If you would like a challenging but rewarding career assisting and protecting your community, working in the police force may appeal to you

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:

  • work alongside communities, liaising with community groups and individuals
  • 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
  • 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 (PPS)
  • 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 £19,971 and £23,124, rising to £38,382 at the top of the scale - achievable after about seven years. In Scotland starting salaries are slightly higher at £24,204, rising to £38,001 after about ten years' service.
  • The range of typical salaries with several years' experience is £39,693 to £43,134 for sergeants, £49,176 to £53,340 for inspectors and £54,432 to £56,670 for chief inspectors.
  • Police officers in London, and the south of England, receive additional pay allowances. This can be up to £6,735 per annum in London.

Income figures are intended as a guide only.

Employee benefits

  • Depending on your location, you could benefit from free London travel, flexible working and key-worker living benefits.
  • A minimum of 23 days' annual leave, plus fully-paid sick leave.
  • Police officers can become a member of the defined pension scheme, and benefit from employer contributions of 21.3% of their pay towards their pensions on top of their own contributions.

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 and 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.
  • 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

There are no formal educational requirements for entry to the police service. The profession is currently open to graduates, those with an HND qualification and non-graduates alike.

Recruitment and selection procedures are managed (using a nationally-agreed, competency-based framework) by police forces at a local level. The recruitment process will normally include the following steps:

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

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.

Most of the training is done on the job, although you may find undertaking postgraduate study helpful for gaining promotion.

Search postgraduate courses in policing.

Skills

You will 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.

Work experience

Pre-entry experience is not essential, although it's advantageous 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 also volunteer to gain valuable experience, such as with the Volunteer Police Cadets. The Metropolitan Police has its own specific site for London volunteers; see Metropolitan Police Volunteer Police Cadets. You can also volunteer to be a police community support officer (PCSO) or a special constable, often referred to as a 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'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 Police Recruitment - Special constables.

Employers

There are currently 45 police forces in the UK. With 43 in England and Wales and one single force in Scotland (Police Scotland) and Northern Ireland (Police Service of Northern Ireland). In Northern Ireland, 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.

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

Also the highly-competitive area of forensic police work:

  • Scotland - provided by the Scottish Police Authority
  • Northern Ireland - the Forensic Science Northern Ireland (FSNI) is a government executive agency within the Department of Justice.
  • In England and Wales most forensic science work is either outsourced to private-sector contractors, or carried out within police laboratories.

Look for job vacancies at:

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.

Find out more about assessment centres and how to prepare for interviews.

Professional development

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.

In Scotland, the Probationer Training Programme lasts for two years. During the first 11 weeks, probationers attend a course at Police Scotland College – Tulliallan. They are given training in legislation, officer safety, SPELS and physical education. The remaining time is served in force under continued supervision.

In Northern Ireland, all new recruits must successfully complete around 25 hours of e-learning in the four weeks before starting at the training college. The initial 23-week Student Officer Training Programme (SOTP), based at Police College, Garnerville, leads to a two-year probation period, including ten weeks with a tutor constable, three weeks' driver training, training in public order and the use of firearms, and continual assessment including physical competency tests.

Career prospects

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 variety of career opportunities available.

The police force has a clearly defined rank structure for officers:

  • police constable
  • sergeant
  • inspector
  • chief inspector
  • superintendent
  • 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:

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

The police High Potential Development Scheme (HPDS) in England, Wales and Northern Ireland is 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.