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Police services in the UK are organised around two legal entities: the ‘Office of Constable’ and the police force.

Police officers (no matter their rank) each individually hold the Office of Constable. The Office of Constable grants them powers to detect, prevent and investigate crime.

Every police officer is a member of a police force. The police force organises and coordinates their crime fighting. As members of police forces, officers (and other police personnel) are under the “direction and control” of their chief officer. Chief officers are ultimately responsible for the operation of their force.

There are 48 civilian police forces in the UK: 43 territorial police forces in England and Wales, a national police force in both Scotland and Northern Ireland and three specialist police forces (the British Transport Police, the Civil Nuclear Constabulary and the Ministry of Defence Police).

Policing is (by and large) a devolved matter in Scotland and Northern Ireland. The Scottish Government and the Northern Ireland Executive are responsible for deciding how most police services are organised and managed in their nations. Policing culture is very similar throughout the UK and Police Scotland and the Police Service Northern Ireland share many of the characteristics of English and Welsh forces.

The term British model of policing is sometimes used to describe policing culture in the UK. There is no formal definition of the British model, but it is typically understood though three interlinked concepts: The Office of Constable, operational independence and policing by consent.

Force performance

Data from the Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW) suggests that around 55% of people think their police force is doing a “good” or “excellent” job. This figure is often known as the confidence level. The confidence level has fallen over the last two years (from around 62% in 2017/18 to 55% in 2019/20).

Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services inspects forces and scores them against three assessment pillars (effectiveness, efficiency and legitimacy). Forces receive one of four ‘judgements’ for each pillar: outstanding, good, requires improvement and inadequate. It maintains an online dashboard displaying all force scores. HMICFRS also provide a detailed written assessment of each force which can be found by navigating through the online dashboard. There were no inspections in 2020 owing to the pandemic. Therefore HMICFRS PEEL scores are still the latest given as at 2018/19. HMICFRS has tended to judge forces better on effectiveness and legitimacy, giving slightly lower scores on efficiency. Overall, most forces are judged to be performing well by the Inspectorate across all three measures. However, there is growing divergence between the performance of forces. The Inspectorate has said this is the result of some forces rising to the twin challenges of rising demand and falling resources better than others.

The Government began measuring ‘National Crime and Policing Measures’ (data points associated with certain crime types) in the summer of 2021. It is expecting “significant” national improvements against these measures within three years. It is also committed to working with HMICFRS to publishing police force “league tables” for 101 and 999 call responsiveness. However, it is yet to announce when the first league tables will be published.  

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