Information: Becoming a police officer

Aim of this page

In recent years the rules regarding eligibility to become a police officer have been slightly relaxed.

The aim of this page is to set out how your criminal record might affect an application to join the police.

This is part of our information on looking for (and keeping) employment and volunteering.

Why is this important?

Despite relaxing the recruitment rules to allow for a more inclusive and diverse police force, the police still have very strict entry requirements.

It’s important to be aware of the criteria that the police use to make their recruitment decisions and whether you are likely to meet them. Some convictions/cautions will result in an outright rejection whilst others will be considered on a case by case basis.

What is the eligibility criteria for the role of a police officer?

The College of Policing has produced guidance for the recruitment of police officers.

The Police Officer Recruitment: Eligibility criteria for the role of police constable circular (NPIA 02/2011) provides guidance to police forces on the criteria that should be followed when recruiting police officers. This allows consistency to be achieved in the way applications are processed, ensuring fairness and transparency.

There are various criteria you must meet in relation to age, financial situation and tattoos/body piercings. Our information will concentrate on criminal records.

Criminal records

The checks they carry out

Police force’s will carry out thorough checks on you, your spouse or partner, close relatives such as parents, in-laws, children or others residing or associated with you. They will check the Police National Computer (PNC), Criminal History System (CHS), Criminal Information System (CIS), local intelligence and other relevant non-conviction databases. Where appropriate they will also check military and police professional standards databases as well.

Depending on the role that you may be carrying out when you join the police force, a Counter Terrorism Check (CTC) may be carried out.

If you are applying to a police force outside the area where you live, your residing force may be asked to conduct checks on you using their systems and local intelligence databases.

The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 does not apply to the police. Therefore, you will need to disclose all spent and unspent convictions, including those that are filtered. The police will conduct a search of the PNC, so they will be aware of all cautions/convictions (even those which would be eligible for filtering).

Police forces will use the guidance provided to assess each application on an individual basis and eligibility will depend on the nature and circumstances of the offence.

In October 2017, the College of Policing produced a guide to APP Vetting which provides information on the vetting procedures which are applied to police forces in England and Wales.

What you should declare

  • Convictions, cautions, reprimands or warnings
  • Receipt of an absolute/conditional discharge or bind over
  • Receipt of a reprimand, warning, final warning or caution as an adult or juvenile
  • Traffic offences (including fixed penalty notices, excluding parking)
  • Penalty notices for disorder or other fixed penalty notices (excluding parking)
  • Being the subject of an Anti-Social Behaviour Order, Football Spectator Banning Order, Risk of Sexual Harm Order, Harassment Order
  • Any involvement with the military authorities on disciplinary matters (whether involving court martial or not)
  • Involvement in a criminal investigation (whether or not this has led to a prosecution) or having been associated with criminals


Convictions/cautions which will lead to your application being rejected

  • Treason
  • Murder
  • Manslaughter/Culpable homicide
  • Rape
  • Offences under the Sexual Offences Act 2003 punishable by life or more than ten years imprisonment
  • Kidnapping/abduction
  • Incest
  • Sexual activity with a child
  • Hostage taking, hijacking or torture
  • Involvement in espionage, terrorism, sabotage or any actions to overthrow/undermine parliamentary democracy by political, industrial or violent means or association (past or present) with any organisation advocating such activities
  • Any driving offences involving ‘causing death by’
  • Firearms offences
  • Offences with a hate aggravation (race, religion or belief, sexual orientation, transgender or disability)
  • Domestic violence offences


Convictions/cautions which will lead to your application being rejected unless there are exceptional circumstances

The following convictions/cautions will lead to your application being rejected unless there are exceptionally compelling circumstances to support it.

  • Offences involving serious violence or injury including Grievous Bodily Harm (GBH) and Actual Bodily Harm (ABH)
  • Offences involving unsolicited violence towards others
  • Unlawful possession of weapons, firearms or going equipped to steal
  • Gross indecency
  • Acts of indecency
  • Abuse or neglect of children
  • Public order offences – involvement in riot, violent disorder, affray, causing fear or provocation of violence, causing intentional harassment, alarm or distress
  • Interference with the Administrator of Justice or the investigation of offences
  • Burglary
  • Offences which involve elements or acts of dishonesty, corruption, substantial financial gain or serious loss to anyone including theft, fraud and deception
  • Serious involvement in drugs including possession of a Class A drug (e.g. heroin, morphine) or more than one Class B drug (e.g. amphetamines) and/or supplying drugs of any kind
  • Reckless or dangerous driving within the last 10 years
  • One offence of drink driving or drunk in charge or drugs driving within the preceding then years
  • More than one offence of drink driving or drunk in charge or drugs driving
  • Other serious motoring offences such as convictions within the last five years of driving without insurance, failing to stop after an accident or driving whilst disqualified
  • More than three endorseable traffic convictions (including fixed penalties, excluding parking) withing the last five years (for offences on different dates)
  • Two or more convictions for regulatory offences such as failure to renew vehicle excise licence within the last five years
  • Any offence committed as an adult or juvenile which resulted in a prison sentence (including custodial, suspended or deferred sentence and sentences served at a young offenders’ institution or community home)
  • Cautions (includes reprimands and final warnings) for recordable offences within the last five years
  • Juvenile convictions within the last five years for any recordable offence
  • Any recordable offence other than listed above within the last five years


Other offences for consideration

An applicant’s age at the time of an offence, the length of time and the aggravating circumstances surrounding the offence will all have a bearing in the following cases:

  • Drunk and disorderly – no more than one offence and only after two years have elapsed following a caution or three years have elapsed following a bind over/conviction.
  • Minor drugs offences or substance abuse – no more than one offence and only after two years have elapsed following a caution or two years from conviction.
  • Common assault – no more than one offence as a juvenile and only after two years have elapsed from end of bindover/conviction.

Undisclosed convictions

Where the police suspect that you have failed to declare a conviction or caution, enquiries will be made to ascertain whether the conviction or caution is attributable to you. Enquiries will be made to the relevant court to ensure that the conviction has not been overturned on appeal. Where it is established that you have deliberately failed to disclose a conviction or caution, then your application will probably by rejected.

This makes it particularly important to make sure that you understand your criminal record.

Outstanding charges and summonses

If you disclose an outstanding charge or summons, your application will probably be put on hold until the outcome is known, at which point it will be considered in accordance with the guidance above.

HM Forces convictions

If you are a serving member of the armed forces and have been convicted of any criminal offence by a military tribunal, this will be recorded on the PNC. This will include any aspect of a conditional discharge. Any convictions obtained whilst in the armed forces will be considered in accordance with the guidance.

Relatives and associates with criminal convictions or cautions

Where your relatives or associates are found to have unspent convictions or cautions for recordable offences, the following will be considered:

  • The likelihood that your performance and discharge of duty will be adversely affected e.g. through adverse pressure or a conflict of interests.
  • The nature, number and seriousness of the offences or involvement in criminal activity and the time over which these took place.
  • Whether the circumstances are likely to bring discredit to or embarrass the Police Service or Police Force.

Vetting for candidates who have been living or are resident abroad

The police will carry out recruitment vetting procedures on all applicants to determine your suitability to have access to sensitive and classified information. This applies to all applicants (including United Kingdom nationals who have been living abroad, Commonwealth and foreign applicants).

If you are living or have recently lived abroad then the police will make checks looking for at least a 3 year checkable history.

If you cannot be vetted then your application will not be successful.

Vetting for non-police personnel

The police will carry out recruitment vetting procedures on all “persons employed for the purposes of, or to assist the constables of, a police force established under any enactment”. You can be asked about both unspent and spent cautions and convictions and they can be considered in the vetting process. However, you shouldn’t be asked to disclose protected (filtered) cautions and convictions and they shouldn’t be considered in the vetting process.

Discuss this with others

Read and share your experiences on our online forum.

Key sections include:

Below you will find links to useful websites relating to this page. More specific details (including addresses and telephone numbers) of some of the organisations listed below can be found here.

More information

  1. For practical information – More information regarding this can be found at understanding your criminal record
  2. To discuss this issue with others – Read and share your experiences on our online forum
  3. Questions – If you have any questions about this, you can contact our helpline.

Get involved

Help us to add value to this information. You can

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  2. Send your feedback directly to us
  3. Discuss your views and experiences with others on our online forum
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This page was last fully reviewed and updated in November 2016. If you’ve spotted something that needs updating, please let us know by emailing the details to





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