Police ranks of the United Kingdom

Police ranks of the United Kingdom

Most of the police forces of the United Kingdom use a standardised set of ranks, with a slight variation in the most senior ranks for Greater London's Metropolitan Police Service and the City of London Police. [http://www.met.police.uk/about/ranks.htm Metropolitan Police Service: Badges of Rank] ] [http://www.thamesvalley.police.uk/news_info/info/recognising/recog1.htm Thames Valley Police: Uniformed police ranks] ] Most of the British police ranks that exist today were chosen by Robert Peel, the founder of the Metropolitan Police, the first such organisation established in the UK. The current ranks were deliberately chosen to be differ significantly from military ranks of the time due to fears of a paramilitary force.

Rank insignia

Badges of rank are usually worn on the epaulettes. However, Sergeants wear their rank insignia on their upper sleeves in formal uniform. When police tunics had closed collars (not open collars worn with ties), Constables and Sergeants did not wear epaulettes but had their divisional call number on their collar (hence the fact that they are still often referred to as collar numbers). Sergeants wore their stripes on their upper sleeve. Inspectors and more senior ranks wore epaulettes at a much earlier stage, although they once wore their rank insignia on their collars.

The above ranks are used by all territorial forces in the United Kingdom, and specialist national forces such as the British Transport Police and Ministry of Defence Police. Other specialist forces, and those outside of the United Kingdom (including the Channel Islands, the Isle of Man and Gibraltar) use the same general system, but often have fewer senior ranks.

In Britain, Chief Constable is the title of the head of each British territorial police force except the Metropolitan Police and City of London Police, which are headed by Commissioners. Ranks above Chief Superintendent are usually non-operational management roles, and are often referred to as "Chief Officer" ranks.

Epaulettes are normally black with white sewn on or silver metal insignia as shown above, although for high-visibility uniforms, they are often yellow with black insignia.

Examples of variations

City of London Police

The City of London Police has fewer ranks above Chief Superintendent:

*Commander (Cmdr)
*Assistant Commissioner (AC)

The City of London Police Commissioner has the unique status of not holding the office of constable, but it is classed as a Justice of the Peace. This was the same for the Metropolitan Police Service until recent years with Sir Paul Condon being the last Commissioner to have this status, along with his deputies. The Commissioner has the power to attest his own officers as constables without putting them before a local Magistrate to do so, as happened in the Metropolitan Police.

Royal Ulster Constabulary

The Royal Ulster Constabulary was headed by an Inspector-General until 1969, when it fully adopted the rank system used elsewhere in the United Kingdom. The RUC has now been replaced by the Police Service of Northern Ireland, which uses the same ranks, but has a different version of the rank insignia, with the star from the PSNI badge replacing the crown. [http://www.psni.police.uk/index/media_centre/pg_badges_of_rank.htm Police Service of Northern Ireland: Badges of Rank] ]

Isle of Man Constabulary

The Isle of Man Constabulary has fewer ranks above Superintendent:

*Deputy Chief Constable (DCC)
*Chief Constable


In law, every member of a police force is a Constable whatever their actual rank, in the sense that despite being a low ranking or high ranking officer, all, however, have the same powers of arrest. The basic police powers of arrest and search of an ordinary Constable are identical to those of a Superintendent or Chief Constable; however certain higher ranks are given administrative powers to authorise certain police actions. These include the powers to:
* authorise the continued detention of up to 24 hours of a person arrested for an offence and brought to a Police station (granted to Sergeants),
* authorise section 18 (1) PACE house searches (granted to Inspectors), or
* extend the length of prisoner detention to 36 hours (granted to Superintendents).Some powers are matters of force or national policy, such as authorising the use of tyre deflation devices, and authorising the use of safe controlled crashes of pursued vehicles, by trained traffic police officers.

In relation to police officers of the Home Office or territorial police forces of England and Wales, Section 30 of the Police Act 1996 states that "a member of a police force shall have all the powers and privileges of a Constable throughout England and Wales and the adjacent United Kingdom waters". Police officers do not need to be on duty to exercise their powers and can act off duty if circumstances require it (technically placing themselves back on duty). Officers from the police forces of Scotland and Northern Ireland and non-territorial special police forces have different jurisdictions. See List of police forces in the United Kingdom for a fuller description of jurisdictions.


Officers holding ranks up to and including Chief Superintendent who are members of the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) or Special Branch (and certain other units) have the prefix "Detective" before their rank. Due to the nature of their duties these officers generally wear plain clothes and so do not wear the corresponding rank insignia. However, they still operate within the same structure as other officers. It is a misconception often portrayed by the media that detective ranks are superior to those of uniformed officers. In the United Kingdom this is not the case, and a Detective Sergeant has the same powers and authority as a uniformed Sergeant. Indeed, in terms of law, a uniformed Sergeant actually has far more police powers available due to custody and traffic legislation requiring the officer to be in uniform. The "Detective" prefix merely designates that the officer has received extra training and has certain skills in terms of investigation.

pecial Constables

A Special Constable is a volunteer police officer, with the same powers as a regular officer. The main role of a "special" is to work with the local Constabulary to provide an additional and heightened police presence on the streets and in the local community. They may also be requested to police particular events such as football matches and community events.

In the special constabulary, there are various grades which assist in the tasking and management of the constabulary. The persons holding these grades have no additional power within law and are "outranked" by any regular officer. Most forces use a rank system of bars, as in the Essex ranks shown below in ascending order from left to right.

Special constabulary epaulettes frequently bear the letters "SC", a crown, or both to differentiate them from regular officers, however with some forces, such as the Avon and Somerset Constabulary and British Transport Police, only the collar number designates a special.

City of London Special Constabulary

The City of London Special Constabulary uses the following grades (in increasing order of seniority):
*Special Constable (SC logo, divisional letter and shoulder number)
*Special Sergeant (SC logo, divisional letter, shoulder number and one bar)
*Special Inspector (SC logo, two bars)
*Special Chief Inspector (SC logo, three bars)
*Special Superintendent (SC logo, four bars)
*Special Commandant (SC logo, laurel wreath with four bars inside)

The City of London Special Constabulary also includes the Honourable Artillery Company Specials, members of this unit wear HAC on the shoulders in addition to other insignia.

Metropolitan Special Constabulary

The Metropolitan Special Constabulary uses the following grades (in increasing order of seniority):
*Special Constable (SC logo, borough code and shoulder number)
*Special Sergeant (previously Sub Divisional Officer (SDO), SC logo, borough code, shoulder number and one bar)
*Special Inspector (previously Divisional Officer (DO) or Borough Divisional Officer (BDO)) (SC logo, two bars)
*Assistant Chief Officer (SC logo, three bars)
*Deputy Chief Officer (SC logo, three bars)
*Chief Officer (SC logo, four bars)

Thames Valley Special Constabulary

The Thames Valley Special Constabulary uses the following grades (in increasing order of seniority): [http://www.thamesvalley.police.uk/news_info/info/recognising/recog3.htm Thames Valley Police: Special Constabulary] ]
*Special Constable (SC logo and shoulder number)
*Special Sergeant (SC logo, one bar and shoulder number)
*Special Inspector (SC logo, two bars)
*Special Chief Inspector (SC logo, three bars)
*Assistant Chief Officer (laurel wreath with two bars inside)
*Chief Officer (laurel wreath with four bars inside)

Warwickshire Police Special Constabulary

The Warwickshire Police Special Constabulary uses the following grades (in increasing order of seniority; the SC logo incorporates a crown):
*Special Constable (SC logo and collar number)
*Section Officer (SC logo, one bar and collar number)
*Area Officer (SC logo, two bars)
*Senior Area Officer (SC logo, three bars)
*Deputy Chief Officer (SC logo, laurel wreath with three bars inside; three bars until 2006)
*Chief Officer (SC logo, laurel wreath with four bars inside; four bars until 2006)

Community Support Officers

Police Community Support Officers in general do not have a rank system: their epaulettes simply bear the words "POLICE COMMUNITY SUPPORT OFFICER" and their shoulder number, or in the Metropolitan Police, a borough identification code and shoulder number.

Exceptions to this are found in South Yorkshire and Kent Police who also have PCSO Supervisors.The South Yorkshire epaulettes have a 'Bar' above the wording Police Community Support Officer Supervisor - Traffic with the shoulder number beneath.

Temporary and acting ranks

Uniformed Constables who are training to become Detective Constables sometimes bear the title "TDC" or "T/DC", meaning Temporary Detective Constable.

Some police forces use the prefix "T" before the rank (eg. T/DS, T/DI, T/CI) to denote officers who have been temporarily promoted to those ranks, but who will return to their substantive rank at some future time. Such officers are paid at the higher rank and to all intents and purposes hold that higher rank, albeit temporarily. In contrast, the prefix "A" (denoting "Acting") is used for those who are 'acting up', for example, A/PS (Acting Police Sergeant) or A/DS (Acting Detective Sergeant). Such officers are paid an allowance (from June 2008, non-pensionable) in remuneration for the extra responsibilities but legally only hold their substantive rank. So, for example, if legislation permits an inspector to authorise certain actions (e.g. the search of premises without warrant in certain circumstances), that power can be exercised by a temporary inspector, but not by an acting inspector, because the latter is in fact still a sergeant.

houlder numbers

Sergeants, Constables, Special Constables and PCSOs all carry "shoulder numbers" on their epaulettes. These are still called "collar numbers" in some forces, since that is where they used to be worn, although all forces now actually wear them on the epaulettes.

In most forces these are simple numbers, with 1 to 4 digits. The Metropolitan Police, being a much bigger force, uses a different system:
* Sergeant - Borough Code and 2 digits
* Constable - Borough Code and 3 digits
* Special Constable - Borough Code and 4 digits, the first digit being a 5
* PCSO - Borough Code and 4 digits, the first digit being a 7

The Borough Code is the two letter shown as AB in the diagrams above. Before the reorganisation into boroughs, each division had a different code.

Traffic Wardens

Traffic Wardens are administered by the police and exercise some police powers to control traffic or issue Fixed Penalty Notices for traffic offences; their epaulettes bear their shoulder number and the words "TRAFFIC WARDEN". They are not to be confused with local authority "Parking Attendants" whose powers are generally limited to issuing Fixed Penalty Notices for breaches of parking laws on highways or in local authority car parks and compelling the production of a Disabled parking permit (Blue Badge) for inspection.


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