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Police officer

  • Hours

    40 per week

  • Starting salary

    £19,000 + per year

Police officers work with communities and the public to maintain law and order. They investigate crime, gather evidence and bring offenders to court. They also work on initiatives to raise awareness and promote crime prevention.

If you want a varied and challenging job and like the idea of helping to make communities safer, this could be the ideal career for you.

Police officer recruitment is handled by individual police services, and their requirements can vary. In general you will need to have lived in the UK for three years, be over 18 and pass enhanced background and security checks. If you're an experienced senior manager, you may be able to apply for direct entry at the rank of superintendent.


Work activities

You could work as a uniformed officer on foot or in a patrol car (known as on the beat), or at a police station. You would carry out a range of tasks, which could include:

  • responding to calls for help from the public
  • investigating crimes and offences, and making arrests
  • interviewing witnesses and suspects, preparing crime reports and taking statements
  • searching for missing people
  • giving evidence in court
  • going out to accidents and fires
  • duties relating to custody
  • working at the station reception desk dealing with the public
  • two-way contact with officers on the beat from the communications room
  • policing large public events, concerts and demonstrations
  • visiting schools to give talks

You would need to complete a trial (probationary) period as an officer. After that you could specialise in a specific branch such as the Criminal Investigation Department (CID), the drug squad or the traffic police.

Working hours and conditions

You would normally work 40 hours a week on a shift system, which may include nights, weekends and public holidays. Overtime is often available. You can also apply to work part-time.

You will spend much of your time outdoors on foot, in a patrol car or on a motorcycle. You will have some duties indoors, for example at the police station, the courts, or at private or business locations.


Salaries can vary between police services.

The current starting salary is between £19,000 and £22,000 a year. With several years' experience, earnings can reach around £36,500 a year.

A sergeant can earn between £36,500 and £41,000 a year, and inspectors can earn up to around £50,000.

There may be extra pay for working overtime. Police officers working in the London area may receive an additional cost of living payment.

Figures are intended as a guideline only.

Entry requirements

Police officer recruitment is handled by individual police services, and their requirements can vary but in general you will need:

  • to be 18 or over
  • to be a British or Commonwealth citizen, European Union (EU) or other European Economic Area (EEA) citizen, or a foreign national with the right to stay and work in the UK for an indefinite period
  • to pass background and security checks, and give details of any previous convictions

In most cases, you will also need to have been resident in the UK for three years before applying. Exemptions may apply for British military staff who have served overseas and in a small number of other categories.

As well as meeting the standards above, you will also need to pass a series of assessment tests before being accepted as a trainee police officer. These are in areas like working with numbers, communication, reading and writing skills, handling information and decision making. You will also have physical fitness and health checks.

You would normally apply to only one police service at a time and, if unsuccessful, you may have to wait a minimum of 6 months before you can re-apply.

As part of the recruitment process, some police services now have a pre-entry requirement. You will need to complete the Certificate of Knowledge in Policing (CKP) if you wish to become a new police constable. Each police service sets its own recruitment process and selection policy.

Visit the College of Policing website for more information about the CKP course and to view a list of accredited providers.

As a graduate you could apply for the Graduate Leadership Development Programme. Visit the Police Now website to find out more. 

If you’re a senior manager with experience in setting strategy, standards and policy across a department or organisation you could apply for direct entry at the rank of superintendent. Visit the College of Policing website for more information.

Check with your local service for details about their application process and entry requirements. You can find contact details for all UK police services on the Police.UK website.

Although not essential, you could get some idea of what the career might be like by working as a Police Community Support Officer or Special Constable with your local service.

The College of Policing website has more information and guides on entry to the police service, training and progression.

Training and development

You would spend the first two years as a student police officer (or probationer). This period is part of an Initial Police Learning and Development Programme (IPLDP), which is split into four stages. The stages cover wide-ranging training, including policing skills, legislation, investigative methods, community partnership working and professional standards.

You would be supported throughout the probation period and your skills and knowledge would be continually assessed. After successfully completing your probation, you would be awarded the rank of police constable.

After becoming a police constable, you could apply to specialise in a number of areas, for example:

  • CID, fraud or traffic
  • drugs or firearms
  • counter-terrorism
  • air support or underwater search
  • dog handling or mounted policing

Each service has its own application process for specialist units and there is usually strong competition for places.

You will be expected to keep your skills up to date and take part in relevant training throughout your career. Each service will offer opportunities for career progression, which will include routes to becoming a sergeant or inspector. Further training could include qualifications, such as:

  • Level 4 Certificate in Police First Line Management
  • Level 5 Certificate in Police Management.

As a serving police constable you could apply for the fast track from the rank of constable to inspector. Take a look at the College of Policing website for more information.

Skills, interests and qualities

To become a police officer you'll need:

  • confidence and a responsible attitude
  • the ability to react quickly and take positive action
  • resilience
  • the ability to remain calm in challenging situations
  • the ability to work alone and in a team
  • strong communication skills
  • courage and initiative
  • good physical fitness
  • good literacy skills
  • a firm but tactful approach
  • the ability to help and support people
  • the ability to give and receive instructions
  • knowledge of the law

More information

Skills for Justice (Opens new window)

College of Policing (Opens new window) (Police recruitment)



There are over 50 police services in the UK, including non-geographic services like the British Transport Police and Civil Nuclear Constabulary, and each one recruits its own staff. For information on vacancies, contact or check the website for the police service you want to join. You will find a list of police services on the Police.UK website.

After your probationary period, you can apply to specialise in one of the branches of police work such as the CID. In any branch of police work, with experience in your job role, you can take exams and apply for promotion to the level of sergeant, inspector and chief inspector or higher. In the CID you would also have the title of ‘detective’ added to your rank. For example, detective sergeant or detective chief inspector. Promotion opportunities will be advertised within each service.

Job market information

This section gives you an overview of the job area that this profile belongs to. You can use it to work out your next career move. It can help if you’re looking for a job now or want to do some further training.

The 'Market statistics' charts are based on figures from the UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES) and the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

The list of job vacancies under 'Apply for jobs' is from the Universal Jobmatch database. The vacancies are not from the National Careers Service.

Median income: Security
Avg Inc
UK Sector
27017 36128
Gender: Security
Female Male
35 65
Working pattern: Security
Part-time Full-time Self-employed
17 80 3
Gaps in sector due to skills shortages: Security
This sector* All vacancies*
4.5 16.2
Employment forecast: Security
Forecast Employment Figures
Year Predicted nos. employed
2014 358000
2015 352000
2016 342000
2017 340000
2018 340000
2019 340000
2020 338000

Jobs available on Universal Jobmatch

DateJob TitleCompany NameLocation
24/11/2015Detective Constable (Investigator)WorkcircleLiverpool
21/11/2015Police Custody and Security OfficerPolice ScotlandIsle of Bute
21/11/2015Police Custody and Security OfficerPolice ScotlandDunoon
21/11/2015Police Custody and Security Officer (2 posts)Police ScotlandCampbeltown
21/11/2015Temporary Police Custody and Security Officer Part TimePolice ScotlandDunoon

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