Can I join the police? Top questions about eligibility answered

If your application to Police Now – for either the National Graduate Leadership or the National Detective Programme – is successful, you’ll be embarking on a career with huge responsibilities, aiming to help transform communities, reduce crime and improve the public’s confidence in policing. All police officers must adhere to extremely high professional standards. It’s not surprising then that the recruitment process for joining the police includes rigorous eligibility checks.

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You can see the full list of eligibility criteria and complete an eligibility checker on Police Now’s website. Here, we focus on six of the criteria applicants commonly have concerns or questions about and dispel some myths about eligibility in policing. Remember that, above everything, honesty and integrity are key – police report that sometimes it is an applicant’s lack of disclosure that results in them not being selected, not actually the aspect of their history they were trying to hide. 

Age. ‘Do I need to have just graduated?’

You need to be 18 or over to apply to Police Now, but there is no upper age limit (bearing in mind retirement age is usually 60 for the police). If you’ve been following a different career but are now interested in making a career change, as long as you hold a degree with at least a 2.2 and have leadership potential, Police Now want to hear from you.

Convictions. ‘I have a minor motoring offence – will this rule me out?’

Probably not. But this is probably the most complex area of eligibility. It is true that a violent act committed when you were over the age of 17 or any offence that resulted in a prison sentence will likely make you ineligible, but it is a myth that you will be automatically rejected if you have a minor offence on your record. One thing that surprises many applicants is that it is not just you that the police will be vetting – you must disclose any convictions etc related to close relatives or anyone who resides with you. Not disclosing something will likely result in rejection; do not be tempted to hide something.

Debt. ‘I owe £300 on my credit card – is that okay?’

Most people have some kind of debts – graduates in particular may have student loans or other debt after university. If your debts are manageable and under control, that’s fine. What this criterion is aiming to ensure is that you are not in a position of financial distress that could make you vulnerable to corruption, as communities need to be able to trust that police officers would never take advantage of their privileged position.

Eyesight. ‘Do I need perfect eyesight?’

No. It’s a myth that you can’t be a police officer if you wear glasses or contact lenses. It may have been the rule in the past, but no longer. For obvious reasons, however, a police officer must have a keen eye and there are some eyesight requirements. You can find them detailed in the Police Now eyesights standards document, which explains the standards for distance vision, near vision, colour vision and eye surgery.

Politics. ‘I’m worried about being a member of a political party.’

It’s totally okay to be a member of a non-extreme political party as long as you are impartial while carrying out your duties as a police officer. Membership of an extreme organisation, such as a terrorist group, will not be tolerated, for obvious reasons. Whatever your politics, you cannot take an active role (such as holding or running for a government office) in politics while you are a serving officer, as this would be seen as a potential conflict of interest.

Tattoos. ‘I have two small tattoos – is that okay?’

It’s another myth that you can’t join the police if you have tattoos or body piercings. The key question is: what do your tattoos depict? When it comes to body art, what could render you ineligible are any tattoos that colleagues or members of the public could find offensive, such as depiction of weapons, religious or extreme organisation affiliation, nudity or symbols of violence or death. For health and safety reasons, you will usually be required to remove facial piercings or any other piercings that are in a location that could result in harm to you or someone else – but possessing body piercings is not a barrier to application.

Police officers are subject to the Standards of Professional Behaviour, which clearly set out what communities can expect from their officers. Going through the eligibility questions is not a tick box exercise, therefore – is it an important first step in the application process. If you are eligible to join the police force, the next question to ask yourself is, will a career as a police officer suit me? Do I have the right combination of skills and traits? You can find out all about your suitability to join the police on Police Now’s website.

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