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Information: Becoming a police officer

Aim of this page

In recent years the rules regarding eligibility to become a police officer have been slightly relaxed.

The aim of this page is to set out how your criminal record might affect an application to join the police.

This is part of our information on looking for (and keeping) employment and volunteering.

Why is this important?

Despite relaxing the recruitment rules to allow for a more inclusive and diverse police force, the police still have very strict entry requirements.

It’s important to be aware of the criteria that the police use to make their recruitment decisions and whether you are likely to meet them. Some convictions/cautions will result in an outright rejection whilst others will be considered on a case by case basis.

Entry routes for police constables

There are currently four main routes into the police service.

  • Apprenticeship – You can join as a constable and follow an apprenticeship in professional policing practice. This route will usually take three years and will involve both on and off-the-job learning.
  • Degree-holder entry – If you already have a degree (it doesn’t matter which subject) you can join and follow a work-based programme, supported by off-the-job learning. This route will usually take two years.
  • Pre-join degree – If you’d prefer to study first, you can do a three year degree in professional policing (at your own expense) and then apply to a police force and follow a shorter on-the job training programme.
  • ‘Traditional’ Initial Police Learning Development Programme (IPLDP) – This is the original route into the police force and is gradually being replaced with the three new entry routes set out above. You will need to apply directly to the force and then undertake a two year programme.

What is the eligibility criteria for the role of a police officer?

The College of Policing has produced guidance for the recruitment of police officers which can be found here.

There are various criteria you must meet in relation to age, financial situation and tattoos/body piercings but our information will concentrate on criminal records.

Criminal records

The checks they carry out

Police force’s will carry out thorough checks on you, your spouse or partner, close relatives such as parents, in-laws, children or others residing or associated with you. They will check the Police National Computer (PNC), Criminal History System (CHS), Criminal Information System (CIS), local intelligence and other relevant non-conviction databases. Where appropriate they will also check military and police professional standards databases as well.

Depending on the role that you may be carrying out when you join the police force, a Counter Terrorism Check (CTC) may be carried out.

If you are applying to a police force outside the area where you live, your residing force may be asked to conduct checks on you using their systems and local intelligence databases.

The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 does not apply to the police. Therefore, you will need to disclose all spent and unspent convictions, including those that are filtered. The police will conduct a search of the PNC, so they will be aware of all cautions/convictions (even those which would be eligible for filtering).

A case heard at the Court of Appeal in October 2020 ruled that all would-be police officers must disclose all convictions and cautions including those received as a child. The judges stated that disclosure is “necessary in a democratic society” to prevent crime.

Police forces will use the guidance provided to assess each application on an individual basis and eligibility will depend on the nature and circumstances of the offence.

In May 2019, the College of Policing produced a guide to APP Vetting which provides information on the vetting procedures which are applied to police forces in England and Wales.

What you should declare

The eligibility criteria for the role of police constables states:

The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 (Exceptions) Order 1975 does not apply to police officers. Police forces are therefore entitled to ask applicants to reveal spent convictions during the recruitment or vetting process.”

For vetting purposes, a check will be made of the Police National Computer, the Police National Database and other intelligence databases. Any cautions or convictions which are ‘protected’ (eligible for filtering off standard and enhanced DBS checks) would also need to be disclosed.

How are convictions/cautions dealt with?

On 12 October 2017 the new Police Vetting Code of Practice was published, replacing the previous 2012 policy. The Code applies to all police forces in England and Wales.

It emphasises the importance of maintaining high ethical and professional standards and of police officers acting with the utmost integrity, for which purpose a thorough vetting regime is essential. It sets out a number of principles, including Principle 12 which states:

Public confidence may be affected if an officer has a previous conviction or caution, therefore there is a rebuttable presumption that a person will not be suitable for appointment as a police officer or special constable if they have a previous conviction or caution for a criminal offence, especially if it relates to dishonest or corrupt practices, or violence. Factors that may weigh against this presumption being applied in individual cases include the nature and severity of the offence, the person’s age at the time they committed the offence, and the length of time since the offence was committed. Each case must be considered on its own merits including both the individual’s role in the offence and the nature of the conviction or caution. This presumption applies to police staff roles with designated powers or roles where there is a likelihood of being in the evidential chain.”

The Code adds that an application for a position as a police officer, or as a member of police staff where the person may be in the evidential chain, are to be rejected in all cases where an offence, whether committed as an adult or child, resulted in a custodial sentence (including a suspended sentence) or where the applicant is a registered sex offender or subject to a registration requirement.

Undisclosed convictions

Where the police suspect that you have failed to declare a conviction or caution, enquiries will be made to ascertain whether the conviction or caution is attributable to you. Enquiries will be made to the relevant court to ensure that the conviction has not been overturned on appeal. Where it is established that you have deliberately failed to disclose a conviction or caution, then your application will probably by rejected.

This makes it particularly important to make sure that you understand your criminal record.

Outstanding charges and summonses

If you disclose an outstanding charge or summons, your application will probably be put on hold until the outcome is known, at which point it will be considered in accordance with the guidance above.

HM Forces convictions

If you are a serving member of the armed forces and have been convicted of any criminal offence by a military tribunal, this will be recorded on the PNC. This will include any aspect of a conditional discharge. Any convictions obtained whilst in the armed forces will be considered in accordance with the guidance.

Relatives and associates with criminal convictions or cautions

Where your relatives or associates are found to have unspent convictions or cautions for recordable offences, the following will be considered:

  • The likelihood that your performance and discharge of duty will be adversely affected e.g. through adverse pressure or a conflict of interests.
  • The nature, number and seriousness of the offences or involvement in criminal activity and the time over which these took place.
  • Whether the circumstances are likely to bring discredit to or embarrass the Police Service or Police Force.

Vetting for candidates who have been living or are resident abroad

The police will carry out recruitment vetting procedures on all applicants to determine your suitability to have access to sensitive and classified information. This applies to all applicants (including United Kingdom nationals who have been living abroad, Commonwealth and foreign applicants).

If you are living or have recently lived abroad then the police will make checks looking for at least a 3 year checkable history.

If you cannot be vetted then your application will not be successful.

Vetting for non-police personnel

The police will carry out recruitment vetting procedures on all “persons employed for the purposes of, or to assist the constables of, a police force established under any enactment”. You can be asked about both unspent and spent cautions and convictions and they can be considered in the vetting process. However, you shouldn’t be asked to disclose protected (filtered) cautions and convictions and they shouldn’t be considered in the vetting process.

Discuss this with others

Read and share your experiences on our online forum.

Key sections include:

Below you will find links to useful websites relating to this page. More specific details (including addresses and telephone numbers) of some of the organisations listed below can be found here.

More information

  1. For practical information – More information regarding this can be found at understanding your criminal record
  2. To discuss this issue with others – Read and share your experiences on our online forum
  3. Questions – If you have any questions about this, you can contact our helpline.

Get involved

Help us to add value to this information. You can

  1. Comment on this page (below)
  2. Send your feedback directly to us
  3. Discuss your views and experiences with others on our online forum
  4. Share your personal story by contributing to our online magazine, theRecord.

This page was last fully reviewed and updated in November 2016. If you’ve spotted something that needs updating, please let us know by emailing the details to






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Debbie Sadler
Helpline lead

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