Police Officer

The Job and What's Involved

Police officers help to prevent crime and disorder, and uphold the law. Their role is to help keep communities safe, prevent people from committing crimes and bring offenders to justice. The police are often first on the scene when an incident has occurred, providing a trained and reassuring presence.

A uniformed police officer may be involved in:

  • Patrolling towns, cities and rural areas.
  • Dealing with anti-social behaviour or violent incidents.
  • Attending incidents such as burglaries and thefts.
  • Attending and investigating the scenes of traffic incidents and accidents.
  • Investigating crimes, arresting suspects, interviewing them in custody and taking witness statements.
  • Charging offenders, preparing case files and giving evidence in court.
  • Assisting with crowd control and traffic flow for public events such as football matches and demonstrations.
  • Conducting missing person enquiries.
  • Dealing with domestic and neighbour disputes.
  • Liaising with local community groups and schools.

Police officers are assigned to incidents by control room operators, but their role is not simply one of reacting to events. Police officers also spend time forging links with people in the community and gathering important information, which may help prevent crimes from being committed.

They are usually assigned to a geographical area, which they patrol on foot or in a marked police car, either alone or with other police colleagues.

Police officers may have to face the unpleasant aftermath of a serious road accident or an assault. They frequently liaise with emergency workers such as fire officers, paramedics and hospital staff.

Many police officers work in specialist departments such as the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) and road policing, as well as, for example, in drugs, fraud, firearms and stolen vehicle units. In some forces they may be able to work in dog handling, the mounted branch, air support or underwater search units.

The police force is operational 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Most police officers work 40 hours a week, split into early, late and night shifts, including weekends and public holidays. Requests for part-time and flexible working hours can often be negotiated, although this is up to individual forces and may depend on the number of staff available for cover and operational requirements.

Police officers are based at a police station, but the work largely involves being outside in all weathers on foot or in a car, or visiting people in their homes or offices. In some situations, they may need to spend hours outdoors in the cold, rain or heat.

Police officers wear a uniform provided by the police force.

A police officer's salary starts at around £21,000 a year. Rates of pay for police officers vary depending on which force they work for. Officers in some forces receive extra allowances on top of their salaries.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

There are 43 police forces in England and Wales, eight Scottish police forces and the Police Service of Northern Ireland. There are opportunities with the regional police forces as well as with non-geographic forces such as the:

  • British Transport Police.
  • Ministry of Defence Police (see Ministry of Defence Police (MDP) Officer).
  • Civil Nuclear Constabulary.

There are 140,000 police officers in the UK. Each police force is responsible for its own recruitment and training.

Applicants must be British citizens or nationals of the European Union or European Economic Area. Other foreign nationals with no restrictions to stay in the UK may also apply.

Education and Training

There are no set educational entry requirements. Young people can apply at the age of 18. Some life experience is a real advantage, particularly working with people in some capacity. Some people volunteer as special constables or work as police community support officers before applying to join the regular service.

There are several relevant qualifications, including:

- BTEC First Diploma in Public Services
- NVQ/SVQ Level 2 in Public Services
- BTEC National Diploma in Public Services (Uniformed)

The selection procedure includes medical, eyesight and fitness tests, as well as tests of literacy and numeracy. Applicants are also tested in scenario exercises, where they are assessed in core skills, such as communication, problem solving and decision making. References and security checks are carried out, although someone who has a conviction for a minor criminal or driving offence will not necessarily be rejected. There are no height restrictions.

Policing and crime subjects can be studied part time and full time on college and university courses, such as:

Foundation degrees in public services, police studies and emergency services.

Degrees in subjects such as policing, police sciences, criminology and criminal justice.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Student officer training involves a combination of classroom-based study and uniformed experience, working in the community. Student officers have the opportunity to go out on patrol in local areas on foot and in cars. Once they are ready, they go on independent patrol, but are still supervised and assessed by experienced sergeants. During training, student officers also spend some time on attachment to road policing and CID.

Training takes place over approximately two years and there is an Initial Police Learning and Development Programme (IPLDP) used in all 43 forces in England and Wales.

Student officer training covers areas such as:

  • Criminal law and police powers
  • Interview techniques and police paperwork
  • Community and social issues
  • Self-defence, including the use of handcuffs, batons and CS spray
  • First aid
  • Advanced Driving
  • Work-based placements and accompanied patrol

Many forces also offer NVQ/SVQ qualifications or Foundation degrees upon successful completion of student officer training.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

Police officers need to be:

  • Good at communicating with all types of people, even in difficult situations.
  • Determined and logical in their approach to preventing and solving crimes.
  • Good leaders, able to make decisions under pressure.
  • Able to write accurate reports and deal with complex paperwork.
  • Willing to accept discipline, but maintain common sense and initiative.
  • Alert and observant.
  • Non-judgemental and tolerant.
  • Calm, even in distressing or dangerous situations.
  • Fair and honest.
  • Able to work well as part of a team.
  • In good health and mentally strong.

Your Long Term Prospects

The police service has a clear structure. Promotion to the ranks of police sergeant and inspector is by examination and interview. For ranks more senior than inspector, officers must demonstrate they have the personal and professional skills at competitive promotion boards.

Many police officers remain at the rank of constable, widening their experience by joining specialist departments such as CID or road policing. There is a wide range of specialisms within the police service, although not all are offered by every police force.

The High Potential Development (HPD) scheme operates in police forces in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. There are no restrictions on application and the scheme accelerates an individual's career path, with graduate or postgraduate study forming an important part of the scheme. In Scotland, the Accelerated Promotion Scheme is aimed at graduate entrants.

Police officers may be able to transfer to other forces to gain promotion. Some police officers move into training roles.

Get Further Information

Civil Nuclear Constabulary,
Culham Science Centre, Abingdon,
Oxfordshire OX14 3DB
Tel: 01235 466711
Website: www.cnc.police.uk

British Transport Police,
25 Camden Road, London NW1 9LN
Website: www.btp.police.uk

College of Policing
Website: www.recruit.college.police.uk

The Police Service of Northern Ireland,
The Consensia Partnership, PO Box 268,
Belfast BT1 5PH.
Websites: www.psni.police.uk
and www.selectnip.org

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