The move, which is particularly aimed at working mothers, comes into effect today and has been welcomed by all sections of the service as a way of creating a more flexible organisation.
It follows concern that the service was losing highly-trained women officers - particularly in such fields as child abuse and domestic violence - who felt unable to return to work full-time after having a child. Many officers find shift work difficult to reconcile with the demands of children and available child care.
The scheme applies to men and women officers in all types of policing work, including front-line patrol work and specialist duties such as CID. For officers of superintendent rank and above, job sharing will be available. It comes after an 18-month pilot scheme involving 200 officers in six forces in England and Wales, which has been widely hailed as a success.
Mr Howard said yesterday: 'Part-time officers are a valuable addition to police resources. This is a significant step forward particularly for women officers who want to combine a career and a family.'
A spokeswoman for the Police Federation, which represents lower ranking officers, said: 'The service has wasted a lot of men and women. Part-time working gives a lot of flexibility. We fully support this development.'
Mike Bennett, chairman of the Metropolitan Police federation, one of the forces which took part in the pilot schemes, said he had been proved wrong in his belief that part-time working was incompatible with the police.
He said: 'We were losing very experienced people and they were being replaced by very inexperienced people. That costs money and it's not a good way to run a police force. With this and job shares and career breaks we have come into the real world.'
In Cleveland, another force which participated, Chief Inspector Denis Hampson said part-time working was overdue. He cited one case in which a constable had wanted to work Thursdays and Saturdays and was able to act as beat bobby for a town's market on the two days it was held each week.
The majority of officers who took part in the pilot schemes were women constables who wanted to continue in the service but also bring up a family. A report on the results concluded that the arguments for introducing part-time working into the police were 'overwhelming'.
In addition to retaining qualified and skilled workers who no longer wanted to work full-time, it attracted former officers back to the service, enabled managers to respond to workload variations, saved money and helped improve the quality of service to the public.
Until now, officers who returned to the service after a break had to undergo fresh training and could not always be assured of returning at the same rank.Reuse content