With the traditional entry route to becoming a police officer being phased out, you'll typically join the police through a degree, diploma, apprenticeship or graduate programme
Careers within the police
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's a challenging career that demands a high level of personal integrity and responsibility.
The UK has 45 geographical police forces comprising 43 in England and Wales - for example, Greater Manchester Police (GMP), Suffolk Constabulary, Gwent Police - plus Police Scotland and the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI).
In addition, there are four special police forces:
- British Transport Police (BTP) - responsible for policing the railway network. Read more about working in the transport sector at road and railway careers.
- Civil Nuclear Constabulary (CNC) - protects civilian nuclear facilities.
- Ministry of Defence Police (MDP) - security for the UK's defence assets.
- National Police Air Service (NPAS) - air support for the police forces of England and Wales.
How to become a police officer in the UK
The traditional route into policing was to apply directly to one of the country's police forces, follow the Initial Police Learning and Development Programme (IPLDP) by completing a two-year probation period before becoming a police constable. This training contributed towards passing your Diploma in Policing.
While the IPLDP is being phased out (from April 2023), some forces still allow entry to the programme, with this path open to both graduates and non-graduates alike.
However, to ensure consistent standards across the UK's forces, the College of Policing has worked with chief constables to create a new system of entry according to the policing education qualifications framework (PEQF) that reflects modern policing techniques and the use of digital data in investigations.
Four police officer qualification routes are now available:
- Police Constable Degree Apprenticeship (PCDA) - You can choose to undertake a three-year Level 6 degree apprenticeship, which involves both on and off-the-job training. As with other apprenticeships, you'll earn while you learn and upon successful completion of the programme, you'll have finished your probation as a police constable and will have achieved the BSc Professional Policing Practice.
- Degree Holder Entry Programme (DHEP) - For those who've studied an undergraduate degree in any subject, you can follow this work-based programme, which is supported by off-the-job learning. It typically takes two years to complete the probation and leads to a Graduate Diploma in Professional Policing Practice.
- Detective DHEP - Similar to the above, but it is more intense with a focus on investigative work. In addition to the graduate diploma, you'll also need to complete the National Investigators Examination and meet PIP2 assessment criteria to become a Professionalising Investigation Programme Level 2 (PIP2) accredited detective.
- Professional Policing Degree Holder - If you haven't already been to university, you can embark on a three-year BSc Professional Policing programme before applying to a force and following a shorter period of on-the-job training. By pursuing this route, you'll need to be prepared to fund the degree yourself.
Whichever of these four options you choose, you'll hold a degree-level qualification in professional policing by the time you've completed your probationary period.
Applying to join the police
You'll first need to 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 European Union (EU) citizen with settled status, 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, such as if you've served abroad with the British armed forces)
- possess a qualification equivalent to A-level, 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 certain extreme political groups are not allowed to apply. A valid driving licence is often essential, and you'll also have to pass medical, eyesight and fitness tests.
You can't apply if you've made an unsuccessful application to a police force in the last six months.
Visit the recruitment website of the police force you're interested in joining to confirm their full requirements and determine whether you're 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
- any additional assessment stages, such as a second interview.
The police force you're applying to will be able to provide more details about their recruitment process.
For more information, visit the government's Joining the Police website.
Police Now graduate schemes
Police Now is an independent charity with a mission to transform communities by recruiting, developing and inspiring diverse leaders in policing.
The organisation works in partnership with police forces to attract, recruit and train outstanding graduates with leadership potential to be inspirational detectives and police officers through their award-winning national graduate programmes.
Equipping participants with core policing skills, Police Now's two-year national graduate programmes help to develop leadership, communication and problem-solving skills that will serve graduates, and the wider community, for a lifetime.
The two graduate programmes are:
- National Graduate Leadership Programme - trains and develops graduates to become leaders in neighbourhood policing. Participants are placed in some of the most challenging communities in England and Wales, getting to know the issues up close and developing innovative ideas and techniques to tackle the challenges residents are facing.
- National Detective Programme - designed to equip graduates with the core policing skills required in modern investigative work. Throughout the programme, participants play an important part in solving crimes while developing leadership, communication, and problem-solving skills.
Both programmes involve the completion of a Graduate Diploma in Professional Policing Practice with Liverpool John Moores University (LJMU).
To be eligible for Police Now's national graduate programmes, you must:
- be over 18 years old at the time of your application
- be a British citizen or have lived in the UK for the last three years
- have indefinite leave to remain and work in the UK
- have achieved a minimum 2:1 degree or equivalent
- hold a Level 3 qualification (equivalent to A-level) in any subject
- be new to policing
- meet other financial, political, business, health and fitness requirements.
Both of Police Now's graduate programmes have a four-step recruitment process:
- Application - Police Now expects the application form to take no longer than 30 minutes to complete on average. Following a successful screening review, you'll be invited to undertake an online assessment.
- Online assessment - First, you'll take part in a week-in-the-life immersive assessment, where you'll experience several realistic scenarios you would encounter in the day-to-day job as a detective or neighbourhood police officer. Then you'll be asked to complete a personality questionnaire. This is designed to gain an understanding of your behavioural preferences, how you approach tasks and interact with others.
- Assessment centre - If you're successful in the online assessment, you'll then be invited to book a date and time slot at Police Now's assessment centre.
- Onboarding - If you get through the assessment centre stage, you'll be offered a position by your recruitment officer. They will support you through your pre-employment checks.
Police officers receive a basic starting salary of £26,682 to £33,717, depending on location. The basic salary of a police constable will rise each year in line with Home Office guidelines.
Find out more about Police Now.
Police community support officer (PCSO)
Although they don't have the same powers as a police officer, 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 generally from £19,000 per year, although North Yorkshire Police states that their trainees currently earn £21,135, which rises to £23,406 with experience. At Thames Valley Police you'll earn £28,203 to £29,731 and be able to achieve a Level 4 Diploma in Community Policing Practice.
This is a uniformed role, and you'll work shifts including evenings, weekends and bank holidays.
Apply for PCSO positions directly through the police force that you want to join. You don't generally require 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'll 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 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'll 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're successful, you'll 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.
Explore the role further at College of Policing - Special constable.
Other jobs within the police
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.
For those aged between 13 and 18, you can also volunteer as a police cadet to get a taste of what it's like to be a police officer. Discover how to become a Volunteer Police Cadet (VPC).
Postgraduate courses in policing
Masters-level courses are available for those who wish to pursue academic study in fields such as leadership, strategy and transnational policing.
For instance, you could study the MSc Police Leadership, Strategy and Organisation at the University of Derby, the MSc Policing, Policy and Leadership at the University of Portsmouth or the MSc Leadership of Policing from Staffordshire University.
This isn't necessary to get a job but could prove useful in terms of your career development working in the areas of policing or security.
Find out more
- Explore the roles of a police officer or detective.
- Get tips on succeeding in a video interview.
- See a full list of the UK's police forces at POLICE.UK.