Policing policy is often at the forefront of the political debates surrounding crime, security and liberty.


The police in the UK is split into several forces. These are mostly territorial, usually defined by county borders (for example Hampshire Constabulary or Sussex Police), however there are some forces which are non-territorial, such as the British Transport Police or the Civil Nuclear Constabulary.

There are around 270,000 people employed by the police. Of these 173,000 are uniformed police officers, but there are also about 13,000 police community support officers, who are also uniformed but who have fewer powers. There are also about 80,000 supporting civilian administrative staff.


Policing and police forces are governed by a ‘tripartite relationship’, designed to maintain a balance of powers. This relationship consists of:

  • The Home Secretary: who has responsibility for the national approach to policing, including national policy and stategy. Police pay and conditions are also determined at a national level.
  • Police authorities: are made up of local councillors and members of the local community. They have responsibility for setting police forces’ budgets and determining what the local policing priorities should be. They also monitor the performance of their local police force and hold senior police officers to account.
  • Chief police officers: are responsible for the day to day operational management of their force, including allocating personnel and other resources.
This relationship is due to be changed in November 2012 when police authorities are replaced by police and crime commissioners.

Changes to policing policy

The coalition government announced several changes to policing policy in their programme for government. The overall aim of these changes was to bring greater accountability and publiuc involvement to policing. The government subsequently published the policing in the 21st century consultation.

Policing reforms announced in House of Commons

These changes are included in the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act.

Home Secretary Theresa May outlines the government’s policing proposals

Part of the proposals include replacing the current police authorities with directly elected police and crime commissioners. These commissioners would be responsible for the strategic direction of policing and setting the annual budget for the local police force. The idea behind this is to create a direct link between the police force and the public, thus making the police more accountable; this was a key Conservative Party manifesto pledge during the election. The first police and crime commissioner elections are due to take place on 15 November 2012.

There were objections to these changes. These mainly centre around how the role blurs the boundary between politics and the operational business of policing. Arguments are also mobilized against the cost of the proposals. The Association of Police Authorities were particularly vocal in their criticism of the proposals.

There are also proposals to reform policing at a national level in order to combat serious and organized crime. Part of these plans includes the creation of a National Crime Agency.

Home Secretary Theresa May outlines the new National Crime Agency

Further reading

Bayley, D. H. (1994). Police for the Future. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Loveday, B. (2007). Fitting the Bill: Local Policing for the 21st Century. London: Policy Exchange.

O’Byrne, M. (2001). Changing Policing: Revolution not Evolution. Lyme Regis: Russell House.

Reiner, R. (2000). The Politics of the Police (3rd ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Savage, S. (2007). Police Reform: Forces for Change. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

The Police Journal, Policing: a Journal of Policy and Practice, Policing: an International Journal of Police Strategies and Management and Police Quarterly are all academic journals covering policing policy (University of Portsmouth login is required to access content).

Other resources

The Home Office is the government department responsible for policing.

The GOV.UK website has basic information on policing in the UK.

Association of Chief Police Officers is an independent, professionally led strategic body, leading and coordinating the direction and development of the police service with the government and other organisations.

Association of Police Authorities represents the intersts of police authorities across the UK.

Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary acts as the auditing body for police forces, inspecting how they operate.

The Independent Police Complaints Commission handles complaints made against the police.

Police Professional (a weekly policing magazine) and the Guardian newspaper offer good sources of news on policing issues.

Policing reform resources

Home Office: policing in the 21st century consultation and the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act. Also details about the National Crime Agency.

Information about the forthcoming police and crime commissioner elections can be found on the Choose My PCC website and the Home Office website.

Policing reform updates on the Association of Police Authorities website.

The Police Debate‘, organized by the PA Consulting Group, brought various sides of the policing reform debate together.

As part of its commitment to make policing more accountable, the government has published and mapped street level crime data.