The police

How the police service works

Policing in the United Kingdom is sub-divided by region, and each force deals with crime and policing in its own way subject to national requirements. There are 43 police forces in England and Wales, along with the British Transport Police and the separate police forces of Scotland and Northern Ireland.

A list of all police forces (with links to their websites) can be found on the website.

How many police there are and what they do

The number of police officers, police staff, police community support officers (PCSOs), traffic wardens and special constables is published every six months – at the end of March and September – by the Home Office. Breakdowns are available by gender, ethnicity, rank and police force area. There’s also data on the number of people joining and leaving the police force.

Supplementary tables provided with each release describe the police workforce by function, including how many: use firearms, deal with missing persons, or are deployed on special operations.

For information on how police numbers have changed over time, the House of Commons Library has compiled these statistics in one place.

International comparisons of police numbers are available from the EU statistical agency Eurostat.

Frontline policing

In 2001, HM Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) published a review on police visibility and frontline policing. The review ‘Demanding Times’ defined frontline policing as: “Frontline police are those who are in everyday contact with the public and who directly intervene to keep people safe and enforce the law”

Figures for the number of frontline police are published by HMIC in ‘Valuing the Police’ data and in summary format by the House of Commons Library.

Police powers

The law gives the police forces several powers to carry out law enforcement. The Home Office tracks the following powers: arrests, detentions, stops and searches, road checks, intimate searches (like drug searches), fixed penalty notices (for motoring offences) and breath tests.

Figures for all these are published as part of the annual inventory of police powers and procedures, published by the Home Office.

Arrest figures are broken down by age, sex, type of offence, ethnicity and local area as far back as 2002. More detailed figures for race are published in ‘Race and the criminal justice system’ by the Ministry of Justice.

Detention figures show how long people are detained for and the proportion of detentions that result in a charge or release without charge (once again as far back as 2002).

Stop and search figures are broken down by: the type of legislation they happen under, the reason given by police for searches, the proportion of searches that result in arrest, the ethnicity of suspects and how likely they are to be searched. The data is available at local force level.

Some figures can be traced back to 2002. HM Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) also released a report in 2013 studying whether police were using stop and search powers fairly.

The data on fixed penalty notices provide information on whether drivers have accrued points on their licence, the offences they’ve committed and the result afterwards. The statistics on intimate searches, road checks and breath tests cite the reasons given for checks and whether they result in arrests or positive breath tests.

Police stations and 999 calls

Figures for the number of police stations and ‘front desks’ (stations the public can access) aren’t collected by the Home Office as this is a matter for local police forces.

However, HM Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) collects and publishes data on the number of police stations in each local area, along with the number of front desks and planned numbers for the next few years, all as part of their ‘Valuing the Police’ series.

The volume of 999 calls coming in to each local police force is published in the same place.

Public perceptions and trust in the police

Polling organisation Ipsos MORI have a long-term survey which measures trust in different professions, including the police. It asks respondents “whether you generally trust them to tell the truth or not” as a measure of trust, and publishes figures dating back to 1983.

Survey information on trust in the police and how it is managed is also gathered less regularly by the British Social Attitudes Survey. Every few years between 1987 and 2000 they asked respondents how much they trusted police “not to bend the rules in trying to get conviction”.

The Crime Survey of England and Wales captures public opinion on local policing. Tables published by the Office for National Statistics include information on: how confident people are in the police’s effectiveness, how often they see police officers, their awareness and use of local police programmes and to what extent they perceive the police as reliable, respectful and fair.

HM Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) has also done public opinion surveys on how safe people feel, how they use local police services and how they communicate with the police as part of their ‘Valuing the Police’ comparison surveys.