In the first of a new series of articles on the Emergency S ervices, we outline the career opportunities open to former military personnel in the UK’s p olice forces, highlighting the similarities and differences between working for the poli ce and the military.
He’s not afraid of authority, doesn’t care what other people think of him and currently ranks amongst the most popular fictional police officers in the UK. Detective Inspector John Rebus has just returned to stalk the streets of Edinburgh in the 17th novel by Ian Rankin, who sometimes considers Rebus to be his alter-ego – sharing his origins in Fife, but with a life that has followed a very different route. Whereas Rankin left Fife to go to Edinburgh University, the fictional Rebus instead joined the Army, and even tried out for the SAS.
Rebus’s subsequent move from the Services to the police is not an uncommon career path in real life. That said, the character’s lifestyle of booze, cigarettes and anger is far from being obligatory!
Although we tend to think of “the police” as one uniformed force, there are in fact 60 different police forces in the UK; 43 covering specific geographical areas in England and Wales, eight in Scotland, the single Police Service of Northern Ireland and an additional eight non-geographic-based forces including the British Transport Police, the Ministry of Defence Police and the Serious Organised Crime Agency.
Whether ‘on the beat’ or in other roles, the job of the police is to combat crime and protect the public, using a mixture of cutting-edge technology and time proven traditional methods. Daily duties for a police officer are likely to include assisting the public and attending ‘incidents’, preparing crime reports and other paperwork, interviewing witnesses and suspects and taking statements, making enquiries into crimes and offences, conducting searches, arresting people, and giving evidence at court.
Other career options in most forces include police community support officers (PCSOs) – who assist officers in areas such as victim support, house-to-house enquiries and dealing with the likes of truants, graffiti and abandoned vehicles – and Special Constables (aka ‘Specials’), unpaid volunteers who provide additional personnel for forces.
Although becoming a PCSO or Special Constable is a useful way to experience police work first hand, neither of them is a short-cut to becoming a full-time police officer. Nor can anyone jump rank; everyone must begin their police career as a constable.
FROM ONE SERVICE TO ANOTHER
Many Service leavers choose to enter the police because they are looking for a working environment that’s similar to the one they’re leaving: a world where there’s the shared camaraderie that comes from being a part of a close team; the structure from working within a uniformed, disciplined and hierarchical organization; and a job where each day can offer unexpected challenges. Indeed, like Services personnel, police officers are officially servants of the Crown; they must swear an oath of allegiance to the monarch, in whose name and legal authority they act. In that sense, it’s definitely not ‘just’ a job.
That said, there are many differences; as a police officer, you are far more likely to be dealing with members of the public than during your time in the Forces, and will invariably be living in the community where you work. Also, more of your colleagues will be female; women now make up around 21% of the UK’s police forces, compared to less than 10% of the Services. You will also have more say when it comes to you r pay and conditions; while it remains illegal for police officers to take any kind of industrial action or to engage i n trade union activity (thanks most recently to the Police Act 1996), local and national police federations exist to represent all ranks on matters of pay and welfare.
Not everyone from the Services will be eligible to join the police; you will have to be able to give evidence of your good conduct during your military service. That said, police forces are always on the lookout for people who thrive on challenge, and are willing to work hard; people who have the physical fitness, flexibility, self-confidence, attention to detail and people skills honed by time in the Forces. Although by no means the same, the two professions are certainly close relatives.
Individual police forces are responsible for their own recruitment, so selection and training procedures do vary across the UK – for instance, some forces will require you to wait a year between applications, others only six months – so it is important to get as much information as possible before you proceed. (Recruitment information will be on each force’s website.) Broadly, though, eligibility criteria are the same across the UK; there are no upper age limits for appointments and no formal educational requirements, beyond having a reasonable educational background or ‘other relevant life experience’ – and Service leavers are certainly likely to have that! It’s worth noting that, while police forces normally insist that all candidates have three years’ continuous residency in the UK, they accept that Service leavers are likely to have been overseas.
The whole recruitment process can be quite a lengthy business – lasting up to six or seven months – but if you already know your discharge date, police forces will accept your application up to six months before you leave the Forces – potentially allowing you to move seamlessly from one career to the other.
The recruitment process is essentially as follows:
· You confirm that the police force operating in the area you want to work is recruiting, then request, complete and submit an application form. Remember that you can only apply to one force at a time.
· Your application form is checked to ensure your eligibility, and the competency questions are marked.
· If your application is successful you will be invited to an assessment centre or other venue, whe re you will complete a day-long Police Initial Recruitment Test (Police Standard Entrance Test in Scotland); this covers wr itten and oral English skills, verbal reasoning and number skills in a series of interviews, role-play situations a nd written tests. Although the Police Initial Recruitment Test is not excessively difficult, many people fail to pass due to lack of preparation; exampl es of the PIRT can be accessed through mo st police forces’ websites, or from commercial training companies.
· Assuming you pass the PIRT, you will then attend separate medical and fitness t ests – these are to ensure you meet the minimum standards needed to work effectively as a police officer, and will be repeated throughout your career. They should not be problematic to Service leavers.
· Subject to references and security checks, you will then be offered a position by your chosen force and begin your two years of training in earnest. This will usually include 15 weeks at a traini ng centre on a National Police Training Course during the first year, followed by a mixture of classroom learni ng and ‘on the job’ experience putting the theory into practice under the watchful eye of a tutor constable.
After successfully completing two years as a student officer, you will have the option to remain ‘on the beat’ or to apply for specialist areas; these can range from traffic control and doghandling to police diving and the Criminal Investigation Department (CID); such ro les may well require additional qualifications , but you will be supported by the force during your training.
PAY & PROSPECTS
Exact rates can vary from one force to the next, but police constables generally star t on an annual salary of £20k, rising to almost £23k after completion of initial training. Subsequent salaries depend upon both rank and time of service; for constables, pay rises to £32k after 10 years’ service, while sergeants sta rt on £32k and will earn up to £36k after four years. The pay scale for inspectors ranges from £41k to £43k after three years.
Since April 2006 it has become easier to transfer part or all of your Services pe nsion into a subsequent police pension; however, you should always seek out independent financial advice before making any such decision.
Recruitment requirements do vary from one force to another, depending on the local employment situation, so it’s important to check beforehand. That said, the next five years are likely to be a goo d time to apply; many forces – particularly in Scotland – undertook a massive recruitment drive 30 years ago; in the next five years, many of those officers will become eligible for retirement. Strathclyde Police, for example, could potentially lose almost 30% of its officers before 2010, and is therefore looking to recruit around 400 officers this year alone to help maint ain its skills base. “If you wanted to turn the police into a career opportunity, this is the time to do it,” says Sergeant John Perry of Strathclyde Police. “For people that obviously show aptitude for the job, the sky’s the limit.”
999 – POLICE
The police can offer Service leavers a working environment that has much in commo n with their previous career – the camaraderie that comes from teamwork, the structured organisation and the opportunity of serving the community. While there are practical difference s between the two professions, the UK’s pol ice forces can certainly offer an immensely varied, challenging and rewarding career.
Could You? Police (Home Office website)
UK Police Service (Central portal to all UK police force websites)