There are a number of routes you can take to join the police, with pathways available for graduates and non-graduates. Find out whether you are eligible, how to apply and where your career might lead…
Police officers work in partnership with the communities they serve to maintain law and order, protect members of the public and property, and detect, prevent and investigate crimes. It is a challenging career that demands a high level of personal integrity and responsibility.
The UK has 45 geographical police forces, including 43 in England and Wales (Greater Manchester Police, Suffolk Constabulary, Gwent Police, etc.) plus Police Scotland and the Police Service of Northern Ireland.
In addition there are three special police forces:
- British Transport Police - responsible for policing the railway network
- Civil Nuclear Constabulary - protects civilian nuclear facilities
- Ministry of Defence Police - security for the UK's defence assets.
A full list of the UK's police forces is available on POLICE.UK.
For more information about what the role involves, working conditions and opportunities for career development, see the police officer job profile.
Apply to be a police officer
The traditional route into policing is to apply directly to one of the country's police forces. Before applying, check that you meet the minimum eligibility requirements. These vary between police forces, but in general you should:
- be aged 18 or over
- be a British citizen, a citizen of an EU/EEA country or Switzerland, or a foreign national with indefinite leave to remain in the UK without restrictions
- have lived in the UK for the last three years (although there are exemptions if you have served abroad with the British armed forces)
- possess a qualification equivalent to A-level or have been a special constable who has been signed off for independent patrol service in the last two years or have served as a police community support officer (PCSO) for 18 months.
You may not be accepted if you have certain criminal convictions, debt problems, or tattoos that could be deemed offensive. Members of political groups such as the British National Party (BNP), Combat 18 or the National Front cannot apply. A valid driving licence is often essential, and you will also have to pass medical, eyesight and fitness tests.
You can't apply if you have made an unsuccessful application to a police force in the last six months.
Some forces, including the Metropolitan Police, require that you pass the Certificate in Knowledge of Policing (CKP) pre-joining qualification. This course can be studied by distance learning or through an approved provider, and costs between £750 and £1,000. Find out more at the College of Policing.
Visit the recruitment website of the police force you're interested in joining to confirm their full requirements and whether you are eligible.
The application process involves several stages:
- completing a police application form
- attending an assessment centre
- attending an interview
- undergoing medical and fitness tests
- passing background/security checks.
The individual police force you are applying to will be able to provide more details about their recruitment process.
If your application is successful you will have to complete a two-year probationary period known as the Initial Police Learning and Development Programme (IPLDP) before being confirmed at the rank of constable. This training period contributes towards passing your Diploma in Policing.
From there you can begin to make progress through the defined rank structure for police officers (sergeant, inspector, chief inspector, etc.). Accelerated or fast-track promotion schemes may be available. It is also possible to apply to work in a specialist unit such as the criminal investigation department (CID), drugs squad, traffic police or dog handling.
Changes to entry after 2020
The College of Policing has announced that beyond 2020, you will need a degree to become a police officer in England and Wales. It says this change is necessary because policing is now more complex than it was and officers must be accredited to the appropriate standard.
There will be three entry routes, including:
- a three-year police constable degree apprenticeship paid for by the force
- a specific policing degree
- a six-month postgraduate conversion course paid for by the force.
Police officers who go on to apply to be an assistant chief constable or above will need to have a Masters degree (this will also be paid for by the force).
Police Now graduate scheme
An independent charity currently working with 19 of the UK's forces, Police Now operates a graduate scheme in which exceptional candidates spend two years working as a police officer in a challenging or deprived community following a short, intensive training period.
To be eligible you must:
- be between the ages of 18 and 57
- have lived in the UK for the last three years
- have indefinite leave to remain and work in the UK
- be predicted or already achieved a 2:1 degree or equivalent
- have a GCSE in English at grade C or above.
There are six stages to the application process, including: an application form and situational judgement test; online numerical and verbal tests; video interview; assessment centre; vetting, medical and fitness; references.
Successful applicants attend a two-day induction event in spring, at which you will be set some work to complete before the next stage. Your employment will then begin with a six-week Summer Academy training course, delivered by frontline police officers and assessed through written and practical tests. You'll be paid the same as a regular new constable - the basic starting salary is £22,896, although some forces have an additional location allowance.
Following a 28-day immersion period with a one-to-one mentor within your allocated police force, you will be handed responsibility for a local area with up to 20,000 residents. Over the course of the two-year programme, six '100 Day Impact Events' are held at which Police Now officers are expected to demonstrate the impact they have had on their community through submitted work and presentations.
At the end of the scheme, you are not guaranteed promotion. However, you will be well placed to continue as a neighbourhood officer, seek career progression within the force or leave the police to work in another sector having developed a wide range of transferable skills.
Police community support officer (PCSO)
Although they do not have the same powers as police officers, PCSOs play a key role on the frontline of neighbourhood policing. According to the College of Policing, the job involves:
- dealing with minor offences
- offering early intervention
- providing support to police officers
- conducting house-to-house enquiries
- guarding crime scenes
- providing crime prevention advice.
Starting salaries are typically between £18,000 and £20,000. This is a uniformed role and you will work shifts including evenings, weekends and bank holidays.
Apply for PCSO positions directly through the police force that you want to join. You do not generally need any formal qualifications, but you'll need to meet the basic eligibility requirements set by individual police forces. Check their websites for details.
The application process typically involves an application form, online tests, an interview and assessment centre. You will also have to demonstrate your fitness and pass a medical test. Successful applicants will then undergo a training programme lasting between three weeks and three months.
You may later decide to apply to become a police officer, or continue as a PCSO.
Often known simply as 'specials', special constables are volunteer police officers with the same powers as regular police officers. They are typically on duty for around four hours a week, taking part in frontline police work.
Apply through your local police force, which will also be able to provide detailed eligibility criteria. In general you must be:
- of good character
- at least 18 years old
- in good health.
You will usually have to complete an application form, assessment centre (including written tests and an interview), fitness test, background enquiries and a medical assessment. If you are successful you will undergo a period of training.
While unpaid, working as a special constable is an opportunity to find out whether you enjoy police work. You can later decide to apply to become a police officer.
If you want to contribute to the work of the police, but not on the frontline, there are many support roles available. For example, police forces require call handlers, front counter personnel, analysts and librarians. Search the vacancies section of your local police force's website to see what's available.
If you are aged between 13 and 18 you can volunteer as a police cadet to get a taste of what it's like to be a police officer.
A number of courses are available for those who wish to pursue academic study in fields such as leadership, strategy and transnational policing. This is not necessary in order to get a job but could prove useful when you seek promotions or career development. Search for postgraduate courses in policing.
Find out more
- Learn more about assessment centres.
- Brush up on your interview technique.
- Get tips on succeeding in a video interview.