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The Police in Great Britain

What is the structure of the police force in Britain?

There are 52 police forces in Britain, mainly organised on a local basis. The Metropolitan Police Force and the City of London force are responsible for policing London.

Each force in England and Wales is responsible to a police authority consisting of local councillors, magistrates and independent members. Since April 1996 the police authority in Scotland comprises four joint police boards made up of local councillors. The police force in Northern Ireland, the Royal Ulster Constabulary, is responsible to an independent police authority appointed by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. For historical reasons, the Home Secretary is responsible for London's Metropolitan Police Force, advised by the Metropolitan Police Committee. For the City of London Police the authority is a committee of the Corporation of London.

Provincial forces are headed by a chief constable, deputy chief constable and assistant chief constable. The top Metropolitan Police ranks are the commissioner, deputy commissioner, assistant commissioner, deputy assistant commissioner and commander. Thereafter all ranks are the same in the forces - chief superintendent, superintendent, chief inspector, inspector, sergeant and constable.

Police/community liaison consultative groups operate in every police authority; they consist of representatives from the police, local councillors and community groups. Most forces use customer surveys to provide information on public attitudes. These are used to shape the standards of service being provided.

The heart of policing is the work done by police constables, who are in constant contact with the public. They patrol the streets on foot, or in cars, give advice and deal with disturbances. Local crime prevention panels - each one assisted by the police - identify crime problems and try to tackle them through publicity. The police are closely involved in setting up 'neighbourhood watch' schemes, advising residents on home security and encouraging residents to keep an eye on properties in their area and pass on information to the police about suspicious people or vehicles. There are about 150,000 full-time police officers in Britain, of whom around 12 per cent are women. In England there are currently about 2,200 officers from ethnic minorities. The Government has recently set targets to improve this figure throughout the country.

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