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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.


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. It should be noted, that 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) with oversight from a Police Authority for each force.

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. 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 September 2006 police numbers in England and Wales were:


  1. Avon and Somerset Constabulary
  2. Bedfordshire Police
  3. Cambridgeshire Constabulary
  4. Cheshire Constabulary[1]
  5. City of London Police (not shown)
  6. Cleveland Police
  7. Cumbria Constabulary
  8. Derbyshire Constabulary
  9. Devon and Cornwall Constabulary
  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[1]
  20. Leicestershire Constabulary
  1. Lincolnshire Police
  2. Merseyside Police[1]
  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[2]
  11. Suffolk Constabulary
  12. Surrey Police
  13. Sussex Police
  14. Thames Valley Police
  15. Warwickshire Police
  16. West Mercia Police[2]
  17. West Midlands Police[2]
  18. West Yorkshire Police
  19. Wiltshire Constabulary
  1. ^ a b c Cheshire, Lancashire and Merseyside participate in a partnership called the North West Motorway Police Group
  2. ^ a b c Staffordshire, West Mercia and West Midlands participate in a partnership called the Central Motorway Police Group

As of September 2006 police numbers in England:[1]


  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 September 2006 police numbers in Wales were:[1]

  • Police officers: 7,579
  • Police Community Support Officers: 384
  • Other staff: 3,767



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, is the basis for the organisation and jurisdiction of the eight territorial forces in Scotland. Constables of these eight forces have jurisdiction throughout Scotland. (See above comments under English and Welsh forces for jurisdiction in other parts of the United Kingdom). Each territorial force covers 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 current council area borders. These forces provide the majority of police services to the public of Scotland.

  1. Central Scotland Police
  2. Dumfries and Galloway Constabulary
  3. Fife Constabulary
  4. Grampian Police
  5. Lothian and Borders Police
  6. Northern Constabulary
  7. Strathclyde Police
  8. Tayside Police

As of September 2009, police numbers in Scotland were:[2]

  • Police officers: 17,278
  • Special constables: 1,186 (as at March 2005)
  • Other staff: 7,207 (as at March 2005)

Police in Scotland do not employ Police Community Support Officers

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. Unlike Scotland, police powers have not been transferred to the devolved Northern Ireland Executive, instead remaining with the Northern Ireland Office.

  1. Police Service of Northern Ireland

As of April 2007 police numbers in Northern Ireland were:[3]

  • Police officers: 7,244
  • Part time police officers: 888
  • Other staff: 2,701

Police in Northern Ireland do not employ Police Community Support Officers

Special police forces

These forces (except the SCDEA) 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 or military/defence property. 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. 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:

  1. British Transport Police - Department for Transport and Scottish Government; the BTP operates only in Great Britain. As of September 2006, the BTP establishment was 2,492 police officers, 235 PCSOs and 997 other staff[1]
  2. Civil Nuclear Constabulary - Department of Trade and Industry; the CNC does not usually operate in Northern Ireland. As of April 2007, the CNC establishment was 758 police officers and 96 other staff[4]
  3. Ministry of Defence Police - Ministry of Defence; the MOD police operates throughout the Ministry of Defence estate, in the United Kingdom. As of March 2006, the MDP establishment was 3,489 police officers (plus 291 probationers) and 530 other staff.[5]
  4. Scottish Crime and Drug Enforcement Agency; the SCDEA operates in Scotland and although nominally an agency it is controlled by a police authority and Scottish police legislation.[6] As of March 2007, there were 197 police officers seconded to the SCDEA from the eight territoral police forces in Scotland, plus a further 77 police staff[7]

These forces are now defined in legislation as "special police forces".

Non-police law enforcement organisations

Bodies with limited executive powers

These organisations are not police forces and do not have police powers. They do have certain defined executive powers, however, in practice, these organisations will generally enlist the support of police officers from the territorial police forces should they need to execute arrest/search powers through a joint operation.

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.[8]

Bodies with limited police powers

Independent Police Complaints Commission

The Independent Police Complaints Commission investigates complaints against police officers and staff of the UK's police forces, 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.[9]

Serious Organised Crime Agency

The Serious Organised Crime Agency is responsible for tackling organised crime with jurisdiction throughout England and Wales and some jurisdiction in Scotland and Northern Ireland (usually requiring permission or co-operation of the relevant government or police force). SOCA is an executive non-departmental public body sponsored by, but operationally independent from, the Home Office.

SOCA officers can either be designated with the powers of a constable, Customs Officer and/or Immigration Officer. These designations can be unconditional or conditional: time limited or limited to a specific operation. Whilst SOCA officers do not hold the office of constable, those who have been designated with the powers of a constable would enjoy the same powers and privileges of a police officer (except powers only available to a constable in uniform). During armed operations SOCA refer to themselves as 'police' and have the word 'police' on their body armour to avoid confusion.

UK Border Agency

Employees of the UK Border Agency 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[10] in England and Wales or to any person in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs

Since the creation of the UK Border Agency, 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.

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. It should also be noted that the statutory responsibility for law and order sits with the territiorial 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

Officers of these forces are sworn in as 'special constables' under section 79 of the Harbours, Docks, and Piers Clauses Act 1847. 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. There are 224 constables sworn in under this act.[11] Serious or major incidents or crime generally become the responsibility of the local territorial police force.

Other ports police

Parks, Gardens and Forests 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.
  • Royal Parks Constabulary
    On 1 April 2004, following a review of the Royal Parks Constabulary by Anthony Speed, the Metropolitan Police took on the responsibility of policing the Royal Parks in Greater London and the RPC was abolished in England.
    In Holyrood Park, Edinburgh the powers of a Royal Parks constable are now reserved to some staff of Historic Scotland.

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

Local Authority Parks and Open Spaces in Greater 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, Ministry of Housing and Local Government Provision Order Confirmation (Greater London Parks and Open Spaces) Act 1967. However, constables of the parks constabularies are not police constables per se, or as defined in the Police Acts applicable to England and Wales. Their powers as constable's above that of a 'person' do not depend on the Police Acts applicable to England & Wales. Their police powers are for the relevant byelaws and legislation applicable to their limited territories.

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.


Service police

In British Forces Germany, under the Status Of Forces Act, military police have jurisdiction and primacy over British Forces personnel, their families, MOD contractors, and NAAFI staff. In the UK, they also enjoy similar powers, though they do not have primacy - this remains with the civil police. Members of military police services are not 'constables' in terms of criminal law and generally enjoy no police powers in the civilian environment.

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:

  • Cardiff City Police - the local police force for the City of Cardiff, South Wales in the television series Torchwood. The real Cardiff City Police was merged with several others in the 1960s to form the South Wales Police.
  • 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 Channel 4's 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
  • 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.
  • Sandford Police Service - the police force for the village of Sandford in the film Hot Fuzz. Interestingly Sandford is also the fictional town used for training scenarios by most police forces. Hence most UK police officers were already familiar with the name before the film was released.
  • 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.
  • 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.

See also


  1. ^ a b c Police service strength in England and Wales at September 2006
  2. ^ [1]
  3. ^ Police service strength
  4. ^ CNPA/CNC Annual Review 2006-07
  5. ^ Ministry of Defence Police and Guarding Agency Annual Report 2005-2006
  6. ^ "Police, Public Order and Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 2006". 2006-05-25. Retrieved 2009-06-21.  
  7. ^ SCDEA Annual Report 2006-07
  8. ^ Rayner, Gordon (2008-04-12). "Council spy cases hit 1,000 a month". Telegraph. Retrieved 2009-06-21.  
  9. ^ "Police Reform Act 2002 (c. 30)". Retrieved 2009-06-21.  
  10. ^ Part III Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984
  11. ^ "Accountability and Standards of the Port Police Forces". Retrieved 2009-06-21.  
  12. ^ "Accountability and Standards of the Port Police Forces". Retrieved 2009-06-21.  
  13. ^ "Accountability and Standards of the Port Police Forces". Retrieved 2009-06-21.  
  14. ^ "Accountability and Standards of the Port Police Forces". Retrieved 2009-06-21.  
  15. ^ YouTube footage of Birmingham Market Police. Retrieved 10 November 2007.

Further reading

  • Helen Gough, Police and Constabulary Almanac (Police & Constabulary Almanac), Shaw & Sons (21 February 2007), 500 pages, ISBN 0721916627, ISBN 978-0721916620 [2]

External links


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