Law enforcement in the United Kingdom is organised separately in Scotland, Northern Ireland, and England and Wales (administration of police matters is not generally affected by the Government of Wales Act 2006). Police forces are arranged in geographical police areas matched to the boundaries of one or more local government areas in the United Kingdom.

Police PowersEdit

Territorial police constablesEdit

Most law enforcement in the United Kingdom is carried out by 'territorial police constables'. Constable is a consititional office in most Commonwealth countries, including the United Kingdom, and South Africa [1]. All police officers in the United Kingdom are constables. Constable is also the starting rank in all British police forces. The office of Constable is a sworn office. Constables have the obligation to maintain the Queen's Peace, and have powers of arrest. All British citizens have the power to arrest those committing a breach of the peace, however Constables have a duty to so do, and also a duty to arrest those who may by cause a breach of the peace. The primary difference between a Constable and a normal citizen is that a Constable carries out the citizen's obligations on a full time basis. The Constable today has the following duties:

  • Bringing law breakers to justice (especially the investigation of crime)
  • Suppressing disorder and keeping the peace
  • Deterring people from breaking the law

Territorial police constables routinely operate in a Police Authority Area, but are fully empowered as constables within the legal system in which they operate. A British constable can execute a warrant in any of the UK's four countries. If someone is suspected of committing an offence in one country, and is now in another, a constable from the country in which the alleged offence took place may arrest (and in Scotland detain) that person, but must take them to a police station (either the nearest police station, or the nearest station in the appropriate country). For an offence committed in another country (i.e. an English constable arresting someone in Scotland for an offence committed in Scotland) a constable has the following powers:

  • English or Welsh constable in:
    • Scotland: the same power of arrest as a constable from Scotland (N.B. Certain constables in the Metropolitan Police Force work in Scotland as a part of their normal duties)
    • Nothern 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) (N.B. Certain constables in the Metropolitan Police Force work in Northern Ireland as a part of their normal duties)
  • Scottish constable in:
    • England or 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)
    • 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)
  • RUC constable in:
    • England or 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)
    • Scotland: the same power of arrest as a constable from Scotland

Other constablesEdit

Members of non-territorial police forces such as the British Transport Police, and the Civil Nuclear Constabulary have the powers of a constable across the entire UK on land and in matters relating to their work. Upon the request of a Chief Police Officer, they can be given full powers in a police area in order to supplement a territorial police force. In addition, territorial constables may request the assistance of individual British Transport Police constables.

Non-territorial constables can assume full powers themselves in the event that the attendance of a constable from the relevant territory cannot be assured in a reasonable time.

Special constablesEdit

'Special Constables' are non-regular law enforcement officers and can be paid or unpaid. They hold the same powers as a constable. Special constables are generally used as a supplement to regular constables. Occasionally special constables come from other police forces.

Police employeesEdit

Some police work is done by people who are not constables. Some highly technical or administrative roles are performed by police employees. They have no constabulary powers, but may if necessary be used as special constables.

Members of the Armed ForcesEdit

In Northern Ireland only, members of the 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. This power is generally used by the Royal Navy in policing the waters of the United Kingdom. Controversially, it allows them to stop, board, and search UK-flagged ships.

Police ForcesEdit

Great Britain and Northern Ireland have two types of Police Force, the territorial police forces, and the special police forces. The territorial police forces report to an independent Police Authority, and are responsible for a particular police area. In England, Scotland, and Wales, police areas correspond to local government areas. Northern Ireland has a single police force (the Royal Ulster Constabulary). Special police forces tend to have a specific non-regional jurisdiction. Special police forces tend not to be part of the Home Office.

The UK's crown colonies have their own police forces, the most famous being the Royal Hong Kong Police Force.

Territorial police forcesEdit

The role of territorial police forces in the UK is general community policing. Territorial police forces in England, Scotland, and Wales cover a police area, and report to Police Authority. The Police Authority is appointed by the council for the jurisdiction in question (the Metropolitan Police Authority is appointed by the Greater London Council), and consists of councillors, and magistrates. The Home Office also appoints independent members to each Authority.

The uniformed head of a territorial police force is the Chief Police Officer. His title will in almost all cases be 'Chief Constable'. The Chief Police Officers of the Metropolitan Police and the City of London Police has the rank of 'Commissioner'. Chief Police Officers have a great deal of autonomy from both the Police Authority, and the Home Office

The United Kingdom has 52 territorial police forces.

List of Territorial Police ForcesEdit


  1. Avon and Somerset Constabulary
  2. Bedfordshire Police
  3. Cambridgeshire Constabulary
  4. Cheshire Constabulary
  5. City of London Police
  6. Cleveland Constabulary
  7. Cumbria Constabulary
  8. Derbyshire Constabulary
  9. Devon and Cornwall Constabulary
  10. Dorset Police
  11. Durham Constabulary
  12. Essex Police
  13. Gloucestershire Constabulary
  14. Greater Manchester Police
  15. Hampshire Constabulary
  16. Hertfordshire Constabulary
  17. Humberside Police
  18. Kent County Constabulary
  19. Lancashire Constabulary
  20. Leicestershire Constabulary
  1. Lincolnshire Police
  2. Merseyside Police
  3. Metropolitan Police Force
  4. Norfolk Constabulary
  5. Northamptonshire Constabulary
  6. Northumbria Police
  7. North Yorkshire Police
  8. Nottinghamshire Police
  9. South Yorkshire Police
  10. Staffordshire Police*
  11. Suffolk Constabulary
  12. Surrey Constabulary
  13. Sussex Police
  14. Thames Valley Constabulary
  15. Warwickshire County Constabulary
  16. West Mercia Constabulary*
  17. West Midlands Police*
  18. West Yorkshire Constabulary
  19. Wiltshire Constabulary

*Note: Staffordshire, West Mercia and West Midlands participate in a partnership called the Central Motorway Police Group


  1. Dyfed-Powys Police (Heddlu Dyfed Powys)
  2. Gwent Police (Heddlu Gwent)
  3. North Wales Police (Heddlu Gogledd Cymru)
  4. South Wales Police (Heddlu De Cymru)


  1. Central Scotland Police
  2. Dumfries and Galloway Constabulary
  3. Fife Constabulary
  4. Grampian Police
  5. Lothian and Borders Police
  6. Northern Constabulary
  7. Strathclyde Police
  8. Tayside Police

Northern IrelandEdit

  1. Royal Ulster Constabulary

Special police forcesEdit

Special police forces have a non-territorial functional jurisdiction. The UK has four special police forces.

  • British Transport Police: Railways in the UK, reports to the Ministry of Transport
  • Ministry of Defence Police: MoD sites in the UK, defence personnel, defence interests in the UK, UK nuclear weapons. Reports to the Ministry of Defence.
  • Civil Nuclear Constabulary: Non-military nuclear sites in the UK, nuclear material in transit. Reports to the Ministry of Technology.
  • Scottish Crime and Drug Enforcement Agency - Investigation of serious crime and illegal drugs in Scotland. Reports to the Scottish Executive, the Home Office, and the Scottish Office.

Crown colony police forcesEdit

Most of Britain's colonies have a police force. The British Antarctic Territory does not (relying on the Royal Navy Police), nor does South Georgia and the Sandwich Islands (the Royal Falkland Islands Police has responsibility). The Pitcairn Islands have a single police officer, engaged on a twelve month contract. Ministry of Defence Police officers can be stationed there in the event of an emergency, and an agreement with New Zealand has been reached regarding policing. For a brief period after the Argentine surrender of the Falkland Islands, the Royal Military Police assumed policing duties, being sworn as Special Constables.

Most of these forces are trained by the Metropolitan Police, and equipment follows the pattern set by the Metropolitan Police.

The largest, and most notable of the Crown colonies' police forces is the Royal Hong Kong Police Force.

Agencies with limited Police PowersEdit

  • Independent Police Complaints Commission: Investigates complaints against by the Police by the public
  • Serious Organised Crime Agency: Investigates nation-wide and international organised crime
  • Her Majesty's Customs and Excise: Controls border entry points, polices Britain's waters

Other policing agenciesEdit

British Military Police forces are not normally constables. Occasionally they may be used as special constables, and all military police in the Falkland Islands are sworn as special constables.

A national police force?Edit

Functions such as national drug enforcement, anti-terrorism, diplomatic protection, investigation of crimes relating to the currency, protection of government buildings, and protection of government leaders are done by national police forces in most countries. The the United Kingdom, these tasks are done by sections of the Metropolitan Police Service. MPS Constables on these duties are empowered across the entire UK.

There is little real support for a national police force in the UK, and no serious prospect of it being formed. Individual police forces coordinate together closely (mostly through ACPO/ACPOS).

Uniforms and EquipmentEdit

Apart from the RUC, and the RHKPF, most British police forces wear the same uniform of black trousers, white shirt with rank insignia and warrant number, duty belt, stab vest. Male officers below inspector wear the Custodian Helmet (popularly known as the Bobbie Helmet). Inspectors, and officers on mobile patrols wear a peaked cap, usually with black Sillitoe Tartan for the cap band. Red Sillitoe Tartan is worn by the City of London Police. Women wear a bowler hat. Different forces are distinguished by the cap badge. For formal occasions, an open necked tunic is worn. Officers above the rank of Superintendent wear the jacket as their normal attire as it corresponds to the civilian business suit.

RUC officers wear a uniform of similar cut, but the colour is 'rifle green'. The winter uniform of the Royal Hong Kong Police Force is similar to that of most British police forces, however, in summer, a khaki safari suit and shorts are worn.

British police carry digital radios, CS cannisters, extendible batons, and handcuffs. Mobile phones are increasingly used to supplement radios.

British police use several types of vehicles. In urban areas, patrol cars tend to be small/medium cars of Japanese, Korean, Australian, or British make. British vehicles are preferred for political reasons. Armed Response Vehicles, and Road Policing Unit use large cars, frequently upgraded for high performance. The main car used for this purpose are the Australian Ford Falcon, and Vauxhall Senator. Often the 'sport' versions such as the Ford Falcon XR8 and Vauxhall VXR8 are used. Estate or saloon cars are used. SUVs are used for motorway patrolling. Most rural forces have a high proportion of SUVs. Vans are used for specialised tasks such as carrying prisoners. Vans such as the Ford Transit and Renault Trafic are used for transportation of police teams, and prisoners. They are also used as command posts, and equipment carriers. Land Rovers are often used by rural police forces. The RUC, and RHKPF use Land Rovers as standard patrol vehicles.

Aircraft, both fixed and rotary wing are maintained by many police forces. All police forces have access to helicopters, either their own, or from other forces. The RUC also uses British Army and RAF helicopters. Most British police helicopters are of American, or European make.

Watercraft ranging from zodiacs to launches are used by forces with significant waterways in its police area.


Only the following British police forces are routinely armed:

  • Royal Ulster Constabulary
  • Ministry of Defence Police
  • Civil Nuclear Constabulary
  • Royal Hong Kong Police Force
  • Singapore Police Force

Other special and territorial police forces have Authorised Firearms Officers (AFO), and Specialised Firearms Officers (SFO). An Authorised Firearms Officer is a normal constable who has received training in the use of firearms. They are usually used to crew Armed Response Vehicles, or to carry out duties in Armed Response Squads. Special Branch, Flying Squad, and Diplomatic Protection also use AFOs. Specialised Firearms Officers are closer to SWAT officers, and are used in tactical teams, and close protection units.

Each force is free to procure its own arms according to its own requirements, however ACPO and ACPOS have set out standards for police firearms, and the following weapons are recommended by ACPO:

  • Beretta 92FS 9mm pistol
  • FN FNP-9 9mm pistol
  • FN FNP-9m 9mm compact pistol
  • Browning BDA 9mm pistol
  • Colt AR-15A4 5.56mm semiautomatic rifle
  • Colt Law Enforcement Carbine 5.56mm semiautomatic carbine
  • Enfield SA80-S 5.56mm semi-automatic rifle (semi-automatic only SA80)
  • Colt 9mm carbine
  • American Taser International X26
  • ARWEN ACE 37mm Baton Gun
  • FN 303 less lethal launcher

Specialised Firearms Officers weapons also include:

  • Knights SR-25 7.62mm sniper rifle
  • Colt Accurized Rifle 5.56mm sniper rifle
  • Accuracy International Arctic Warfare Police .338 Lapua Magnum sniper rifle
  • Colt 9mm SMG
  • L1A1 SLR 7.62mm rifle
  • Remington 870 12 gauge shotgun (breaching only)
  • L1A1 CS Gas Launcher

Firearms (other than those above) used by other forces are as follows:

  • Minister of Defence Police
    • L9A1 Browning 9mm pistol
    • L85A2 Individual Weapon 5.56mm rifle
    • FN P90 5.7mm personal defence weapon
  • Royal Ulster Constabulary
    • Ruger P85 9mm pistol
    • Ruger AC-556 5.56mm rifle
  • Singapore Police Force
    • SAR-80 5.56mm rifle
    • SR-88 5.56mm rifle

Association of Chief Police OfficersEdit

The Chief Police Officers of the United Kingdom have formed two professional associations for themselves, the Association of Chief Police Officers, and the Association of Chief Police Officers of Scotland. These bodies act to coordinate policy, lobby Police Authorities and Central Government, and set standards. The uniformity in procedures, and equipment in British policing is partly the responsibility of the Home Office, and partly ACPO/ACPOS. ACPO/ACPOS have been accused of evading Home Office regulations, however technically the Chief Constable of a force can reject Home Office guidelines if operational circumstances make it necessary.