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 police's mission is to make communities safer by:

  • upholding the law and keeping the peace
  • preventing crime and antisocial behaviour
  • protecting and reassuring communities
  • investigating crime and bringing offenders to justice.

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.


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.


  • The starting salary for police constables in England, Wales and Northern Ireland is £28,551, rising to £46,044 at the top of the scale - achievable after seven years. The two major London-based forces, the City of London Police and the Metropolitan Police, also offer a London allowance of up to £8,224 a year on top of the base salary.
  • In Scotland starting salaries are slightly higher at £30,039, rising to £46,713 after 10 years' service.
  • The range of salaries for sergeants is £49,077 to £51,498.
  • Inspectors can earn between £58,422 (£60,819 in London) and £63,198 (£65,688 in London), rising to between £64,449 (£66,936 in London) and £67,017 for chief inspectors (£69,498 in London).

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

A range of employee benefits are available, and depending on the force you join these can include:

  • a minimum of 22 days' annual leave and fully paid sick leave
  • police pension - officers are automatically enrolled onto the police pension scheme
  • free or discounted gym membership
  • free travel
  • paid leave - such as maternity/paternity leave
  • bicycle loan
  • eligibility for a Blue Light card discount scheme.

Working hours

Full-time police officers complete an average of 40 duty hours per week, in shifts of between 8 and 10 hours in a rotating pattern. As they provide a 24-hour public service, the typical pattern of a response team might be six nine-hour shifts, with six days on and four days off (consisting of two earlies, two lates and two nights).

Emergency call-outs are a regular feature of the job. Overtime might also 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.


You don't need a degree to become a police officer and the role is open to graduates and non-graduates. There are four available routes to becoming 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 and studying for a degree in Professional Policing Practice. You'll typically need a level 3 qualification (two A-levels or equivalent) or equivalent work experience such as a special constable, for example.
  • Degree holder entry (DHEP) - 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 Level 6 Post-Graduate Diploma in Professional Policing Practice.
  • 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 police constable within five years of graduation. Check with course providers for entry requirements.
  • Police Constable Entry Programme (PCEP) - this is a new entry programme, introduced in April 2024. It does not require you to study for a qualification and normally takes two years, after which, if you successfully complete probation, you become a PC. You’ll typically need a level 3 qualification (two A-levels or equivalent) or equivalent work experience such as a special constable.

Some forces offer a detective version of an entry pathway. This offers the same training as for a constable but with additional aspects focusing on detective skills. Speak to your chosen force for further details. For information on these routes, see the College of Policing.

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, and also by force, but will include the following:

  • submission of an online application form
  • completion or either the national or the in-force sifting process
  • completion of the three exercises in the online assessment process - a competency-based interview, a written exercise and a briefing exercise
  • a selection assessment day and interview
  • a medical assessment and fitness test
  • reference and security checks.

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.

If you have a tattoo, you'll also have to disclose this and ensure it meets with the force's tattoo policy. In general, you cannot join with tattoos that are on the sides and front of your neck, above the collar line or on your face. The nature of the design is also a factor with anything that could be considered discriminatory, offensive, violent, lewd or political being heavily scrutinised by a senior member of staff.

Entry is open to British and Commonwealth citizens and foreign nationals who have no restrictions on their right to live and work in the UK. Some forces will also require you to have lived continuously in the UK for the past three years.

In addition to direct entry to forces, there is also a two-year salaried leadership development programme open to graduates with a 2:2 or above in any subject called Police Now. They have partnered with 36 police forces over the last ten years and offer the National Graduate Leadership Programme and the National Detective Programme. Their aim is to train graduates with the right potential to be leaders in society and on the policing frontline.

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


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 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 can help in a variety of ways. Working as a police community support officer or volunteering as a special constable can give you excellent frontline experience, as specials have the same powers of arrest as a regular police constable. It can strengthen your applications and show a real commitment to a policing career. It can be particularly useful if you intend to apply through either the PCEP or PCDA routes mentioned above if you don’t have Level 3 academic qualifications.

To gain a position as a PCSO or a Special, you would apply directly to your chosen force in a similar way that you would for a Police Constable role. There are also other ways to voluntarily support the work of the police through working as a Police Support Volunteer. Their work can include administrative work, criminal investigation support, updating victims and witnesses and CCTV monitoring.

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 - Volunteering.

You could also volunteer with organisations such as the Volunteer Police Cadets as either a cadet or leader to gain valuable relevant experience. It could also be useful to have some experience of working with individuals or groups in the community, such as sports coaching or working with local youth groups.

Find out more about the different kinds of work experience and internships that are available.


There are currently 45 regional 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 forces.

Third-party sites advertise roles and provide information for police staff and officers who want to transfer services and for retired officers. See:

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 years for those who join via the degree apprenticeship route, in line with completing your degree. For information on the probation period in Scotland, see the Scottish Police College. For Northern Ireland, see the Northern Ireland Police College.

Training varies depending on your chosen route but will include classroom learning, role plays and practical sessions. Once out on patrol, you'll receive mentoring from an experienced tutor constable to help develop your practical skills. You'll also return to the classroom throughout your probationary period, to learn more skills and undertake coursework and assignments.

Graduates accepted onto the Police Now programme follow two different paths. Those on the National Graduate Leadership Programme take part in a seven-week training period at the Police Now Academy, followed by an in-force training week with your partnered force. You'll then complete an 8 to 12-week immersion period and be allocated a mentor. Following this, you'll be allocated a performance and development coach who will support you with your continued training and development throughout the two-year programme.

Those on the National Detective Programme will complete 80-100 hours of online learning before entering the academy for 13 weeks, eight of which are fully residential. You'll then complete up to two weeks of in-force training, followed by an immersion period on a police response team. Throughout the two-year programme, you'll be assigned a performance and development coach as you (typically) complete three postings of between five and nine months which take place in the criminal investigations department (CID), safeguarding and pro-active teams.

After completing the two-year programme, you'll have the opportunity to develop your career within the same role, to apply for promotion to the position of Sergeant or Inspector or to undertake the Frontline Leadership Programme that is available in many forces.

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

Career prospects

A variety of career opportunities are available to police officers, following successful completion of the probationary period. 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/commissioner.

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, and apply to join the Fast Track programme or Frontline Leadership Programme to become a sergeant and community leader.

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
  • marine policing unit
  • youth engagement and diversion.

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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