Can I join the police? Top questions about eligibility answered

Last updated: 21 Jun 2023, 15:41

If your application to Police Now – for either the National Graduate Leadership Programme 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 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 or may have forgotten to include as they didn't realise it was important.

Age. ‘Do I need to be a recent graduate?’

You need to be 17 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 working in a different industry or sector but are now interested in making a career change, as long as you hold a degree with at least a 2.1 classification 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 so be open and honest.

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

Most people have some kind of debts – graduates 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 make sure 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.

Driving licence. ‘Do I need a driving licence?’

Not all police forces have this as a requirement, but we would advise you check this before you apply.

Sometimes there is flexibility with forces and at time of the application you don't need a licence but you would need it in time for the programme start date. If you have an automatic UK licence you will need to upgrade to a manual UK licence. If you have a foreign licence, you will need to exchange this for a manual UK licence.

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

It’s okay to be a member of a non-extreme political party if 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. Voting does not count as an active role in politics.

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 make 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 having 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? Are you prepared to be flexible? You can find out all about your suitability to join the police on Police Now’s website.

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