;
- developing community knowledge to identify individuals and locations at risk of being involved in crime;
- responding to calls and requests from the public to assist at incidents;
- keeping the peace at public meetings, social events, processions, trade disputes or strikes;
- diffusing potentially volatile situations with due regard for the safety of all involved;
- acting with sensitivity when dealing with situations such as delivering news of a sudden death to a family or when dealing with sexual crimes;
- conducting initial investigations, gathering evidence, taking statements and complying with relevant legal requirements;
- interviewing suspects, victims and witnesses in accordance with relevant legislation;
- conducting arrests with due regard for the human rights, security and health and safety of detained individuals, members of the public, colleagues and self;
- preparing crime reports and presenting 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 (PPS);
- attending and giving evidence in court and at other hearings;
- completing administrative procedures;
- submitting internal crime reports and criminal intelligence reports;
- investigating and taking action on information received from members of the public;
- gathering, recording and analysing intelligence to achieve community safety and crime reduction objectives and providing crime prevention advice;
- taking direction on specific duties from senior colleagues;
- attending road-related incidents including collision scenes, vehicle check points and traffic offences;
- enforcing road traffic legislation and issuing fixed penalties for relevant offences;
- dealing with lost or found property.
- Salaries vary between forces but the typical starting salary for police constables in England, Wales and Northern Ireland is £23,317 and £25,962 after initial training. In Scotland it's slightly higher, starting at £23,493 and rising to £26,223 after completing the initial training period.
- The range of typical salaries after several years' experience is £36,519 to £41,040 for sergeant; £46,788 to £50,751 for inspector; and £51,789 to £53,919 for chief inspector.
- London weighting up to around £6,500 and additional competency-related threshold payments are available for all ranks.
Income figures are intended as a guide only.
- Depending on location, benefits can include free London travel, flexible working and key worker living benefits.
- Minimum 23 days' annual leave plus fully paid sick leave.
- A police pension scheme is automatically provided but individuals may choose to make independent pension provision.
A working week is 37-40 hours, with an average of two rest days. Police officers provide a 24-hour public service and so unsocial hours, shift work and emergency call-outs are a regular feature of the job. 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.
- The environment can be physically demanding, potentially dangerous and at times deeply harrowing.
- Officers within the Police Service of Northern Ireland are routinely armed.
- The work is pressurised, with officers facing continual calls on their time and resources.
- Work conditions may be influenced by regional factors such as local terrain and culture, and the size of the force.
- The police service is keen to reflect the diversity of the communities it serves and welcomes job applications from women, ethnic minority groups and the LGBT community.
- Job opportunities exist throughout the UK and transfers between forces are possible depending on the availability of positions and the suitability of the officer concerned.
- Police officers are expected to adhere to a dress code and a uniform and equipment are provided.
- 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.
- Police officers are not permitted to join a trade union.
- Police constables and sergeants usually retire after 35 years of service or on reaching the age of 60. Various compulsory retirement ages apply for higher ranks (65 for those above chief inspector).
- Police officers are governed by a code of conduct both on and off duty.
- Travel away from home is rare but being away from home overnight may be common because of shift work.
There are no formal educational requirements for entry to the police service. The profession is open to graduates, those with an HND qualification and non-graduates alike. Recruitment and selection procedures are managed by police forces at a local level, although a nationally agreed competency-based framework is applied.
Entry is open to British and Commonwealth citizens, EC/EEA citizens and foreign nationals who have no restrictions on their leave to remain in the UK.
You will need to have:
- effective communication skills, including tact and diplomacy;
- 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;
- respect for diversity;
- teamworking 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.
Pre-entry experience is not essential, although it is advantageous to have some experience of working with individuals or groups in the community, such as sports coaching or working with local youth groups.
Other useful experience might be as a volunteer, such as in the Metropolitan Police's Volunteer Police Cadets. You can also volunteer to be a police community support officer (PCSO) or a special constable (or 'Special').
Specials are volunteers who receive expenses and, after full training, have the same powers as a regular police constable. They are generally used to ensure public safety at major events or in combating city centre crime and disorder. Positions are available throughout the UK.
When applying, it is 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, its structure and key challenges.
There are currently 43 police forces in England and Wales. Northern Ireland and Scotland have single police forces:
Chief constables report to local police authorities (known as the Policing Board (NIPB) in Northern Ireland), which are independent statutory bodies identifying the strategic direction of police services.
Roles also arise within the College of Policing, the professional body for policing, which has objectives including setting standards of professional practice and accrediting training and development programmes for future generations of police staff.
In Scotland, the Forensic Science Services is provided by the Scottish Police Authority. In Northern Ireland, Forensic Science Northern Ireland (FSNI) is a government executive agency within the Department of Justice. The government-owned Forensic Science Service (FSS) has now been closed due to financial difficulties and will be replaced in England and Wales by various private-sector contractors and police laboratories.
Look for job vacancies on individual police force websites and in national, regional and local press.
Recruitment agencies advertise roles for police officers who want to transfer services and for retired officers. See:
Applying for jobs
Prospective entrants complete the initial application form, which is assessed and scored against entrance criteria. Candidates are asked to provide personal details, including the names of family members and associates, details of participation in youth organisations and groups, interests, sports and special skills they may have for the position.
If this application is positive, the next stage is an assessment centre comprising a series of tests and an interview. Successful applicants are then required to complete a medical history questionnaire and pass job-related fitness and medical tests. Appointments are then made, subject to references and security clearance.
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.
In Northern Ireland, potential officers follow an application form with the initial selection test (IST). Before being offered a training position, they are required to attend an assessment centre and undergo a medical examination, during which the police vetting process begins.
In Scotland, candidates follow the application form with a Standard Entrance Test (SET), which measures literacy, numeracy and information handling skills, and an initial fitness assessment. This is followed by an initial interview with recruitment sergeants, vetting procedures and a final in-depth interview before undertaking a full medical and a final fitness test.
More information on recruitment is available from:
All probationary police constables in England and Wales undertake an extensive and professional training programme known as the Initial Police Learning and Development Programme (IPLDP), leading to the Level 3 Diploma in Policing (QCF), during their first two years of service.
Individual forces are responsible for the local implementation and delivery of the IPLDP and the emphasis is on local community involvement and a flexible timetable.
The IPLDP is divided into four training phases, which cover the completion of the diploma. The precise name and length of each phase varies slightly between forces, but the IPLDP curriculum is generally divided as follows:
- Phase 1: induction - general introduction to the organisation with training in first aid, health and safety, officer safety, ICT, race and diversity, human rights and community safety strategy.
- Phase 2: community - training in crime and disorder reduction and a community placement.
- Phase 3: supervised patrol - workplace practice supported by class-based learning, dealing with simulated incidents and work-based learning under supervised patrol.
- Phase 4: independent patrol - combines operational duties with independent and distance learning.
Continuing professional development (CPD) and ongoing training are important. Annual performance and development reviews (PDRs) assess and monitor the progress of police officers to ensure that their professional skills are kept up to date and they are abreast of the demands of a constantly changing work environment.
In Scotland, the Probationer Training Programme lasts for 104 weeks. During the first 64 weeks, probationers are assessed both in the operational environment and academically at the Police Scotland College. The remaining time is served in force under continued supervision, followed by a Diploma in Police Service Leadership and Management, which takes a further 18 months.
In Northern Ireland, all new recruits must successfully complete around 25 hours of e-learning in the 4 weeks before starting at the Training College. The initial 22-week Student Officer Training Programme (SOTP), based at Police College, Garnerville, leads to a 2-year probation period, including 10 weeks with a tutor constable, 3 weeks' driver training, training in public order and the use of firearms, and continual assessment including physical competency tests.
A small number of talented graduates on the High Potential Graduate Entry Scheme (HPGES) can secure their place on the High Potential Development Scheme (HPDS) before starting with their force.
Police officers are required to undertake ongoing training, and emphasis is placed on regular supervision, guidance and support. All police constables must complete a two-year probationary period, after which there are a wide variety of career opportunities available.
The police force has a clearly defined rank structure for officers:
- police constable;
- chief inspector;
- chief superintendent;
- assistant chief constable;
- deputy chief constable;
- chief constable.
After successful completion of the probationary period, constables are eligible to apply to work in specialist units such as the criminal investigation department (CID), fraud squad, drugs squad, fire arms, child protection, traffic, mounted branches, dog handlers, and underwater search units.
In England, officers can take qualifying examinations for promotion to sergeant and similar examinations - OSPRE (Objective Structured Performance-Related Examination) - for progression from sergeant to inspector. There are no qualifying examinations to ranks above inspector and promotion is by selection only. In Scotland, promotion is by application and assessment centre for the ranks of sergeant and inspector.
The Police High Potential Development Scheme (HPDS) in England, Wales and Northern Ireland and the Accelerated Careers Development Programme (ACDP) in Scotland are designed to identify and develop the future leaders of the police service. Training and support are available to help individuals to move through the ranks into senior positions within the force. Promotion is not automatic and depends on the individual's own efforts.
Candidates applying for these schemes must demonstrate a real commitment to operational policing as well as having the ability to assimilate knowledge, provide leadership and make effective decisions. Candidates must be accepted as constables through the usual route and complete both probation and post-probation qualifications before being promoted to sergeant.
Application to the HPDS may be made concurrently with the standard application although many complete their initial probation period before applying. The ACDP scheme is open to those already in-service. Entry to the scheme is by application form, a written exercise and a situational judgement test. There then follows an assessment centre with individual and group exercises, an in-depth interview and a ten-minute presentation by the candidate. An in-depth knowledge of policing is not required because the process tests for leadership potential, not knowledge.
The assessment process is intended to test for potential in:
- responding to challenges;
- management skills;
- managing budgets;
- working in uncertain environments.
After successfully completing the scheme, it is possible to attain the rank of chief inspector within seven years. It is possible for constables to attain higher ranks without being on the scheme but it does provide wide-ranging training on operational and strategic policing, which allows you to progress even higher in the command structure. You'd also have the opportunity to study for a Masters in police leadership.
Search for postgraduate courses in police leadership.