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There are four main types of personnel that work in police forces: police officers, police specials (volunteer police officers), Police Community Support Officers (PCSOs) and civilian support staff.

Police officers are ‘office holders’ (they hold the Office of Constable) rather than employees and are prohibited from joining a trade union. Instead, there are ‘staff associations’ which represent officers. ‘Rank and file’ officers are represented by the Police Federation. The Police Superintendents Association represents senior officers. Police chiefs and their deputies are represented by the Chief Police Officers’ Staff Association.

The College of Policing (the College) is the professional body for English and Welsh policing. It sets policing standards, including recruitment and training standards for police officers.

Each police force in the UK organises its officers using a standardised rank structure which denotes their seniority and responsibilities. Officers can work their way up the rank structure, others may be fast tracked to leadership roles either through a graduate programme or a talent identification scheme.

Police forces divide their personnel into teams known as police units. Most police units fall into one of two categories: local response teams work in shifts to respond to emergency calls whilst centralised specialist units investigate specific types of crime.

Police personnel can specialise in different types of policing. The most notable specialism is ‘investigations’ where detectives spend their time investigating crimes rather than patrolling and responding to emergency calls. There are many unique police specialisms. For example, police officers may specialise in public order, neighbourhood, or undercover policing (amongst others). Others are trained to work with police animals like sniffer dogs and horses. The College has issued policing professional profiles which describe the responsibilities and functions of generic roles across the policing profession.

Police uplift programme

In July 2019, in his first speech as Prime Minister Boris Johnson pledged to put “another 20,000 police on the streets” by March 2023. The work to meet this pledge is known as the police uplift programme. An estimated 50,000 police officers will need to be recruited to meet the pledge. The police are targeted to recruit 6,000 new officers by March 2021 and a further 6,000 by March 2022.

The Home Office is releasing regular information about the progress of the programme on its webpage police officer uplift statistics. As at 30 September 2020, 5,824 police officers have been recruited through the uplift programme.

Policing covenant

The Government has announced plans to introduce a ‘Police Covenant’ to recognise the sacrifices of those who work in policing. The Police Covenant will focus on three key areas: the health and wellbeing of police personnel, the physical protections they need on the job and support for their families.

The Government published detailed proposals for the covenant in September 2020. They proposed the following wording for the covenant:

“This Covenant acknowledges the sacrifices made by those who serve or have served in our Police Forces, either in a paid or voluntary capacity, whether as an officer or as a member of staff. It is intended to ensure that they and their families are not disadvantaged as a result of that commitment and seeks to mitigate the impact on their day to day life or in their access to justice. Police officers are required at all times to uphold the important principles of policing by consent, the foundation of their long-standing relationship with the public. We ask a great deal of our police and we expect the highest standards to be maintained. In return, we have a responsibility to provide protection and support to the police.”  

“The Covenant recognises that working within policing comes with a high level of personal accountability, duty and responsibility requiring courage and personal risk both on and off duty. This recognition extends to all those who support police forces in upholding the principles and practices of their vocation. Recognising those who have served in policing unites the country and demonstrates the value of their sacrifice. This has no greater expression than in upholding this Covenant.”

Clause one of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill would require the Home Secretary to report annual on the principals of the covenant. Part 1 of the PCSC Bill includes other provisions connected to the protection of the police. The Library’s briefing paper on Part 1 includes further information.


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