List of Police Forces in the United Kingdom

Law enforcement
in the United Kingdom
Types of agency
Types of agent
Statutory Instruments
  • Police and Criminal Evidence (Northern Ireland) Order 1989

This is a list of law enforcement agencies in the United Kingdom. There are a number of agencies which participate in law enforcement in the United Kingdom. There are four general types mostly concerned with policing the general public and their activities and a number of others concerned with policing of other, usually localised, matters.

Over the centuries there has been a wide variation in the number of police forces in the United Kingdom, with a huge number now no longer in existence. See List of defunct law enforcement agencies in the United Kingdom for these.


County police forces traditionally bore the name "constabulary" upon their formation (as a derivation of "constable"). The reorganisation of police forces over the years has seen this name dropped in favour of "police" as a name, as many have decided that the word "constabulary" is confusing for people more used to searching for the word "police".[1] However, a number of police forces in the areas overseen by the United Kingdom retain the name "constabulary":

Territorial police forces

England and Wales

Except in Greater London, each territorial police force covers one or more of the local government areas (counties) established in the 1974 local government reorganisations (although with subsequent modifications), in an area known as a police area. These forces provide the majority of policing services to the public of England and Wales. These forces have been known historically as "Home Office police forces" due to the Acts of Parliament that established them although use of that description was only correct for the Metropolitan Police and in that case ceased to be so when local control was transferred from the Home Office to the Metropolitan Police Authority. Despite the implication of the term, all police forces are independent, with operational control resting solely with the chief officer of each force (the Chief Constable or with regard to the Metropolitan Police and City of London Police forces, their respective Commissioners); each force was overseen by a Police authority until these were replaced by Police and Crime Commissioners in 2012.

The Police Act 1996 is the most recent piece of legislation which outlines the areas of responsibility for the 43 territorial forces of England and Wales (found in Schedule 1 of the Act).

Constable is the lowest rank in the police service, but all officers, whatever their rank are "constables" in terms of legal powers and jurisdiction. Police officers in territorial police forces in England and Wales derive their jurisdiction from Section 30 of the Police Act 1996. This section outlines that such officers have jurisdiction throughout England and Wales and also the adjacent United Kingdom waters. Special Constables, who are part-time, volunteer officers of these forces, used to have a more limited jurisdiction – limited solely to their own force areas and adjacent forces (collectively, their "constablewick"). Since 1 April 2007, however Special Constables of England & Wales have full police powers throughout those two countries. This means that, in contrast to the majority of countries, all UK volunteer police officers now have exactly the same powers as their full-time colleagues. There are a number of situations in which the jurisdiction of a constable extends to one of the other countries – see the main article for details.

As of March 2010 police numbers in England and Wales were:[2]

  • Police officers: 143,734
  • Police Community Support Officers: 16,918
  • Other staff: 79,596


  1. Avon and Somerset Constabulary
  2. Bedfordshire Police
  3. Cambridgeshire Constabulary
  4. Cheshire Constabulary[3]
  5. City of London Police (not shown)
  6. Cleveland Police
  7. Cumbria Constabulary
  8. Derbyshire Constabulary
  9. Devon and Cornwall Police
  10. Dorset Police
  11. Durham Constabulary
  12. Essex Police
  13. Gloucestershire Constabulary
  14. Greater Manchester Police
  15. Hampshire Constabulary
  16. Hertfordshire Constabulary
  17. Humberside Police
  18. Kent Police
  19. Lancashire Constabulary[3]
  20. Leicestershire Constabulary
  1. Lincolnshire Police
  2. Merseyside Police[3]
  3. Metropolitan Police
  4. Norfolk Constabulary
  5. Northamptonshire Police
  6. Northumbria Police
  7. North Yorkshire Police
  8. Nottinghamshire Police
  9. South Yorkshire Police
  10. Staffordshire Police[4]
  11. Suffolk Constabulary
  12. Surrey Police
  13. Sussex Police
  14. Thames Valley Police
  15. Warwickshire Police
  16. West Mercia Police[4]
  17. West Midlands Police[4]
  18. West Yorkshire Police
  19. Wiltshire Police

As of March 2010 police numbers in England:[2]


  1. Dyfed-Powys Police (Heddlu Dyfed Powys)
  2. Gwent Police (Heddlu Gwent)
  3. North Wales Police (Heddlu Gogledd Cymru)
  4. South Wales Police (Heddlu De Cymru)

As of March 2010 police numbers in Wales were:[2]



Most police powers and functions have been inherited by the Scottish Government and Scottish Parliament from the Scottish Office. Areas for which legislative responsibility remains with the UK Government include national security, terrorism, firearms and drugs. The Police (Scotland) Act 1967, as amended, was the basis for the organisation and jurisdiction of the eight former territorial forces in Scotland that were formed in 1975. These forces covered one or more of the areas of the local government regions established in the 1975 local government reorganisation (and since abolished), with minor adjustments to align with the post-1996 council area borders. These forces provided the majority of police services to the public of Scotland, although Scottish police officers also have limited jurisdiction throughout the rest of the United Kingdom as required (See above comments under English and Welsh forces).

In 2011, the Scottish Government announced that it planned to amalgamate the eight territorial forces in Scotland, along with the Scottish Crime and Drug Enforcement Agency, into a single agency. The Police and Fire Reform (Scotland) Act 2012, an Act of the Scottish Parliament, codified this amalgamation and brought about the new Police Service of Scotland (to be known as "Police Scotland"). The new force was established on the 1st April 2013.

  1. Police Scotland

As of December 2012, police numbers in Scotland were:[5]

  • Police officers: 17,436
  • Special constables: 1,404
  • Other staff: 6,168

Police in Scotland do not employ Police Community Support Officers. This includes the British Transport Police who only have PCSOs in England and Wales

Northern Ireland

County and borough based police forces were not formed in Ireland as they were in Great Britain, with instead a single Royal Irish Constabulary covering most of Ireland (the exceptions being the Dublin Metropolitan Police, which was responsible for policing in Dublin, and the Belfast Town Police force, which was replaced by the RIC in the 1880s). The Royal Ulster Constabulary was formed in 1922 after the establishment of the Irish Free State, and served until the reforms of the police under the terms established initially by the Good Friday Agreement of 1998 undertaken by the Patten Commission, which led to the renaming of the RUC in 2001. The Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000 sets out the basis for the organisation and function of the police force in the province. Until 2010, police powers were not transferred to the devolved Northern Ireland Executive, unlike Scotland, instead remaining with the Northern Ireland Office. However, in January 2010 agreement was reached between the two largest parties in the Assembly, the DUP and Sinn Féin, over a course that would see them assume responsibility for policing and justice from April.[6]

  1. Police Service of Northern Ireland

As of April 2007 police numbers in Northern Ireland were:[2]

  • Police officers: 7,216
  • Full-time reserve police officers: 335
  • Part-time police officers: 684
  • Other staff: 2,265

Police in Northern Ireland do not employ Police Community Support Officers

National police agencies

These forces operate in more than one jurisdiction of the United Kingdom. Within the multiple jurisdictions, the remit of some of the forces is further limited to the areas that they police, such as railway infrastructure. The Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 gave the British Transport Police and Ministry of Defence Police a limited, conditional jurisdiction to act outside of their primary jurisdiction if the situation requires urgent police action and the local force are not readily available, or if they believe that there is risk to life or limb, or where they are assisting the local force.

  • National Domestic Extremism Unit – A unit hosted by the Metropolitan Police Service, tasked with coordinating police response to domestic extremism across the United Kingdom.
  • National Wildlife Crime Unit – A police service that gathers intelligence on wildlife crime and provides analytical and investigative support to law enforcement agencies across the United Kingdom.
  • National Ballistics Intelligence Service – A unit hosted by West Midlands Police, tasked with gathering and disseminating fast time intelligence on the criminal use of firearms across Great Britain.
  • National Police Air Service – A police aviation service that provides centralised air support to the 43 territorial police forces in England and Wales.

Special police forces

These forces are defined in legislation as "special police forces". As these forces are responsible to specific areas of infrastructure, they do not answer to the Home Office, but instead to the government department responsible for the area they police. Both the MDP and BTP do voluntarily submit themselves to HMIC inspection:

National non-police law enforcement agencies

Bodies with limited executive powers

These organisations are not police forces but do have similar powers to that of the police with the exception that they cannot arrest a person nor make forceable entry without a warrant; however, police Officers cannot make forceable entry without a warrant either unless pursuing (chasing) a suspect, or responding to an emergency. Obstructing a police officer carries a higher penalty than obstructing other law enforcement officers.

  • The Independent Police Complaints Commission investigates complaints against police officers and staff of the police forces in England and Wales,[9] and staff of HM Revenue and Customs, the Serious Organised Crime Agency in England and Wales and the UK Border Agency. Certain investigators of the IPCC, for the purposes of the carrying out of an investigation and all purposes connected with it, have all the powers and privileges of constables throughout England and Wales and the territorial waters.[10]
  • Border Force is a part of the Home Office, responsible for frontline border control operations at air, sea and rail ports in the United Kingdom. Employees of Border Force may be Immigration Officers and/or customs officers. They hold certain powers of arrest, detention and search in addition to those available to Any person[11] in England and Wales or to any person in Scotland and Northern Ireland. Police-like powers are exercised by border officers and inland immigration enforcement officers. The agency also has a specialist criminal investigations directorate.
  • Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs. Since the creation of the UK Border Agency (now Border Force), staff of HMRC no longer perform frontline duties at ports of entry. The remainder of the staff with law enforcement powers employed by HMRC consists of the Criminal Investigation Branch, who, as customs officers, continue to exercise the powers granted under the Customs Management Acts.
  • UK Fire and Rescue Authorities have specific powers relating to law enforcement. They relate to emergencies, the enforcement of fire safety legislation and when investigating the cause of fire. Fire Safety Inspectors have investigatory powers, powers of entry, and can prosecute persons committing fire safety related offences. There are currently 48 Fire Authorities in the United Kingdom.
  • Local authorities have wide ranging powers. Local Authorities employ Trading Standards, Environmental Health and Public Protection officers whom carry out extensive law enforcement activity. Other council staff such as civil enforcement officers and neighbourhood wardens are also involved in law enforcement. In most cases council officers have powers to enter premises for the purposes of the enforcement of certain laws.
  • British Railway Regulation Act 1840 "Authorised Persons" range from conductors and platform dispatchers to security officers and must produce identification as such when challenged.

Bodies with investigatory powers

The use of investigatory powers is controlled by the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000. Up to 792 public authorities can utilise these powers.[12]

Bodies with no investigatory or executive powers

Association of Chief Police Officers

These agencies are run by the ACPO. They are not legally constituted, nor do their staff have any special powers, but consist of police officers and police staff seconded from the territorial police forces. They generally provide support services and co-ordinate intelligence gathering on a national scale.

Miscellaneous constabularies

These constabularies generally come under the control of a local authority, public trusts or even private companies; examples include some ports police and the Mersey Tunnels Police. They could have been established by individual Acts of Parliament or under Common Law powers. Jurisdiction is generally limited to the relevant area of private property alone and in some cases (e.g. docks and harbours) the surrounding area. This, together with the small size of the constabularies, means they are often reliant on the territorial force for the area under whose jurisdiction they fall to assist with any serious matter. The statutory responsibility for law and order sits with the territorial police forces even if there is a specialist police force in the locality. These constabularies do not have independent Police Authorities and their founding statutes (if any) do not generally prescribe their structure and formation.

Ports police

There are two types of port police in the United Kingdom — most are sworn in under the 1847 Act, but a few have Acts specific to their port.

Ports police operating under the Harbours, Docks, and Piers Clauses Act 1847

For every port/harbour, an individual Act of Parliament (or, more recently, a Harbour (Revision) Order) can incorporate parts of the Harbours, Docks, and Piers Clauses Act 1847 (HDPCA) and apply them to that specific port/harbour. Officers of port police forces are sworn in as "special constables" under section 79 of the 1847 Act, as incorporated by the individual local Act. As a result, officers have the full powers of a constable on any land owned by the harbour, dock, or port and at any place within one mile of any owned land. The Marine Navigation Act 2013 enables the one mile limit for ports police in England and Wales to be removed where the chief officer of the local police force consents. There are 224 constables sworn in under the 1847 Act.[13] Serious or major incidents or crime generally become the responsibility of the local territorial police force.

  • part 4 of the Dover Harbour Revision Order 2006. Given the large amount of property owned by the port, their jurisdiction effectively extends to all of Dover.

Other ports police

  • Mersey Docks and Harbour (Police) Order 1975.
  • section 154 of the Port of London Act 1968
  • Tees and Hartlepool Port Authority Act 1966
  • A large, new port on the Thames Estuary (and within the Port of London area) called "London Gateway" is currently under construction, and the owners have the authority to create their own police force for the port.

Parks police

Parks not controlled by local authorities

These small constabularies are responsible for policing specific land and parks. Officers of these forces have the powers of a constable within their limited jurisdiction. They are not constables as dealt with in the general Police Acts.

  • Epping Forest Keepers
    Current powers derive from regulations made under Epping Forest Act 1878
  • Kew Constabulary (formerly Royal Botanic Gardens Constabulary)
    Constables of this force have full police powers whilst on land belonging to the Royal Botanical Gardens as per the Parks Regulation Act 1872 as amended by section 3 (a) of the Parks Regulation (Amendment) Act 1974.

The Parks Regulation Act 1872 provides for the attestation of parks constables.

Parks controlled by local authorities

Over history, a number of local authorities outside London have maintained their own parks police forces, the most notable being Liverpool (Liverpool Parks Police) and Birmingham (Birmingham Parks Police). No local authority parks police forces currently exist outside London, although the legal powers for them to do so (granted by various local Acts of Parliament) survive in a limited number of cases.

Parks controlled by local authorities in London

These constabularies are responsible for enforcing bye-laws within the parks and open spaces of their respective local authorities in Greater London. Members of the constabularies are sworn as constables under section 18 of the Ministry of Housing and Local Government Provision Order Confirmation (Greater London Parks and Open Spaces) Act 1967. Members of the constabularies are constables only in relation to the enforcement of the parks byelaws (which, by definition, apply only in the parks).[17]

Some of these constables have (or have had) a shared role as security staff for their own local authority's buildings and housing estates with appropriate changes of badges and/or uniform being made when changing to/from park duties.

City of London market constabularies


  • article 19(3) of the Airports (Northern Ireland) Order 1994 as constables for the airport which employs them.
  • Cambridge University Constabulary – attested under the Universities Act 1825 as constables within the university precincts and up to four miles from them.
  • Liverpool Cathedral Constables – not attested constables
  • Mersey Tunnels Police – attested under section 105 of the County of Merseyside Act 1980 as constables in and around the tunnels.
  • Northern Ireland Security Guard Service – Civilian Security Officers belonging to the Northern Ireland Security Guard Service are attested as Special Constables.[18]
  • York Minster Police – not attested constables

Service police

In British Forces Germany, under the Status Of Forces Act, military police have jurisdiction over British Forces personnel, their families, MOD contractors, and NAAFI staff. In the UK, they have limited powers over Service personnel, though they do not have primacy – this remains with the civil police. Members of military police services are not sworn as 'constables' in terms of criminal law and have no police powers in the civilian environment however Military Police officers can utilise powers under Sect 24(A) Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 which allows them to arrest any individual they have reasonable grounds to suspect is committing, has committed or is about to commit an indictable offence.[19]

Crown Dependencies

Crown Dependencies are British possessions of the Crown, as opposed to overseas territories of the United Kingdom. They comprise the Channel Island Bailwicks of Jersey and Guernsey in the English Channel, and the Isle of Man in the Irish Sea.

Isle of Man

The Isle of Man Constabulary (Meoiryn-Shee Ellan Vannin) is the organisation responsible for policing the Isle of Man, an island of 80,000 inhabitants situated equidistant from Ireland, Wales, Scotland and England in the Irish Sea.

Bailiwick of Jersey

Bailiwick of Guernsey

Overseas Territories

Ministry of Defence overseas police

Overseas law enforcement agencies in the UK

There are certain instances where police forces of other nations operate in a limited degree in the United Kingdom:

Fictional police forces

In the majority of crime fiction, in print or on screen, set in the UK, real police forces are often used as the basis of the drama (though often set in fictional locations). However, there have been some works of fiction that have created their own police forces:

  • County Police or County Constabulary – a non-specific identity occasionally used for police dramas and sketches set in fictional or unspecified places on television, sometimes with matching uniforms and badges.
  • Dee Valley Police – the local force in the Channel 4 television series Hollyoaks, which in reality would be Cheshire Constabulary.
  • Eastlands Constabulary – the local force in Anglia TV's The Chief, about a fictional Chief Constable, played initially by Tim Piggott-Smith, and latterly, Martin Shaw.
  • East Tyne Police – the local force in Close & True a legal drama starring Robson Green.
  • Heddlu Valleys/Valleys Police – the local police force in the BBC Wales television series High Hopes
  • Midlands Central Police – the police service used in BBC Birmingham soap Doctors, it would in reality be West Midlands Police but due to copyright issues surrounding the use of force logos the BBC renamed it Midlands Central Police.
  • Midsomer Constabulary – the local police force for the fictional county of Midsomer in the Midsomer Murders book and television series.
  • Newtown and Seaport – the towns patrolled by the characters in Z Cars, a UK television series from the 1960s. Set somewhere in Northern England to the north of Liverpool but possibly with no police force name actually mentioned.
  • North Counties Constabulary – the local police force for the fictitious city of Castlebury in Yorkshire. Within the plotline, both North Counties Constabulary and the British Transport Police are housed within the same building.
  • Northumberland & City / Northumbria & City Police - the fictitious police force in Vera whose name changes inexplicably throughout the series. The force area covers Newcastle upon Tyne, North Tyneside and Northumberland which in reality is covered by Northumbria Police.
  • North West Police - The police force used in the soap opera Coronation Street. In reality it would be Greater Manchester Police.
  • Sandford Police Service or Sandford Constabulary – the local police force for the fictional village of Sanford seen in the 2006 British film Hot Fuzz. Interestingly Sandford is also the fictional town used for training scenarios by most police forces and is also the name of the real life police training ground. Hence most UK police officers were already familiar with the name before the film was released.
  • Oxfordshire Police Force - the local police force in the television series Lewis due to problems[20] between the producers and Thames Valley Police, who had previously cooperated with the preceding Morse series
  • Tatshire Blues – the local police force in The Box of Delights
  • Thamesford Constabulary – the local police force for the fictional county of Thamesford in the television series Softly, Softly: Taskforce.
  • Tyneside Police – the police force for Tyneside used in 55 Degrees North police drama. The badge and uniforms were very similar to Northumbria Police, the actual police force for Tyneside. Throughout the series most of the paperwork and signage read 'Tyneside Police' however some paperwork still reads 'Northumbria Police'.
  • Wyvern Constabulary – the local police force for the fictional county of Wyvern originally seen during 1967 in the television series Softly, Softly and now featuring in the series Casualty, Holby City and HolbyBlue.
  • Yorkshire Police - the local police force in the television series Emmerdale. There would be two police forces covering this: West Yorkshire Police and North Yorkshire Police.

See also


Further reading

  • Helen Gough, Police and Constabulary Almanac (Police & Constabulary Almanac), Shaw & Sons (21 February 2007), 500 pages, [2]

External links

  • Scottish Police Forces Website
  • The UK Police Service – Forces
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