What do they do?
The police forces of England and Wales have their origins in the Bow Street Runners, set up to stop thieves in London in 1750, and Sir Robert Peel's first professional body of constables, introduced 80 years later. After London set the pace, the rest of the country soon followed suit. These days, although society, and its policing, has changed unrecognisably, the only way into the force remains via the rank of constable. However the High Potential Development Scheme (HPDS), which operates across the country, gives new recruits the opportunity to get on a promotion fast track from the moment they join.
There are 43 police forces in England and Wales, comprising 141,230 police officers, 11,918 volunteer special constables and 6,214 community support officers.
Outside London, forces are mainly organised along county boundaries, with one central headquarters, and a network of stations of various sizes in cities and towns. Although this isn't an office job, some time is spent behind a desk, and a computer.
Is this you?
First you need to be prepared to start on the beat, dealing with domestic incidents, street disturbances, road accidents and both sides of crime: offenders and victims. If, in addition, you see yourself in leadership roles, often handling sensitive situations under high pressure, then this is the scheme for you.
The recruitment process:
Go to www.policehighpotential.org.uk for application details. A high mark in the basic recruitment test (sat by all applicants) will send you down the HPDS application channel, an assessment centre process that tests your problem solving, organisation and communications skills, as well as "customer focus" and "respect for race and diversity." If you're taken on, your initial training will be the same as any other recruit, but you'll be able to go for promotion much sooner. There'll also be ongoing advice and guidance from senior officers to help you gain broad experience across the police spectrum. But before all this, you'll have several months at a training centre, learning the basic tools of the trade.
Pay is no different than for other recruits, who start their training on £20,000, rising to £22,000 on passing out (more in London). However HPD officers should rise through the pay milestones much more quickly, so could be pulling in £53,000 as a superintendent comfortably within a decade of joining.
Beam me up Scotty?
The first few promotions follow formal exams. Thereafter it's on merit. But you could wear the stripes of a sergeant in your second year, and be a chief inspector six years later.
Who's the boss?
Britain's senior police officer is Sir Ian Blair, Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police. All other forces have a chief constable in charge. Political responsibility rests with the Home Secretary.
Little known fact:
Six out of the UK's 45 police forces are led by women, four as chief constables and two as acting chief constables
Next week: PricewaterhouseCoopers, accountants.