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Police officers work to prevent, reduce and investigate crime. Their role is to uphold the law, maintain order and make communities safer.
Their duties might include:
- patrolling on foot or by car
- responding to calls for help from the public
- dealing with traffic accidents, assaults and other emergencies
- arresting suspects
- searching people, premises and vehicles
- interviewing witnesses
- giving court evidence
- keeping records
- helping to control crowds
- working with community groups to resolve local problems.
Officers may patrol alone or with colleagues. They work closely with the other emergency services.
Some officers are assigned to traffic control duties. Some forces have river patrols, underwater search teams and officers who patrol on horseback.
Most officers work shifts, totalling around 40 hours a week. Shifts include early, late and night work, and some weekends and public holidays. Part-time work may be possible.
Though based at police stations, officers spend much of their time on patrol in the community. They may visit almost any location and work outdoors in all types of weather.
Salaries vary between forces, but generally start from around £22,000 for student officers, rising to £34,500 for new sergeants and £60,000 or more for the highest-ranking officers.
Police officers must be:
- good communicators
- alert, observant and accurate
- confident and cool under pressure
- physically and mentally robust
- good at working in a team
- able to observe confidentiality.
Police officers are employed by the 43 regional police forces, as well as non-geographic forces such as the British Transport Police, Ministry of Defence Police and Civil Nuclear Constabulary.
Police officers must be at least 17½ years old. There are no set academic qualifications. Both the Diploma in society, health and development and the Diploma in public services may be relevant.
Applicants must pass a fitness test, eyesight test and medical examination. They then attend an assessment centre to take further tests, including written exercises.
The probationary period is two years. Student officers learn through classroom study and practical experience.
Experienced officers can seek promotion through the police service structure. From constable, the normal progression is to sergeant and then inspector. Constables may also specialise by joining units such as Criminal Investigation Department (CID), which handles more serious crimes.
What is the work like?
Police officers work to reduce crime and disorder and make communities safer.
The role covers:
- responding to incidents and emergencies
- preventing crime
- investigating criminal activity
- bringing perpetrators to justice
- supporting crime victims
- providing reassurance and reducing fear
- maintaining order, safety and security in the community.
Most police officers start as constables. They usually work as part of a team working in a specific neighbourhood.
Their tasks vary depending on the area they serve. They may:
- patrol an area, on foot or by car
- respond to calls for help from the public
- deal with a wide range of incidents, including traffic accidents, fires, domestic disputes, violent incidents and burglaries
- arrest and detain crime suspects
- search people, premises and vehicles
- interview witnesses to crimes
- give evidence in court
- compile case files and keep comprehensive records of their actions
- carry out missing person enquiries
- help to control crowds at major events, such as concerts and political demonstrations
- work with community groups, schools and individuals to offer advice and resolve problems.
Police officers patrol alone or with colleagues. They work closely with other emergency services such as firefighting teams and paramedics.
Officers' work can bring them in contact with people who are distressed or aggressive. They sometimes have to work in difficult situations, such as the aftermath of a car accident. At other times they may need to make quick judgments to protect the safety of others and themselves.
Some officers are assigned to traffic control roles. Some forces have mounted police, river patrols and underwater search teams. British Transport Police officers patrol stations and trains.
The Criminal Investigation Department (CID) of a force investigates more serious crimes. Some officers are part of squads that specialise in specific issues, such as drug crime, serious fraud and child protection.
Hours and environment
Police work is a 24-hour operation. Most officers work shifts, totalling around 40 hours a week. They work a combination of early, late and night shifts, including some weekends and public holidays. Overtime is paid for extra hours worked.
Some forces offer part-time and flexible working, depending on their operational requirements.
Police officers are based at a police station. Much of their work is done in the community, in almost any location including homes and businesses. They are expected to work outdoors in all weather.
Good physical fitness is important, as officers need to be able to move quickly while carrying equipment.
Police officers wear a uniform, including a protective vest.
Salary and other benefits
These figures are only a guide, as actual rates of pay may vary, depending on where people live.
- Earnings for student police officers start from around £22,000 a year.
- After two years' service, constables may earn around £25,000.
- British Transport Police officers earn £22,680 on appointment and £25,962 after training.
- Sergeants start on around £34,500, while officers who reach the rank of superintendent and above earn £60,000 or more.
Pay rates vary between police forces. Officers in some forces receive extra allowances.
Skills and personal qualities
A police officer needs to be:
- a good communicator and listener
- alert and observant
- honest and dependable
- persistent and thorough
- effective under pressure
- able to relate to people of all kinds
- sound in judgment
- physically fit
- mentally resilient
- able to keep accurate records
- comfortable dealing with complex paperwork
- good at working as part of a team
- aware of the need to be tolerant and avoid discrimination
- aware of the confidential nature of police work.
It is important to be:
- interested in people
- committed to upholding the law and promoting safety
- aware of developments in the local community and wider society.
There are more than 140,000 police officers working in England and Wales. They are employed by the 43 regional police forces, as well as non-geographic forces, such as:
- British Transport Police.
- Civil Nuclear Constabulary.
- Ministry of Defence Police (MDP). The profile Ministry of Defence Police (MDP) Officer has further information.
Police forces recruit at different times.
No set academic qualifications are required, though written tests are part of the assessment.
Applicants must be:
- at least 17½ years old (18 for MDP)
- a British, EU or Commonwealth citizen, or a foreign national with indefinite leave to remain in the UK
- in good physical and mental health.
The police encourage applicants from all backgrounds. Those with work experience elsewhere are welcomed.
Experience of public service or working with people is an advantage. Some candidates volunteer as special constables or work as police community support officers before applying to join the regular service.
Relevant qualifications include:
- OCR Level 2 National Award/Certificate in public services
- BTEC Level 2 and 3 qualifications in uniformed public services
- the Diploma in society, health and development or the Diploma in public services
- Higher National Diploma/Certificate (HND/HNC) in public services
- foundation degrees, including in public services, policing and police studies
- degrees, including in police studies, criminology and policing.
As a guide, minimum requirements for entry onto a foundation degree or HND course are normally one A level and three or four GCSEs (A*-C), or equivalent. For a degree course, the minimum requirements are normally two A levels and five GCSEs (A*-C), usually including English and maths, or equivalent.
Candidates first submit an application form. Those who pass this stage are asked to undergo a fitness test, eyesight test and medical examination.
Successful candidates then attend an assessment centre, where they go through:
- an interview
- four interactive exercises, testing their responses in different scenarios
- two written exercises
- a test of numerical and verbal reasoning.
A background and security check and a financial check are also carried out. Applicants who have committed certain criminal offences will be ruled out, though people with minor offences are not necessarily rejected. There are no height restrictions.
All police officers go through a probationary period of two years. They learn through a combination of classroom study and practical experience.
All police forces use the national training system, the Initial Police Learning and Development Programme (IPLDP), which they adapt to local needs.
The training covers areas such as:
- criminal law
- managing crime scenes and suspects
- interviewing techniques
- police paperwork
- first aid
- equality and diversity.
The police service has a clear career structure.
To progress to the rank of sergeant and then inspector, experienced officers need to pass promotion exams. These test them further on their knowledge of police procedures and law. Successful candidates can then be considered when posts arise.
Above inspector rank, officers can advance to chief inspector and superintendent if they prove their skills at competitive promotion boards. At the highest levels, forces are managed by chief constables and their deputies and assistants.
Officers at constable and sergeant ranks can apply to study part time under the High Potential Development Scheme run by the National Policing Improvement Agency (NPIA). Successful candidates can earn a Postgraduate Diploma in Police Leadership and then a Masters qualification.
Some officers gain promotion by transferring to a different force.
Experienced officers who stay at constable rank may specialise by joining units such as counterterrorism or CID.
British Transport Police, Recruitment Department, 7th Floor, The Axis, 10 Holliday Street, Birmingham B1 1TF. 0800 405040. Website: www.btprecruitment.com
Civil Nuclear Constabulary, Culham Science Centre, Abingdon, Oxfordshire OX14 3DB. 01235 466666. Website: www.cnc.police.uk
National Police Recruitment Team. Website: www.policecouldyou.co.uk
National Policing Improvement Agency (NPIA). 0800 496 3322. Website: www.npia.police.uk