Public service, charity and social work
Police service: career area

Police service: career area

In a career in the police service you'll help detect and prevent crime, and protect life and property.

The main duties of the police service are the protection of life and property, the maintenance of order and the prevention and detection of crime. There are around 40 separate locally based police forces in the UK as well as specialist forces such as the British Transport Police, the Civil Nuclear Constabulary and the Ministry of Defence Police (MDP).

Police officers are citizen-focused and respond to the needs of individuals and communities.

Police officers will be involved in a range of different activities such as patrolling an area to provide reassurance to the public, arresting and interviewing suspects, responding to incidents, enforcing traffic regulations and attending court to give evidence.

Working in the police force could entail anything from reducing burglary and street-related crime, dealing with a murder, investigating internet pornography or countering terrorism, to tackling antisocial behaviours such as binge drinking or giving road safety talks to schoolchildren. The police also work to develop and maintain relationships with the community and with organisations such as schools and social services.

You can join as a police officer, community support officer (CSO), special constable or member of support staff. Special constables and CSOs play an important role in maintaining the links between the force and the local community by interacting with the public and assisting with police duties. Special constables are volunteers who work part-time and have the same powers as police officers. Community support officers usually work full-time and do not have all the same powers as police officers; they usually patrol a beat and assist police officers at crime scenes and major events.

Recruitment for police officer roles is carried out by individual forces. Graduates seeking to join the force can choose from the following routes: 

  • the Recruit Assessment Centre process for police constables, which is also open to school leavers.
  • the fast track programme run by the College of Policing in partnership with Warwick Business School, which is designed to enable graduates to progress to inspector level within three years. The fast track (constable to inspector) scheme is open to graduates, special constables and existing police staff.
  • graduate schemes run by individual forces, such as the Police Now programme which recruits graduates for a number of different forces, including the Metropolitan Police.

Specialist positions include dog handling, the mounted branch, marine support, firearms unit, underwater search and many more. Civilian staff are involved in every aspect of police work – running incident rooms, dealing with enquiries from the public, working on scenes of crime and conducting forensic and fingerprint examinations.

The skills you need for a career in the police service

  • Initiative and flexibility
  • Good communication and interpersonal skills
  • The ability to deal with people who are in shock or who have been injured
  • Courage and decisiveness
  • The ability to stay calm in stressful situations.

Police service recruitment

Recruitment and selection procedures are managed by police services at a local level, although a nationally agreed competence-based framework is applied. To enter as a police officer, potential recruits are asked to fill in an entry application form, which typically tests your competences and is open to men and women above the age of 18.

Candidates must pass the medical and fitness tests, background check, and attend the Recruit Assessment Centre, where they are asked to take part in a number of different exercises. These include numerical and verbal activity tests, interactive exercises and a structured competency-based interview. Some forces may also run additional assessment stages such as a second interview. Most recruitment for support services is done on a local basis, although some posts are in the Civil Service and are advertised nationally.

The police force is actively seeking to encourage applications from a minority ethnic background. This is especially important in the light of ongoing concerns about terrorism and the need to communicate with the wider community to make sure that their different viewpoints are represented.

College of Policing fast track programme

The fast track (police constable to inspector) programme is a three-year scheme which aims to give graduates the skills, knowledge and experience to advance to the rank of inspector within three years, and is also open to serving special constables and police staff. The programme blends classroom learning delivered at regional training centres and operation training and development in local forces.

Graduates are usually expected to have a 2.1 degree. At the fast track national assessment centre, they are set a series of tests including a written exercise, ability tests and role play exercises designed to reflect typical tasks undertaken by police officers. All fast track new constables receive a starting salary in the region of £22,000 and complete the Initial Police Learning and Development Programme as part of their training.

Police Now graduate programme

The Police Now graduate leadership programme is a two-year scheme that aims to puts graduates on the frontline of policing in challenged communities. Applicants are placed with one of a number of forces that take part in the programme, including the Metropolitan Police, Cheshire Constabulary, West Midlands Police and Thames Valley Police. The Metropolitan Police force applies specific residency criteria to Police Now applicants, so make sure that you qualify before attempting to apply to the Metropolitan Police via this route.

The Metropolitan Police graduate schemes

The Metropolitan Police offers two graduate schemes: the Police Now leadership development programme and the Met Police National Fast Track Programme, a three-year programme run in conjunction with the College of Policing which is designed to take successful candidates from constable to inspector. The Metropolitan Police is the largest force in England and Wales and accounts for nearly a quarter of all police officers.