House of Commons Library

Policing in the UK

Published Monday, July 8, 2019

This briefing is designed to provide a ‘beginners guide’ to policing policy in the UK. It discusses the key legislation for the governance of police services, how police forces work, including when they work together and how they organise their staff, and how they are overseen.

Jump to full report >>

The police service in the UK is divided into 47 separate police forces: 43 territorial police forces in England and Wales, a national police force in both Scotland and Northern Ireland and 2 specialist police forces: the British Transport Police and the Civil Nuclear Constabulary.

Policing policy is devolved, and the UKs constituent countries have taken divergent approaches to the organisation of policing services. Major reforms to policing have recently taken place in both England and Wales and Scotland. In England and Wales power for making policy decisions for local policing have been largely transferred to Police and Crime Commissions and local Mayors. The Home Office has therefore switched its focus to combating serious and organised crime nationally. In Scotland, the former regional police forces have been merged to create one national police force: Police Scotland.

Police services across the UK are having to contend with multiple challenges. Many forces have been under financial pressure following austerity measures implemented since 2010. They are also responding to evolving crime threats including digital crime and serious violence.

Overall the inspectorate of constabulary has reported that the police are responding well to these challenges. However, there are continuing concerns with the resourcing of police forces and growing calls for there to be fundamental reform which facilitates collaboration between forces at a regional and national level.   

Other Library briefings on policing

This briefing does not explain the system for funding police services. This is covered in a separate library briefing: Police funding. This paper does not describe the police complaints system in detail. For help understanding how complaints about the police are handled please see the Library paper Police complaints systems in the UK.

This paper does not provide statistics on police services. Information about the number of police staff can be found in the paper: Police service strength

Commons Briefing papers CBP-8582

Author: Jennifer Brown

Share this page

Stay up to date

  • Subscribe to RSS feed Subscribe to Email alerts Commons Briefing papers

House of Commons Library

The House of Commons Library provides research, analysis and information services for MPs and their staff.