How To Become a Police Officer in the UK

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated 9 May 2022 | Published 20 May 2021

Updated 9 May 2022

Published 20 May 2021

A career as a police officer can help you make a better society. The career is the best fit for individuals who dream of making a difference in their communities. You could work at a police station, make patrols or respond to emergencies. In this article, we explain what a police officer does and how to become a police officer in the UK.

What does a police officer do?

A police officer has a sworn duty to serve and protect the public. This includes arresting and detaining criminals, protecting individuals and their property and mediating disputes. They respond to a variety of calls and use their common sense to handle the issue at hand lawfully.

The following are some general responsibilities of a police officer:

Patrolling the community

A police officer patrols the community regularly to ensure a visual presence that deters crime and reassures the public. They must understand the community to know crime hotspots and individuals that exhibit criminal behaviour and respond to calls and requests from the public to offer various kinds of help, especially during abnormal incidents.

Conducting investigations

Police must gather evidence, conduct investigations, record statements and comply with the law. They'll also interview witnesses, victims and suspects and conduct arrests without violating the human rights and health and safety of all parties involved including the public, colleagues and the detained individuals.

Maintain the peace at gatherings

Police maintain peace at public meetings, processions, trade disputes, social events or strikes. They also diffuse potentially volatile situations to keep all involved safe.

Prepare for court sessions

Police also prepare reports with details of crimes and present the case files to senior police officers and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) in England and Wales, the Public Prosecution Service for Northern Ireland (PPSNI) or the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) for Scotland. They attend court or other legal hearings and offer evidence.

How to become a police officer in the UK

There are several ways to become a police officer in the UK depending on your situation. The most common ones include a college course, a university course, an apprenticeship route, working up to the ladder, or direct application into the police force.

The general eligibility requirements are:

  • You should at least 18 years of age. However, you can apply at age 17 if you will have completed training by the time you attain 18 years. There is no upper age limit.

  • Be a British citizen, and EU/EEC national or a citizen of the commonwealth countries or a foreigner without restrictions of staying in the UK

  • You should be healthy, including great eyesight and fitness

  • You should not have a criminal record, although some forces might consider you if you committed minor offences in the past

Joining through a college course

This method involves taking a level 2 or 3 Diploma in Public Services before making an application. It is, however, not a requirement. The entry requirements for this method of becoming a police officer are:

  • 2 or more GCSE's at 9 to 3 grades (A* to D), or a level 2 course that is an equivalent

  • 4 or 5 GCSE's at 9 to 4 grades (A* to C), or their equivalent of a level 3 course

Joining through a university course

Some universities offer a Professional Policing degree that can you can take before joining a police force. You can also have any degree and apply to:

  • The Police Now leadership scheme for graduates

  • The degree holder programme

You typically require two to three A levels to get a degree or their equivalent.

Joining through an apprenticeship

The Police Constable Degree Apprenticeship (PCDA) is a three-year work-based programme that transitions to a Professional Policing Practice degree. You can opt for this apprenticeship programme via your selected force and end up becoming a police officer.

There is an alternative programme you could apply to if you want to become a police officer but only one focusing on a non-emergency response situation. This is the complex crime investigator degree apprenticeship program that also lasts three years.

Apart from being a police officer, the apprenticeship program could propel you to employment at organisations such as:

  • The Ministry of Defence

  • The National Crime Agency

  • Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs

The entry requirements for this programme are four or five GCSEs at grades nine to four (A* to C) together with A level or an equal qualification.

Volunteering to join a UK police force

You can have a first-hand experience and feeling of what it is like to be a UK police officer by volunteering to be a special constable. There is also an option to work as a police community support officer (PCSO), a paid role, and later apply for training to join a force.

Joining a UK police force via direct application

To join a UK police force using this method, you typically need A levels or a level three qualification that is its equivalent, or sufficient experience in a relevant field such as the military.

You should apply to one exclusive police force at a time. You will, later on, get invited for an interview if your application is successful. You will then go through an interview and take written tests before proceeding to a physical assessment if you pass. Next, you will have a medical examination, inclusive of an eyesight check, and complete by going through the relevant security and background checks. If you fail during the assessment period, you might have to wait for no less than six months to re-apply.

You can also rejoin the force if you had worked as a police officer in the past. You might get back to a similar rank as you were when you left the force or higher. You should follow the former police officer application method for this method.

The salary and employee benefits of a UK police officer

In England, Northern Ireland and Wales, the starting salary for a police constable ranges from £20,880 to £24,177. The top of the scale has a £40,128 salary, which is typically achieved after serving in a force for seven or more years. Scotland has higher starting salaries for police officers as the salary starts at £26,037 and rises to £40,878 after about ten years of service. Sergeants take home from £41,500 to £45,098. The pay for inspectors ranges from £51,414 to £55,768 (£53,665 to £58,038 in London). Chief inspectors earn from £56,909 to £59,249 (£59,175 to £61,509 in London).

Police officers in the south of England and London get additional allowances accruing up to £6,735, including the annual leave, paid sick leave and travel compensations. The employee benefits include an annual leave lasting for 22 days and a fully paid sick leave. All police officers in the country have a compulsory membership in the police pension scheme. You can travel for free locally, depending on where your operational area. There are also forces in the country that offer flexible working opportunities.

The working hours and work environment of a UK police officer

You will have eight-hour shifts as a full-time officer who needs to average 40 hours every week. However, you will have to work during unsocial hours and handle emergency call-outs and shift work seeing as the job entails offering 24-hour public service. The regular shifts last for a maximum of ten hours, but there is an option to do overtime work which has a higher pay rate. Flexible hours, job-sharing and part-time working are all available and you can get career breaks after the probationary period.

Your work as a UK police officer might be at a police station or on patrol. You might have an outdoors working environment that could strain you physically and emotionally. Depending on your role and work situation, you might have to wear a uniform.

How to prepare to become a UK police officer

You should verify that you have not committed any offences in the past which could otherwise disqualify you. This includes criminal activity and minor offences such as driving issues and failure to pay fines.

You can improve your chances of passing the police officer's assessment by going for physical conditioning. This includes weight training and endurance running that could give you an edge at the police academy if you are fit.

Career path and progression

After joining a police force in the UK, you will spend two years as a student officer, after which you become a constable. Thereafter, you can opt to join any of the following special branches of the police:

  • The criminal investigations department (CID), road traffic or anti-fraud

  • Air support or underwater search

  • Firearms or drugs

  • Mounted policing or dog-handling

With sufficient experience, you can be promoted to become a sergeant, inspector or chief inspector. When you join the CID, you will instantly become a detective and the title will follow even after your promotions and you can be identified as a detective sergeant, detective inspector or detective chief inspector.