In the United Kingdom, every person has limited powers of arrest if they see a crime being committed: at common law in Scotland, and in England and Wales if the crime is indictable – these are called "every person powers", commonly referred to as a "citizen's arrest". In England and Wales, the vast majority of attested constables enjoy full powers of arrest and search as granted by the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984. All police officers are "constables" in law, irrespective of rank. Although police officers have wide ranging powers, they are still subject to the same laws as members of the public. However, there are certain additional legal restrictions on police officers such as the illegality of taking industrial action and the ban on taking part in active politics.
There are three general types of law enforcement agency in the United Kingdom, the first is mostly concerned with policing the general public and their activities and the others are concerned with policing of more specific matters:Territorial police services, which carry out the majority of policing. There are 45 territorial police services as of 2013 that cover a police area (a particular region) and have an independent police authority (England and Wales) or local authority or joint police board (Scotland). The Police Act 1996, the Police (Scotland) Act 1967 and the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000, prescribe a number of issues such as appointment of a chief constable, jurisdiction and responsibilities for police forces in England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland respectively. Since the introduction of Police and Crime Commissioners in November 2012 the police services in England and Wales no longer have a police authority and this work is done by the police and crime commissioners who are elected every four years. Some territorial police services host specialist bodies that operate in more than one area of the United Kingdom, such the Specialist Operations directorate of the Metropolitan Police.
National law enforcement bodies, including the National Crime Agency and British Transport Police (the latter which operates only in England, Scotland, and Wales). The Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 refers to these as "special police forces". The National Crime Agency operates across the United Kingdom (but in Scotland or Northern Ireland requires the agreement of the domestic prosecuting authority to do so) against organised crime and acts as the UK point of contact for foreign agencies. There are also non-police law enforcement agencies whose officers, while not police constables, enforce laws.
Miscellaneous police services, mostly having their foundations in older legislation or common law. These have a responsibility to police specific local areas or activities, such as ports and parks and before the passing of recent legislation such as the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 were often referred to as "special police services"; care must therefore be taken in interpreting historical use of that phrase. These constabularies are not within the scope of the legislation applicable to the previously mentioned organisations but can still be the subject of statutes applicable to, for example, docks, harbours or railways. Until the passing of Railways and Transport Safety Act 2003, the British Transport Police was such a force.
The list of law enforcement agencies in the United Kingdom details the various services.
Territorial police constables have certain powers of arrest in another one of the UK's three legal jurisdictions than they were attested in. There are four main provisions for them to do so – arrest with a warrant, arrest without a warrant for an offence committed in their jurisdiction, arrest without a warrant for an offence committed in another jurisdiction, and mutual aid. Note: this section applies to territorial police constables only, and not to others – except the British Transport Police, who also have certain cross-border powers in addition to their natural powers.
Certain warrants can be executed by constables even though they are outside their jurisdiction: arrest warrants and warrants of commitment (all); and a warrant to arrest a witness (England, Wales or Northern Ireland); a warrant for committal, a warrant to imprison (or to apprehend and imprison), and a warrant to arrest a witness (Scotland). A warrant issued in one legal jurisdiction may be executed in either of the other two jurisdictions by a constable from either the jurisdiction where it was issued, or the jurisdiction where it is executed.
When executing a warrant issued in Scotland, the constable executing it shall have the same powers and duties, and the person arrested the same rights, as they would have had if execution had been in Scotland by a constable of a police force in Scotland. When executing a warrant issued in England & Wales or Northern Ireland, a constable may use reasonable force and has specified search powers provided by section 139 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994.
If a constable suspects that a person has committed or attempted to commit an offence in his legal jurisdiction, and that person is now in another jurisdiction, he may arrest (and in the case of a constable from Scotland, detain) them in that other jurisdiction.
A constable from England & Wales is subject to the same necessity tests for arrest (as under section 24 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984) as he would be in England & Wales, a constable from Scotland may arrest/detain if it would have been lawful to do so in Scotland and a constable from Northern Ireland is subject to the same necessity tests for arrest (as under Article 26 of the Police and Criminal Evidence (Northern Ireland) Order 1989.) as he would be in Northern Ireland.
A person arrested under the above powers:in Scotland, shall be taken to the nearest convenient designated police station or to a designated police station in a police area in which the offence is being investigated (England & Wales or Northern Ireland),
in England or Wales, shall be taken to the nearest convenient police station (Scotland) or to a police station within a sheriffdom in which the offence is being investigated (Scotland), to the nearest convenient designated police station (Northern Ireland) or to a designated police station in which the offence is being investigated (Northern Ireland), or
in Northern Ireland, shall be taken either to the nearest convenient designated police station (England & Wales) or to a designated police station in a police area in which the offence is being investigated (England & Wales) or to the nearest convenient police station (Scotland) or to a police station within a sheriffdom in which the offence is being investigated (Scotland).
A person detained under the above powers:in England or Wales, shall be taken to the nearest convenient police station (Scotland) or to a police station within a sheriffdom in which the offence is being investigated (Scotland), or to the nearest convenient designated police station (England or Wales), or
in Northern Ireland, shall be taken to the nearest convenient police station (Scotland) or to a police station within a sheriffdom in which the offence is being investigated (Scotland), or to the nearest convenient designated police station (Northern Ireland), as soon as reasonably practicable.
Detention under these powers, which in Scotland normally lasts for twelve hours, can be extended for up to twenty four hours.
A constable from one legal jurisdiction has, in the other jurisdictions, the same powers of arrest as a constable of that jurisdiction would have.
A constable from England & Wales has:in Scotland, the same power of arrest as a constable from Scotland
in Northern Ireland, the same power of arrest as a constable from Northern Ireland would have under Article 26 of the Police and Criminal Evidence (Northern Ireland) Order 1989 (necessity test).
A constable from Scotland has:in England and Wales, the same power of arrest as a constable from England & Wales would have under section 24 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (necessity test).
in Northern Ireland, the same power of arrest as a constable from Northern Ireland would have under Article 26 of the Police and Criminal Evidence (Northern Ireland) Order 1989 (necessity test).
A constable from Northern Ireland has:in Scotland, the same power of arrest as a constable from Scotland
in England and Wales, the same power of arrest as a constable from England & Wales would have under section 24 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (necessity test).
When a constable arrests a person in England & Wales, the constable is subject to the requirements of section 28 (informing of arrest), section 30 (taking to a designated police station) and section 32 (search on arrest). When a constable arrests a person in Scotland, the arrested person shall have the same rights and the constable the same powers and duties as they would have were the constable a constable of a police force in Scotland. When a constable arrests a person in Northern Ireland, the constable is subject to the requirements of Article 30 (informing of arrest), Article 32 (taking to a designated police station) and Article 34 (search on arrest).
Police forces often support each other with large-scale operations, such as those that require specialist skills or expertise and those that require policing levels that the host-forces cannot provide. Referred to as mutual aid, constables loaned from one force to another have the powers and privileges of a constable of the host force. Constables from the Metropolitan Police who are on protection duties in Scotland or Northern Ireland have all the powers and privileges of a constable of the host police force. A constable who is taking a person to or from a prison retains all the powers, authority, protection and privileges of his office regardless of his location. Regardless of where they are in the United Kingdom, a constable may arrest under section 41 and may stop and search under section 43 of the Terrorism Act 2000 on suspicion of terrorism (defined by section 40).
Most police officers are members of territorial police forces. A person must make a declaration before taking up office as a constable and having any powers; although this is sometimes still known as the police oath, and the process sometimes referred to as "swearing in", it now takes the form of an "attestation" (in England and Wales and Northern Ireland) or a "declaration" (in Scotland). The process is carried out in the presence of a magistrate, and is usually followed by the issue of a warrant card. This grants the officer all the powers and privileges, duties and responsibilities of a constable in one of the three distinct legal systems - either England and Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland, and the territorial waters of that country. The limited circumstances where their powers extend across the border are described in the section above.
There are many constables who are not members of territorial police forces. The most notable are members of the three forces referred to as special police forces: the British Transport Police, Ministry of Defence Police and Civil Nuclear Constabulary. Such officers have the "powers and privileges of a constable" in matters relating to their work. BTP and MDP officers have additional jurisdiction where requested by a constable of another force, in which case they take on that constable's jurisdiction. Upon request from the chief police officer of a police force, members of one of the above three forces can be given the full powers of constables in the police area of the requesting force. This was used to supplement police numbers in the areas surrounding the 2005 G8 summit at Gleneagles.
Many acts allow companies or councils to employ constables for a specific purpose. There are 10 companies whose employees are sworn in as constables under section 79 of the Harbours, Docks, and Piers Clauses Act 1847. As a result, they have the full powers of a constable on land owned by the harbour, dock, or port and at any place within one mile of any owned land. There are also forces created by specific legislation, such as the Port of Tilbury Police (Port of London Act 1968), Mersey Tunnels Police (County of Merseyside Act 1989) and the Epping Forest Keepers (Epping Forest Act 1878).
Parks Constables Under Article 18 of the Ministry of Housing and Local Government Provisional Order Confirmation (Greater London Parks and Open Spaces) Act 1967, London Borough Councils are allowed to swear in council officers as constables for "securing the observance of the provisions of all enactments relating to open spaces under their control or management and of bye-laws and regulations made thereunder". Local Authority Parks Constables have all the powers of a constable in relation byelaws regulations and all enactments relating to open spaces, Article 19 of the Act was repealed by section 26(1) of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (Local Acts) and the power of arrest for Parks Constables is now contained in Section 24 of P.A.C.E 1984, further amendments to Article 19 covering coming to the aid and assistance of such a constable or officer were repealed by SOCPA 2005, as this provision is already covered in P.A.C.E 1984 (Legal Counsel 2007,2012). No enforcement agency with a power of arrest or detention can operate outside of the provisions of P.A.C.E 1984; therefore all local powers of arrest and detention were brought into line under section 26(1) P.A.C.E 1984.
Police forces employ civilian staff who perform many functions to assist officers and support the smooth running of their police force. They do not hold the office of constable. In England & Wales, the chief police officer of a territorial police force may designate any person who is employed by the police authority maintaining that force, and is under the direction and control of that chief police officer, as one or more of the following:Police Community Support Officer
detention officer, or
They have a range of powers given by the Police Reform Act 2002, and their chief police officer decides which of these powers they may use. Unlike a police constable, a PCSO only has powers when on duty and in uniform, and within the area policed by their respective force.
Until 1991, parking enforcement was primarily conducted by police-employed traffic wardens. Since the passage of the Road Traffic Act 1991, decriminalised parking enforcement has enabled local authorities to take on this role and now very few forces still employ Police Traffic Wardens, these include the Metropolitan Police Service however they have combined the role with PCSOs as Traffic Police Community Support Officers.
In Scotland, Police Custody and Security Officers have powers similar to those of detention officers and escort officers in England and Wales. Similar powers are available in Northern Ireland.
Chief police officers of territorial police forces (and the British Transport Police) can also give limited powers to people not employed by the police authority, under Community Safety Accreditation Schemes. A notable example are officers of the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency, who have been given powers to stop vehicles. This practice has been criticised by the Police Federation who described it as "half-baked".
In Northern Ireland only, members of Her Majesty's Armed Forces have powers to stop people or vehicles, arrest and detain people for three hours and enter buildings to keep the peace or search for people who have been kidnapped. Additionally, commissioned officers may close roads. They may use reasonable force when exercising these powers.
Under the Customs Management Act 1979, members of Her Majesty's Armed Forces may detain people if they believe they have committed an offence under the Customs & Excise acts, and may seize goods if they believe they are liable to forfeiture under the same acts.
Service Police/Military Police - Service police are not constables under UK law and do not have any constabulary powers over the general public, however they have the full range of policing power that constables possess when dealing service personnel or Civilians subject to Service Law drawing their powers from the Armed Forces Act 2006. However, the service police can utilise the powers, available to all persons in England and Wales, under Section 24(A) of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984; which allows any person to arrest any individual they have reasonable grounds to believe is committing, or has committed, an indictable offence, and that a constable is not available to perform the arrest. They are allowed to use such force as is reasonable in the circumstance to achieve this. A similar power of arrest exists under Scottish common law, but there is a requirement to use the minimum amount of force and for the Military Police officer to have directly witnessed the individual commit the act for which they are arresting them. The Service Police regularly assist territorial police forces and patrol throughout the UK.
Some employees of local authorities have powers of entry relating to inspection of businesses under the Sunday Trading Act 1994 and powers to give Fixed Penalty Notices for offences such as littering, graffiti or one of the wide ranging offences in the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005. Such powers may be granted under local bylaws or acts of parliament.
When carrying out an investigation, staff of the Independent Police Complaints Commission have the powers and privileges of constables throughout England and Wales and territorial waters. Similarly, staff of the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland have certain powers under the Police and Criminal Evidence (Application to the Police Ombudsman) Order (Northern Ireland) 2009
Employees of the Serious Organised Crime Agency can be granted the powers of a constable, Revenue and Customs officer and immigration officer. These designations can be unconditional or conditional; time limited or limited to a specific operation.
Employees of the Border Force may be Immigration Officers and/or customs officers and hold certain powers of arrest, detention and search.
In England & Wales, water bailiffs employed by the Environment Agency have powers in relation to enforcement of fishing regulations. Scottish water bailiffs have similar powers. There are also seven types of court officer - two in Scotland and five in England & Wales, commonly referred to as "bailiffs", who can enforce court orders and, in some cases, have powers of arrest.
Traffic officers are employed by the Highways Agency and maintain traffic flow on trunk roads and some bridges and tunnels. There are different types of traffic officer and they are appointed under separate Acts. They have limited powers to direct traffic and place road signs, close lanes of an active motorway, and stop vehicles if they believe them to be unroadworthy for the road and condition they are driving in.
Wildlife inspectors have certain powers of entry and inspection in relation to wildlife and licenses relating to wildlife.
Employees of public fire and rescue services have extensive powers in the event of an emergency, and more limited powers in other circumstances, such as fire investigations.
Prison officers have the powers, authority, protection, and privileges of a constable when acting as prison officers.
Civilian Security Officers (CSO) of the Northern Ireland Security Guard Service whilst on duty hold similar powers to those of a Police Constable, as allowed by the Emergency Laws (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1947. A CSO has the powers of arrest under the Police and Criminal Evidence (Northern Ireland) Order 1989 (PACE).
From 22 November 2012, police authorities outside London were replaced by directly-elected Police and Crime Commissioners. In London the City of London Police continued to be overseen by City of London Corporation, whilst the Mayor of London has responsibility for the governance of the Metropolitan Police.
In Northern Ireland, the Police Service of Northern Ireland is supervised by the Northern Ireland Policing Board.
In Scotland, Police Scotland is overseen by the Scottish Police Services Authority.
The British Transport Police and the Civil Nuclear Constabulary had their own police authority established in 2004. These forces operate across national jurisdictions but their responsibility is to the specific activities they were established to police.
Her Majesty's Inspectorates of Constabulary (HMIC) are the official bodies responsible for the examination and assessment of police forces to ensure their requirements are met as intended.
There are two similarly named organisations:Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) - this organisation is responsible to the Home Office for police forces in England and Wales. It also inspects, by invitation, various UK special police forces. Since 2004, HMIC has also had responsibility for examining HM Revenue and Customs and the Serious Organised Crime Agency. Inspection services have been provided on a non-statutory basis for the Police Service of Northern Ireland.
Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary for Scotland (commonly known as HMIC) - this organisation is responsible to the Scottish Government and examines Scotland's territorial police forces, the Scottish Crime and Drug Enforcement Agency, the Scottish Criminal Record Office, the Scottish Police College and the Scottish Police Information Strategy.
The Crown dependencies and British overseas territories have their own police forces, the majority of which use the British model. Because they are not part of the United Kingdom, they are not answerable to the British Government; instead they are organised by and are responsible to their own governments (an exception to this is the Sovereign Base Areas Police; as the SBAs' existence is solely for the benefit of the British armed forces and do not have full overseas territory status, the SBA Police are responsible to the Ministry of Defence). Because they are based on the British model of policing, these police forces conform to the standards set out by the British government, which includes voluntarily submitting themselves to inspection by the HMIC. Their vehicles share similarities with the vehicles owned by forces based in the UK, such as the use of Battenburg markings.
In the 18th century law enforcement and policing was organised by local communities based on watchmen and constables; the government was not directly involved in policing. The City of Glasgow Police, the first professional police, was established following an Act of Parliament in 1800. London had a population of nearly a million and a half people in the early 19th century but was policed by only 450 constables and 4,500 night watchmen. The concept of professional policing was taken up by Sir Robert Peel when he became Home Secretary in 1822. Peel's Metropolitan Police Act 1829 established a full-time, professional and centrally-organised police force for the greater London area known as the Metropolitan Police. Legislation in the 1830s introduced policing in royal boroughs and many counties and, in the 1850s, policing was established nationally.
The Peelian Principles describe the philosophy that Sir Robert Peel developed to define an ethical police force. The principles traditionally ascribed to Peel state that:Every police officer should be issued an identification number, to assure accountability for his actions.
Whether the police are effective is not measured on the number of arrests, but on the lack of crime.
Above all else, an effective authority figure knows trust and accountability are paramount. Hence, Peel's most often quoted principle that "The police are the public and the public are the police."
Nine principles of policing were set out in the ‘General Instructions’ issued to every new police officer in the Metropolitan Police from 1829. However, the Home Office has suggested this list was more likely authored by Charles Rowan and Richard Mayne, the first and joint Commissioners of the Metropolitan Police.
The police historian Charles Reith explained in his New Study of Police History (1956) that these principles constituted a philosophy of policing "unique in history and throughout the world because it derived not from fear but almost exclusively from public co-operation with the police, induced by them designedly by behaviour which secures and maintains for them the approval, respect and affection of the public". This approach to policing became known as "policing by consent".
The first women police officers were employed during the First World War. Hull and Southampton were two of the first to employ women police, although Grantham was the first town to have a warranted policewoman.
Since the 1940s, police forces in the United Kingdom have been merged and modernised.
In the 19th and early 20th centuries most forces required that recruits be at least 5 feet 10 inches (178 cm) in height. By 1960 many forces had reduced this to 5 feet 8 inches (173 cm), and 5 feet 4 inches (163 cm) for women. Many senior officers deplored this, believing that height was a vital requirement for a uniformed constable. Some forces retained the height standard at 5 feet 10 inches (178 cm) or 5 feet 9 inches (175 cm) until the early 1990s, when the height standard was gradually removed. This is due to the MacPherson report of 1999, as the height restriction was seen to possibly discriminate against those of ethnic backgrounds who may be genetically predisposed to be shorter. No British force now requires its recruits to be of any minimum height. The shortest officer in the UK, PC Sue Day of Wiltshire Police, is 4 feet 10 inches (147 cm) tall. The tallest is PC Anthony Wallyn of the Metropolitan Police who is 7 feet 2 inches (218 cm) tall. Both officers had to have their uniforms specially made for them due to their size. In May 1990, the minimum height requirement was dropped by the Metropolitan Police, and all Provincial Police Forces followed suit by September 1990.
Throughout the United Kingdom, the rank structure of police forces is identical up to the rank of Chief Superintendent. At higher ranks, structures are distinct within London where the Metropolitan Police Service and the City of London Police have a series of Commander and Commissioner ranks as their top ranks whereas other UK police forces have assistants, deputies and a Chief Constable as their top ranks. All Commissioners and Chief Constables are equal in rank.
Uniforms, the issuing of firearms, type of patrol cars, and other equipment, varies by force. Unlike police in most other developed countries, the vast majority of British police officers do not carry firearms on standard patrol; they carry Extendable "ASP" or fixed Monadnock PR-24 batons and CS/PAVA spray.
Every territorial force has a specialist Firearms Unit, which maintains Armed Response Vehicles to respond to firearms-related emergency calls. One territorial force (the Police Service of Northern Ireland) and two of the special police forces, (the Civil Nuclear Constabulary and the Ministry of Defence Police), are routinely armed.
London's Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) firearms unit is the Specialist Firearms Command (SC019 - formerly SO19 and C019), but every force in the United Kingdom has firearms-trained officers available should the need arise. Metropolitan and City of London Police operate with three officers per Armed Response Vehicle (ARV), composed of a driver, a navigator, and an observer who gathers information about the incident and liaises with other units. Other police forces carry two Authorised Firearms Officers instead of three. Armed Police carry a combination of weapons, ranging from German Heckler & Koch MP5 carbines, Heckler & Koch PSG1 Sniper rifles, Heckler & Koch Baton Guns (which fire baton rounds) and Heckler & Koch G36Cs to a number of specialist weapons such as the Remington pump-action shotgun. Marksmen in the London Metropolitan Police, Police Service of Northern Ireland and other also use Accuracy International Arctic Warfare. Since 2009 Tasers have also been issued to members of response teams for use when deadly force may not be warranted.
There are three curricula for new police constables, special constables and police community support officers:Initial Police Learning and Development Programme (IPLDP) for police constables
Initial Learning for the Special Constabulary (IL4SC) for special constables
PCSO National Learning Programme for police community support officers
Successful completion of the IPLDP over two years will result in a (mandatory) Diploma in Policing (Level 3 Qualifications and Credit Framework) consisting of ten mandatory units.
Derived from the IPLDP and although not linked to a formal qualification as such; IL4SC requires the learning outcomes and National Occupational Standards (NOSs) are met in order to become compliant. This curriculum will bring an officer to the 'point of safe and lawful accompanied patrol'. This course equates to roughly 3.5 weeks of direct learning.
Successfully completion of the PCSO NLP over a period of six months to a year will result in a non-mandatory Certificate in Policing and this equates to 10 weeks of direct learning and consists of six mandatory units. Four of these units also feature within the IPLDP and being a QCF qualification, this can allow for officers wishing to become police officers for 'Recognition of Prior Learning' (RPL) and the transfer of such units to the IPLDP scheme.
All initial probationer training in Scotland is undertaken at the Scottish Police College (or SPC) at Tulliallan Castle. Recruits initially spend 12 weeks at the SPC before being posted to their divisions and over the next two years return to the SPC a number of times to complete examinations and fitness tests. Training is composed of four distinct modules undertaken at various locations with some parts being delivered locally and some centrally at the SPC.
Training for Special Constables is delivered locally at seven locations throughout Scotland over a series of evenings and/or weekends. The training is split into two parts, with the first phase being delivered in a classroom environment before being sworn in as a Special Constable and the second phase is delivered after being sworn in. Upon successful completion of both parts of the training programme Special Constables are awarded a certificate of achievement and would be eligible to complete an abbreviated course at the Scottish Police College should they later wish to join the Police Service of Scotland as a regular officer.
As all police forces are autonomous organisations there is much variation in organisation and nomenclature, however outlined below are the main strands of policing that makes up police forces:All police forces have teams of officers who are responsible for general beat duties and response to emergency and non-emergency calls from the public. These officers are generally the most visible and will invariably be the first interface a member of the public has with police. In general terms these officers will normally patrol by vehicle (though also on foot or bicycle in urban areas). They will generally patrol a sub-division or whole division of a police force area or in the case of the Metropolitan Police Service, a borough. Nearly all police officers begin their careers in this area of policing, with some moving on to more specialist roles. The Metropolitan Police Service calls this area of policing 'Response Teams', whilst other forces use terms such as 'patrol', 'section' and other variations.
Most local areas or wards in the country have at least one police officer who is involved in trying to build links with the local community and resolve long term problems. In London, the Metropolitan Police Service addresses this area of policing with Safer Neighbourhood Teams. This entails each political ward in London having a Police Sergeant, two police constables and a few PCSOs who are ring fenced to address problems and build community links in their respective wards. Other police forces have similar systems but can be named 'Area officers', 'Neighbourhood officers', 'Beat Constables' and a number of other variations.
Criminal Investigation Departments (CID) can be found in all police forces. Generally these officers deal with investigations of a more complex, serious nature, however this again can differ from force to force. Most officers within this area are detectives. Depending on the force in question this area of policing can be further divided into a myriad of other specialist areas such as fraud. Smaller forces tend to have detectives who deal with a wide range of varied investigations whereas detectives in larger forces can have a very specialist remit.
All police forces have specialist departments that deal with certain aspects of policing. Larger forces such as Greater Manchester Police, Strathclyde Police and West Midlands Police have many and varied departments and units such as traffic, firearms, marine, horse, tactical support all named differently depending on the force. Smaller forces such Dyfed Powys Police and Warwickshire Police will have fewer specialists and will rely on cross training, such as firearms officers also being traffic trained officers. The Metropolitan Police, the largest force in the country, has a large number of specialist departments, some of which are unique to the Metropolitan Police due to policing the capital and its national responsibilities. For example, the Diplomatic Protection Group and Counter Terrorism Command.
The police service is sometimes criticised for incidents that result in deaths due to police firearms usage or in police custody, as well as the lack of competence and impartiality in investigations (in England and Wales only) by the Independent Police Complaints Commission after these events. The Economist stated in 2009:
The Institute of Race Relations defines police use of force leading to death; "The use of force leading to a death can take many forms - from the use of dangerous holds, the shackling and reckless positioning of an individual (more likely to take place in confined places such as cells or vans) to the use of weapons such as batons and chemical restraint like CS or pepper spray and sedatives (especially in psychiatric custody) and shootings by armed police".
In the year 2011/12 there were 15 deaths in or following police custody. There were two fatal police shootings and 39 people died from apparent suicide following contact with the police.
In the year 2012/13 there were 15 deaths in police custody. Nearly half of those who died had known mental health issue and four of those who died had been restrained by police officers. There were 64 deaths by apparent suicide within 48 hours of release from police custody.
In the year 2013/14 there were 11 deaths in or following police custody. The number of people recorded as having apparently committed suicide within 48 hours of release from police custody was 68, a ten-year high.
In the year 2014/15 there were 17 deaths in or following police custody. There was one fatal police shooting and there were 69 apparent suicides following custody.
The policy under which police officers in England and Wales use firearms has resulted in controversy. Notorious recent examples include the Stephen Waldorf shooting in 1983, the deliberate fatal shootings of James Ashley in 1998, Harry Stanley in 1999, and Jean Charles de Menezes in 2005, and the accidental non-fatal shooting of Abdul Kahar in 2006.
From 1990 to July 2012, 950 deaths occurred in police custody.
In 1997/98, 69 people died in police custody or following contact with the police across England and Wales; 26 resulted from deliberate self-harm.
There are two defined categories of death in custody issued by the Home Office:
Category A: This category also encompasses deaths of those under arrest who are held in temporary police accommodation or have been taken to hospital following arrest. It also includes those who die, following arrest, whilst in a police vehicle.s/he has been taken to a police station after being arrested for an offence, or
s/he is arrested at a police station after attending voluntarily at the station or accompanying a Constable to it, and is detained there or is detained elsewhere in the charge of a constable, except that a person who is at a court after being charged is not in police detention for those purposes.
Category B: Where the deceased was otherwise in the hands of the police or death resulted from the actions of a police officer in the purported execution of his duty.when suspects are being interviewed by the police but have not been detained;
when persons are actively attempting to evade arrest;
when persons are stopped and searched or questioned by the police; and
when persons are in police vehicles (other than whilst in police detention).
Hundreds of people kill themselves within 48 hours of being released from police custody.
Evidence of corruption in the 1970s, serious urban riots and the police role in controlling industrial disorder in the 1980s, and the changing nature of police procedure made police accountability and control a major political football from the 1990s onwards.The coal miners' strike (1984–1985) saw thousands of police from various forces deployed to maintain public order and to prevent intimidation of those continuing to work during a national strike by miners, frequently resulting in violent confrontation.
The presence of Freemasons in the police caused disquiet in the early 1990s.
The Fettesgate scandal in the early 1990s concerned the theft (and allegedly the subsequent recovery) of sensitive documents from the Edinburgh headquarters of Lothian and Borders Police. Nobody has ever been charged, and, at least publicly, no officer was disciplined.
The perceived absence of a visible police presence on the streets also frequently causes concern. This is partially being addressed by the introduction of uniformed Police Community Support Officers (PCSOs), following the passing of the Police Reform Act 2002, although some have criticised these as for being a cheap alternative to fully trained police officers.
Undercover TV programmes, the BBC's 2003 The Secret Policeman and the Channel 4 Dispatches 2006 Undercover Copper raised questions of standards within UK police forces.
The Macpherson Report coined the phrase "institutionalised racism" to describe policies and procedures that adversely effect persons from ethnic minority groups after the death of Stephen Lawrence. Some commentators and academics have claimed that political correctness and excessive sensitivity to issues of race and class have reduced the effectiveness of the police force, not least for people living in deprived areas or members of minority groups themselves.
In 2003, ten police officers from Greater Manchester Police, North Wales Police and Cheshire Constabulary were forced to resign after a BBC documentary, The Secret Policeman, shown on 21 October, alleged racism among recruits at Bruche Police National Training Centre at Warrington. On 4 March 2005 the BBC noted that minor disciplinary action would be taken against twelve other officers (eleven from Greater Manchester Police and one from Lancashire Constabulary) in connection with the programme, but that they would not lose their jobs. In November 2003, allegations were made that some police officers were members of the British National Party.
In June 2015, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, said there was some justification in claims that the Metropolitan Police Service is institutionally racist.
At the beginning of 2005 it was announced that the Police Information Technology Organisation (PITO) had signed an eight-year £122 m contract to introduce biometric identification technology. PITO are also planning to use CCTV facial recognition systems to identify known suspects; a future link to the proposed National Identity Register has been suggested by some.
A number of recent cases where police intervened in matters of free speech have also given rise to allegations that the police are in danger of becoming thought police. In December 2005, author Lynette Burrows was interviewed by police after expressing her opinion on BBC Radio 5 Live that homosexuals should not be allowed to adopt children. The following month, Sir Iqbal Sacranie was investigated by police for stating the Islamic view that homosexuality is a sin.
Section 76 of the Counter-Terrorism Act 2008 came into force on 15 February 2009 making it an offence to elicit, attempt to elicit, or publish information "...of a kind likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism" about: a member of Her Majesty's Armed Forces; a constable, the Security Service, the Secret Intelligence Service, or Government Communications Headquarters. Any person found guilty faces 10 years imprisonment and an unlimited fine. It is a defence for a person charged with this offence to prove that they had a reasonable excuse for their action. It is not otherwise illegal to photograph or film a police officer in a public place per se. It must be noted however that any film or photography recorded whilst a constable is dealing with an incident may be seized as becomes evidence under section 19 of Police & Criminal Evidence Act 1984.
In April 2009, a total of 145 complaints were made following clashes between police and protesters at the G20 summit. Incidents including the death of 47-year-old Ian Tomlinson, minutes after an alleged assault by a police officer, and a separate alleged assault on a woman by a police officer, has led to criticism of police tactics during protests. In response, Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson asked Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Constabulary (HMIC) to review policing tactics, including the practice of kettling.
During 2010 and 2011, it emerged that, while engaged in covert infiltration of protest groups, undercover police officers had entered into intimate relationships with a number of people on false pretences and under assumed aliases, in some cases sharing a home, making plans for weddings, or fathering children, only to vanish after some years when their role was complete. In 2015 a public inquiry under a senior judge was announced. In November 2015 the Metropolitan Police published an unreserved apology in which it exonerated and apologized to those women who had been deceived and stated the methodology had constituted abuse and a "gross violation" with severely harmful effects, as part of a settlement of their cases. In 2016 new cases continued to come to light.
In the United Kingdom, the Fixated Threat Assessment Centre is a joint police/mental health unit set up in October 2006 by the Home Office, the Department of Health and Metropolitan Police Service to identify and address those individuals considered to pose a threat to VIPs or the Royal Family. They may then be referred to local health services for further assessment and potential involuntary commitment. In some cases, they may be detained by police under the section 136 powers of the Mental Health Act 1983 prior to referral.
As of 2013 there were 45 territorial police forces in the UK.
In 1981 James Anderton, Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police, called for 10 regional police forces for England and Wales, one for each region that would be adopted as Government Office Regions in England, plus Wales.
A 2004 proposal by the Police Superintendents' Association for the creation of a single national police force, similar to Garda Síochána na hÉireann was objected to by the Association of Chief Police Officers. The government did not accept the proposal at the time.
In September 2005, in a report delivered to the Home Secretary, Charles Clarke, HM Inspectorate of Constabulary suggested that the forty-three force structure in England and Wales was "no longer fit for purpose" and smaller forces should be merged. In 2005 nineteen forces had fewer than 2,000 regular officers each, and the report suggested that forces with 4,000 or more officers performed better and could save costs. Forces were asked to produce proposals for mergers, within Wales and the English Government Office Regions. Nearly all the existing forces were under the 4,000 limit, with only the Metropolitan Police, Greater Manchester Police, Merseyside Police, Northumbria Police, Thames Valley Police, West Midlands Police and West Yorkshire Police over the limit - see Table of police forces in the United Kingdom for a full list.
Draft options were announced in November 2005. The Home Office offered money to police authorities that decided to voluntarily merge ahead of schedule, and was consequently accused of attempting to "bribe" unwilling Chief Constables into compliance. The proposals were debated in the House of Commons on 19 December 2005. Most Chief Constables and police authorities did not back the measure, and some suggested that cross-regional mergers would make more sense (for example, Hampshire Constabulary in the South East suggested it could merge with Dorset Police in the South West, whilst there was also a suggestion of North Wales Police increasing co-operation with Cheshire Police)
On 6 February 2006, preferred options for several regions were announced by the Home Secretary in a written ministerial statement, and set a deadline of 24 February for forces to agree to the mergers. By this dead-line the only merger to have the agreement of all forces involved was the Cumbria/Lancashire merger. Cheshire was opposed to a merger with Merseyside, and West Mercia and Cleveland were holdouts in their regions, whilst all the Welsh forces opposed the creation of a single Welsh force. The Home Secretary had the power to order the Cumbria/Lancashire merger to proceed by statutory instrument under the Police Act 1996, and also to force through the contested mergers, given a four-month consultation period. In a Written Statement made on 3 March 2006, he announced that the Lancashire/Cumbria merger could be ordered in May, and that the consultation period on the others was starting, and would end on 2 July 2006. The new forces would come into being on 1 April 2007.
A second batch of merger proposals were made on 20 March 2006, with the Eastern, East Midlands and South East regions covered. A deadline of 7 April 2006 was set for responses, after which it was expected that the process above would be followed. The following day, the Home Secretary proposed a merger of all four forces in the Yorkshire and the Humber region. The consultation period on this second batch of mergers started on 11 April 2006, and would have finished on 11 August, with a target of 1 April 2008 for the mergers coming into effect.
Upon the publication of the proposals, the Greater London area was not included. This was due to two separate reviews of policing in the capital - the first was a review by the Department of Transport into the future role and function of the British Transport Police. The second was a review by the Attorney-General into national measures for combating fraud (the City of London Police is one of the major organisations for combating economic crime). Both the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Ian Blair, and the Mayor, Ken Livingstone, stated that they would like to see a single police force in London, with the Metropolitan Police absorbing the City of London Police and the functions of the British Transport Police in London. However, the proposal to merge both the BTP and City forces with the Met caused significant criticism from several areas; the House of Commons Transport Select Committee severely criticised the idea of the Metropolitan Police taking over policing of the rail network in a report published on 16 May 2006, while the City of London Corporation and several major financial institutions in The City made public their opposition to the City Police merging with the Met. In a statement on 20 July 2006, the Transport Secretary announced that there would be no structural or operational changes to the British Transport Police, effectively ruling out any merger The interim report by the Attorney General's fraud review recognised the role taken by the City Police as the lead force in London and the South-East for tackling fraud, and made a recommendation that, should a national lead force be required, the City Police, with its expertise, would be an ideal candidate to take this role. This view was confirmed on the publication of the final report, which recommended that the City of London Police's Fraud Squad should be the national lead force in combatting fraud, to "act as a centre of excellence, disseminate best practice, give advice on complex inquiries in other regions, and assist with or direct the most complex of such investigations"
Separate from the proposals raised by the Mayor of London and Metropolitan Police Commissioner was a plan by the government to reform policing in the Royal Parks. Since 1872 this had been the responsibility of the Royal Parks Constabulary. A report by former Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner Anthony Speed provided three options to reform the RPC, with the decision taken that it should be merged with the Metropolitan Police. The Met took over responsibility for policing the Royal Parks on 1 April 2004 with the formation of the Royal Parks Operational Command Unit. The full merger and abolition of the Royal Parks Constabulary took place in May 2006.
In May 2016, following his election, the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan ordered a review, led by Lord Harris, of London's preparedness in the face of potential terror attacks. Amongst the recommendations, which were published in October 2016, was a revisiting of the idea of merging the Metropolitan Police, City of London Police and British Transport Police. In commenting, both the City Police and BTP cautioned against the proposal.
On 20 June 2006 the new Home Secretary, John Reid, announced that the contested mergers would be delayed for further discussion, and no mergers would be ordered before Parliament's summer recess on 25 July other than the agreed Lancashire/Cumbria one.
On 11 July 2006, it then emerged that the entire proposal for police mergers might be ended, following the decision by the only two forces to have agreed to amalgamation, Cumbria and Lancashire, not to proceed. The announcement of this was followed by the head of the ACPO stating that "The necessary financial support has not materialised and mergers, including voluntary ones, will not take place". On 12 July 2006, the Home Office confirmed that the mergers were to be abandoned, with the entire proposal taken back for consultation.
Other police forces
Policing in Scotland and Northern Ireland does not come under the purview of the Home Office, and so would have remained unaffected by these proposals. Likewise, the major non-territorial forces (British Transport Police, Civil Nuclear Constabulary, Ministry of Defence Police) are responsible to other government departments, and so would not have been affected by this review.
List of proposed mergers
Note: these mergers have all been suspended in the long term while a further review and consultation into policing in England and Wales takes place
In 2010, the Justice Secretary in Scotland, Kenny MacAskill, outlined plans for reform of policing in Scotland. Under a consultation, three proposals would be discussed in light of the financial situation and the need for some level of budget cuts:
- The eight existing police forces are retained, but with "increased collaboration"
- Policing in Scotland moves towards a more regional structure, with the number of individual forces reduced
- All eight Scottish police forces are merged to form a single Scottish police service
According to the Scottish Government, approximately 25% of the total police budget in Scotland is spent on Headquarters costs. The Scottish National Party has made a commitment to increasing numbers of police officers by up to 1,000. Both Labour and the Conservatives have come out in favour of a single force, while the Liberal Democrats are against this proposal. Following the 2011 Holyrood election, in which the SNP gained a majority, the proposal for a single police force in Scotland was introduced as part of the Scottish Government's new legislative agenda in September 2011. This created a force of approximately 17,000 police officers, the second largest in the United Kingdom after the Metropolitan Police in London.
Following the passing of an Act of the Scottish Parliament in 2012, a new single force for the whole of Scotland - to be known as Police Scotland - came into effect on 1 April 2013.
In March 2015, following the transfer of police oversight powers to the Scottish Government, the Justice Secretary announced proposals to further unify policing in Scotland by merging the British Transport Police's operations north of the border with Police Scotland. This proposal subsequently came in for significant criticism from both the rail industry and unions.See also: UK Visas and Immigration, previously UK Border Agency
As part of the wide ranging review of the Home Office, the then Home Secretary, John Reid, announced in July 2006 that all British immigration officers would be uniformed. On 1 April 2007 the Border and Immigration Agency (BIA) was created and commenced operation. However, there were no police officers in the Agency, a matter that attracted considerable criticism when the Agency was established - agency officers have limited powers of arrest. Further powers for designated officers within the Agency, including powers of detention pending the arrival of a police officer, were introduced by the UK Borders Act 2007.
The Government has effectively admitted the shortcomings of the Agency by making a number fundamental changes within a year of its commencement. On 1 April 2008 the BIA became the UK Border Agency following a merger with UKvisas, the port of entry functions of HM Revenue and Customs. The Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, announced that the UK Border Agency (UKBA) "...will bring together the work of the Border and Immigration Agency, UK Visas and parts of HM Revenue and Customs at the border, [and] will work closely with the police and other law enforcement agencies to improve border controls and security."
Within months of this, the Home Secretary revealed (in a 16-page response to a report by Lord Carlile, the independent reviewer of UK terrorism legislation) that the Home Office will issue a Green Paper proposing to take forward proposals by the Association of Chief Police Officers (England & Wales) for the establishment of a new 3,000-strong national border police force to work alongside the Agency.
Following a major enquiry into the UK Border Agency that exposed significant flaws in the operation of border controls, the Home Secretary, Theresa May, announced that the Border Force, which is responsible for manning all points of entry into the United Kingdom, would be split from the control of the UKBA and become a separate organisation with direct accountability to ministers and a "law-enforcement ethos". Brian Moore, the former Chief Constable of Wiltshire Police, was appointed as the first head of the new UKBF.
In April 2007, the Leader of the Opposition, David Cameron announced the Conservative Party's proposals for reform of policing. These included:Replacing police authorities with directly elected police commissioners. These individuals would have control over budgets and target setting, with the Chief Constable retaining operational control of policing.
Giving the public the right to discuss local policing issues with their local police officers at regular meetings.
In addition, the proposals made clear that on the issue of serious crime the 43 police forces in England and Wales would either have to have greater cooperation, or that the serious crime elements of their function would be invested in a National Serious Crime Force.
The decision by the Home Secretary to refuse to implement, in England and Wales, the recommendation of the Police Arbitration Tribunal of a 2.5% increase in pay has caused widespread anger, especially as this decision stood in sharp contrast to the decision of the Scottish Government to fully implement the award for police officers in Scotland by backdating it to 1 September 2007. By instead implementing the award with effect from 1 December 2007, the Home Secretary effectively reduced it to 1.9%, claiming that this was necessary to control inflation, despite the fact that police authorities had already made provision for the full 2.5% increase from their revenue budgets. There were marches on Westminster by off-duty officers as a result.
In 2016, allegations of serious sexual abuse were made against hundreds of police officers in England and Wales, with several forces in England and Wales received 436 allegations of abuse of power for sexual gain against 436 police officers, including 20 police community support officers and eight staff in the two years to March 2016. Mike Cunningham, inspector of constabulary and former chief constable of Staffordshire police said: “It's the most serious form of corruption. It is an exploitation of power where the guardian becomes an abuser. What can be worse than a guardian abusing the trust and confidence of an abused person? There can be no greater violation of public trust.”
Many police forces are unable to protect the public satisfactorily due to cutbacks. Some forces downgrade 999 calls and respond more slowly to them, some ration their responses. The public are put at risk according to Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary. Most police forces provide a good service but some let victims down. More detectives are needed and in some areas neighbourhood policing has been reduced. There are fewer arrests and crimes are shelved without proper investigation. 67,000 suspected criminals were not entered on national computers so all police forces know about them.
Hertfordshire, Humberside and Nottinghamshire Police Forces had not been responded "appropriately" to emergency calls. Devon and Cornwall, Hampshire and Sussex Forces assessed domestic abuse victims by phone rather than face-to-face. Violent gangs were not classed as organized crime to avoid stretching resources.Sir Peter Fahy, formerly of Greater Manchester Police, said forces will have to change how they do things, if the government continually asks them "to do more with less". Zoe Billingham, chief inspector said, "We are leading to a very serious conclusion regarding the potentially perilous state of British policing,(...) I'm raising a red flag to warn forces of the consequences of what is, to all intents and purposes, an unconscious form of rationing."
Police numbers are also cut though former police chief, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe believes more police are needed and doubts the wisdom of cutting police budgets. Hogan-Howe fears the new police chief will have to cut police numbers in London and maintains more police are needed there. “It’s getting bigger and we have some big events, (...) You need cops, you can’t throw laptops at crowds. You’ve got to deal with the situations you face, so that’s going to be a real challenge.”
There are certain instances where police forces of other nations operate in a limited degree in the United Kingdom:The Police aux Frontières or PAF (French Border Police), a division of the Police Nationale, is permitted to operate in regard to Eurostar rail services through the Channel Tunnel. This includes on Eurostar trains to London, within the international terminal at St Pancras Station, at Ebbsfleet International and Ashford International railway stations, and at the Cheriton Parc Le Shuttle terminal (alongside French Customs officials). The PAF also operate at Dover Ferry terminals. This arrangement is reciprocated to the British Transport Police, UK Border Agency, and UK Customs Officers on Paris bound trains and within the terminal at Paris Gare du Nord, Coquelles (Le Shuttle), Gare de Lille-Europe, Bruxelles-Midi/Brussel-Zuid and the Calais, Dunkerque, and Boulogne ferry terminals. The French police officers are not permitted to carry their firearms in the London Terminal; the firearms must be left on the train.
Garda Síochána (Irish Police), under an agreement between the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom, has the right, alongside the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland, to carry out inspections of the Sellafield nuclear facility in Cumbria.
In 2006 a small number of officers from the Policja (Polish Police) were seconded to the North Wales Police to assist with the supervision of foreign (largely eastern European) truck traffic largely on European route E22 (the A55 road). The Chief Constable of North Wales has publicly stated (November 2006) that he is considering directly recruiting a small number of officers from Poland to assist with policing the substantial population of Polish people that have migrated to his area since Poland's accession to the EU in 2004.
Military Police of forces present in the UK within the terms of the Visiting Forces Act 1952 are permitted to travel to/from relevant premises in uniform and their (usually distinctive) vehicles will occasionally be seen. Their powers (including the carrying of firearms) are generally limited by that and other legislation to those necessary for the performance of duties related to their own forces and to those possessed by the general public.