Dealing with criminals on a daily basis, unsociable hours, and dangerous scenarios – becoming a police officer is genuinely challenging, but that’s also what can make it so rewarding.

A career in the police force offers a healthy salary and plenty of opportunity for progression, but, equally, it regularly demands anti-social hours and is a potentially stressful profession.

As the Institute For Apprenticeships says:

'Being a police constable (officer)* is a physically and intellectually demanding occupation, requiring high levels of emotional intelligence, strong behavioural interpretation skills (understanding behaviour in an individual, social, and cultural context), and an ability to analyse and resolve rapidly evolving events.

'Police constables have a unique employment status, as every police constable is a warranted officer, making autonomous lawful decisions including taking away an individual’s liberty if required.

'Police constables exercise wide-ranging powers to maintain the peace and uphold the law across complex and diverse communities. They must justify and personally account for their actions through differing legal frameworks including courts, while also under the close scrutiny of the public'.

* 'Police constable' refers to a rank that virtually all police officers will start as. 'Police officer' refers to all ranks from police constable to chief constable of a county constabulary. With there being such a wide range of roles within the policing profession, there's plenty of scope for career progression.

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What does a police officer do?

As a police officer you'll carry out a wide range of tasks, such as:

  • Provision of an initial autonomous response to incidents, meaning you have to make decisions yourself, which can be complex, confrontational and life threatening, to bring about the best possible outcomes – a neighbourhood dispute which potentially could become violent, for example.
  • Conducting risk and threat analyses across complex, diverse situations, such as a derby football match between local rivals.
  • Investigating incidents and crimes, managing crime scenes and evidence, and handling suspects, such as a road traffic accident that has led to a death.
  • Providing leadership to the public and supporting victims, witnesses and vulnerable people.
  • Developing localised strategic partnerships to problem-solve, engage with, reassure and support organisations, groups and individuals across all communities. An example might be working with residents near an area with many bars and nightclubs, which has been experiencing anti-social behaviour.

Find out more in our Police Officer job profile.

How to become a police officer

If you're considering a career as a police officer, look at the list of skills and qualities below and try to think of instances where you can show that you have these:

  • effective communication skills, including tact and diplomacy for dealing with sensitive situations
  • community focus
  • a sense of personal responsibility, integrity and resilience
  • problem-solving skills
  • a confident and calm manner
  • good literacy skills in order to accurately record details and write reports
  • respect for diversity
  • teamwork skills and the ability to work independently
  • professionalism, honesty and trustworthiness
  • sound judgement and a proper respect for confidentiality
  • ability to act with resolve, tolerance and restraint.

How to get the most from work experience.

What to expect as a police officer

Police officers investigate and prevent crime, as well as maintaining law and order. You could be based in a police station, or working as a beat officer on foot, on a bicycle, or in a patrol car. You’ll need to respond to a variety of calls and situations so good communication skills are essential.

A police constable with two years’ experience after graduating from university shares what they wished they'd known before applying:

'Policing is a challenging job, underestimated by many, and the learning curve is incredibly steep. Combined with sometimes low morale, shockingly outdated IT and dealing with criminals daily, it's perhaps not surprising. All I can say with regards to this is that it passes and it's worth holding out until you are at least 18 months in. By this point most recruits should have the experience and knowledge to know if the job is for them... Once you are out of your probation period (two years) the job opportunities within the police are huge... Suffice to say there's a world beyond uniform frontline policing and those who feel out of place in their initial posting would do well to hold out and try to specialise.'

Police officer education and qualifications

How you become a police constable in England and Wales has changed in recent years. From April 2024, there are four different entry routes to become a police constable. Individual forces will recruit through one or more of these routes. Applicants can consider which route best suits them dependent on their skills, experience, and preferences.

Routes to becoming a police officer

From April 2024, new police constable recruits have four ways of entering policing and learning to carry out their role. These are:

  • Police Constable Degree Apprenticeship (PCDA)
  • Degree Holders’ Entry Programme (DHEP)
  • Degree in Professional Policing (PPD)
  • Police Constable Entry Programme (PCEP)

The curriculum and standards for all four routes are set by the national professional body for policing – The College of Policing.

You can find out more about these routes, and which forces are currently recruiting by visiting the Join the Police website.

Becoming a police constable  experience that can help you:
Special constables

Special constables are a force of trained volunteers who work with and support their local police.

Look at the information on becoming a special constable on the individual police force websites.

Got your dream work experience? Learn how to make the most of it.

Police community support officers

Police community support officers (PCSOs) provide an increased visible police presence and work alongside regular police officers in reducing crime and making communities safer.

PCSOs are out on the streets, talking to local people, supporting officers, preventing crime, managing traffic and building relationships. Salaries range between £19,000 and £23,000.

From 2020, there will be both apprenticeship and non-apprenticeship entry routes. Look at the information on becoming a PCSO on the individual police force websites.

Volunteer Police Cadets

The Volunteer Police Cadets is a nationally recognised police uniformed youth group throughout the UK. You apply to your local police force and search for Volunteer Cadets in their careers sections.

Experience of working in the community

You could have been in the armed forces, worked in social care or played sport to a high level – but what's important is experience to the published selection criteria.

Police officer jobs

How to apply for the police force

Depending on the police force you apply to, it's likely that you'll need to do the following:

  • complete online registration of interest
  • complete full application form
  • do a video interview/phone interview
  • attend an assessment centre – this could involve group exercises, psychometric tests or an in-tray exercise
  • complete a health assessment day

Writing a personal statement as part of your application? Read our full guide to personal statements, including what to write.

You'll also need to meet certain eligibility criteria relating to:

  • age
  • education and experience – normally Level 3 or equivalent, while forces may also consider experience as a special constable or other relevant work experience
  • business interests
  • cautions and convictions
  • dress and appearance
  • eyesight
  • financial position
  • health and fitness
  • not being a member of an extreme right wing political party
  • nationality and residency
  • work history (including significant absences)
  • substance abuse
  • tattoos

Top tip! For those going through the police application process, one police constable shares his advice:

'I would say what assessors are looking for (particularly regarding the e-tray and roleplays) is not the 'correct' answer, but a good rationale for why you have chosen a particular answer.

I think this is because every significant action you take as a police officer results in you writing a statement where you need to describe in precise terms what happened, and if you did something, why you did it.'

Average starting salary for police officers

The average wage for police officers (sergeant and below) is £43,680, while the average pay for senior police officers is £65,520.

Police officer career progression

After your two-year probationary period, you can apply for specialist units, such as:

  • criminal investigation department (CID)
  • fraud squad
  • drugs squad
  • fire arms
  • child protection
  • traffic
  • mounted branches
  • dog handlers
  • underwater search unit

Some police officers will spend their whole career as a police constable, undertaking a variety of fulfilling roles at that rank Here’s the full rank structure in UK police forces:

  • police constable
  • sergeant
  • inspector
  • chief inspector
  • superintendent
  • chief superintendent
  • assistant chief constable
  • deputy chief constable
  • chief constable

Also, our police constable comments on the apparent 'low morale' prevalent in the policing profession:

'New officers should also remember that those who are griping and moaning about the job are comparing the present day to a (often rose-tinted) version of the job as it used to be. I had no experience of the job 'as it once was' so therefore I don't know if it used to be better. I have evaluated the job on its own merits and enjoy it immensely.'

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