There are no formal educational requirements for entry to the police service. The profession is open to graduates, diplomates and non-graduates alike. Recruitment and selection procedures are managed by police services at a local level, although a nationally agreed competency-based framework is applied.
Entry is open to British and Commonwealth citizens, EC/EEA nationals and foreign nationals who have no restrictions on their leave to remain in the UK.
Pre-entry experience is not essential, although it is advantageous to have some experience of working with individuals or groups in the community, such as sports coaching or working with local youth groups.
Other useful experience might be as a volunteer, such as in the Metropolitan Police’s Volunteer Police Cadets . You can also volunteer to be a police community support officer or as special constable.
Special constables are volunteers who receive expenses and, after full training, have the same powers as a regular police constable. They are generally used to ensure public safety at major events or in combating city centre crime and disorder. Positions are available throughout the UK.
When applying, it is important to be able to state and explain your reasons for choosing a career in the police force, and provide details of any contacts made within the service. You should be able to demonstrate knowledge of the force, the area which it covers, its senior officers, the structure of the local force and key challenges to it.
Candidates will need to show evidence of the following:
- effective communication skills including tact and diplomacy;
- community and customer focus;
- a sense of personal responsibility, integrity and resilience;
- problem-solving skills;
- a confident and calm manner;
- good literacy skills so that you can accurately record details;
- respect for diversity;
- teamworking skills and the ability to work independently;
- professionalism, honesty and trustworthiness;
- sound judgment and a proper respect for confidentiality;
- the ability to act with resolve, tolerance and restraint.
Prospective entrants complete the initial application form and medical questionnaire, which are assessed and scored against entrance criteria. Candidates are asked to provide personal details including the names of family members and associates, participation in youth organisations and groups, interests, sports and special skills they may have for the position.
If this assessment is positive, the next stage is an assessment centre comprising a series of assessment tests and an interview. Successful applicants are then required to pass job-related fitness and medical tests. Appointments are then made, subject to references and security clearance.
In Scotland, candidates follow the application form with a Standard Entrance Test which measures literacy, numeracy and information handling skills and an initial fitness test. This is followed by an initial interview with a recruitment sergeant, vetting procedures and a final in depth interview before undertaking a full medical and a final fitness.
In Northern Ireland, potential officers follow an application form with psychometric tests before being invited to an assessment centre and offered a training position.
People with minor convictions and/or cautions are not automatically precluded from entry to the police service, although certain offences and conditions will make you ineligible, so check with your local force. Details of spent convictions, as defined by the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 , must be disclosed.
All new police officers in England and Wales undertake an extensive and professional training programme known as the Initial Police Learning and Development Programme (IPLDP) during their first two years of service. Individual forces are responsible for the local implementation and delivery of IPLDP and the emphasis is upon local community involvement and a flexible timetable. IPLDP is divided into four training phases which cover the completion of the NVQ in Policing (levels 3 and 4):
- phase 1 – Induction (two – five weeks): general introduction to the organisation with training in first aid, health and safety, officer safety, ICT, race and diversity, human rights and community safety strategy;
- phase 2 – Community (two – four weeks): training in crime and disorder reduction and a community placement;
- phase 3 – Basic Police Skills (week seven for 28 weeks): work-place practice supported by class-based learning, learning in a ‘replicated work environment’ and work-based learning under supervised patrol;
- phase 4 – Independent Patrol (weeks 35 to 104): combines operational duties with independent and distance learning.
Continuing professional development (CPD) and ongoing training are important. Annual performance and development reviews (PDRs) assess and monitor the progress of police officers to ensure that their professional skills are kept up to date and that they are abreast of the demands of a constantly changing work environment.
In Scotland, probationer constables undertake 22 weeks’ training at Tulliallan Police College interspersed with 81 weeks’ divisional-based training followed by a Scottish Police Diploma which takes a further 18 months.
In Northern Ireland, the two-year probation includes an initial period of twenty weeks at Garnerville College, ten weeks with a tutor constable, ten weeks’ training in driving, public order and the use of firearms and continual assessment including physical competency tests.
Police officers are required to undertake ongoing training and emphasis is placed upon regular supervision, guidance and support. All police officers must complete a two-year probationary period, after which there are a wide variety of career opportunities available.
The police force has a clearly defined rank structure:
- police constable;
- chief inspector;
- chief superintendent.
After successful completion of the probationary period, officers are eligible to apply to work in specialist units such as the criminal investigation department (CID), fraud squad, drugs squad, fire arms, child protection, traffic, mounted branches, dog handlers, underwater search units, river police and air support.
In England, officers can take qualifying examinations for promotion to sergeant and similar examinations or assessment days for progression from sergeant to inspector. There are no qualifying examinations to ranks above inspector and promotion is by selection only. In Scotland, promotion is by application and assessment centre for the ranks of sergeant and inspector.
The Police High Potential Development (HPD) Scheme in England, Wales and Northern Ireland and the Accelerated Careers Development Programme in Scotland is designed to identify and develop the future leaders of the police service. Training and support are available to help individuals to move through the ranks into senior positions within the force. Promotion is not automatic and depends on the individual’s own efforts.
Candidates applying for these schemes must demonstrate a real commitment to operational policing as well as having the skill to assimilate knowledge, provide leadership and make effective decisions. Candidates must be accepted as constables through the usual route and complete both probation and post-probation qualifications before being promoted to sergeant.
Application may be made concurrently with the standard application although many complete their initial probation period before applying. Entry to the scheme is by application form, aptitude tests and an in-depth interview with a ten-minute presentation by the candidate. There then follows an assessment centre with individual and group exercises. An in-depth knowledge of policing is not required because the process tests for potential for leadership not knowledge.
The assessment process is intended to test for potential in:
- responding to challenge;
- management skills;
- managing budgets;
- working in uncertain environments.
Successful candidates can expect to be made sergeants after three-and-a-half years’ police service and attain the rank of chief inspector after 12 years. It is possible to attain these ranks within this time frame without being on the scheme but it does provide a wide-ranging training on operational and strategic policing which allows candidates to progress even higher in the command structure.
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