There are several ways to join the police, and in 2020 there'll be a major change to the recruitment process, meaning you'll need to have at least a degree-level qualification by the time you complete your probation

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 - that's 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 four 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.
  • National Police Air Service - air support for English and Welsh police forces.

Apply to become 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 a European Union (EU)/European Economic Area (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 certain extreme political groups are not allowed to apply. A valid driving licence is often essential, and you will also have to pass medical, eyesight and fitness tests.

Some forces require that you pass the Certificate in Knowledge of Policing (CKP) pre-joining qualification. This pathway will remain in place until December 2019.

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 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 police force you're applying to will be able to provide more details about their recruitment process.

As it stands, if your application is successful, you'll 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 contributes towards passing your Diploma in Policing.

From there you can begin to make progress through the defined rank structure for police officer (sergeant, inspector, chief inspector, etc). Accelerated or fast-track promotion schemes may be available in your police force. 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.

For more information about what being a police officer involves, the working conditions, day-to-day responsibilities and opportunities for career development, see the police officer and detective job profiles.

Police apprenticeships, degrees and diplomas

The way police constables are recruited is changing and by January 2020 there will be three entry routes available:

  • Degree apprenticeship - you'll join as a police constable and undertake a three-year apprenticeship in professional policing practice. This gives you the chance to earn while you learn. Successfully completing the programme will also mean passing your probation and achieving a degree-level qualification too. Find out more about degree apprenticeships.
  • Degree-holder entry - if you've already got an undergraduate degree in any subject, this two-year pathway could be for you. As a police constable, you'll combine work-based and classroom learning, leading to a graduate diploma in professional policing practice once you complete your probation.
  • Policing degree - study a three-year undergraduate professional policing degree at university. You'll apply to join a police force when you graduate, and start your career with a shorter on-the-job training programme.

This means that once these changes are put into place, whichever option you choose you'll hold a degree-level qualification in professional policing by the time you've completed your probationary period.

Police Now graduate scheme

An independent charity working in partnership with 30 UK police 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 over 18 years old on the programme start date
  • have lived in the UK for the last three years
  • have indefinite leave to remain and work in the UK
  • be predicted or already have achieved a 2:2 degree or equivalent
  • have any Level 3 qualification (equivalent to A-level).

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, and references.

You'll need to demonstrate why Police Now's mission is important to you and explain why you've chosen this route into policing.

Successful applicants attend a two-day induction event in spring, at which you'll 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. The basic starting salary is £24,177-£30,369, although some forces may have an additional location allowance.

Following a 28-day immersion period with a one-to-one mentor within your allocated police force, you'll 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're not guaranteed promotion. However, you'll be well-placed to continue as a neighbourhood officer, seek career progression within the force, or leave the police to see work in another sector having developed a range of high-level transferable skills. Find out more about Police Now.

Police community support officer (PCSO)

Although they do not have the same powers as 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 typically between £17,500 and £20,000. 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 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'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.

Special constable

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 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.

Other police jobs

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're 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.

Postgraduate study

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

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