Police Ranks and Roles Explained

<<< This is a post primarily aimed at non-police readers. >>>

I once wrote a small guide for Birmingham and Solihull Mental Health Trust, explaining police ranks and roles.  Here it is, made generic to whole UK, to explain what it means for health and social care professionals.  You are only likely to see the first three in operational situations; the next three in local partnership meetings or during extremely serious incidents.

NB:  Can I ask police officers not to point out the gross-oversimplification that this represents?!  It is an indicative guide only for non-police readers and I’m well aware of how it doesn’t survive contact with detailed reality in all areas!

And before I list them, all ranks up to and including Chief Superintendent, can be uniform or detectives.  They are of equivalent rank – so a uniformed sergeant ‘outranks’ a detective constable, and so on.

Senior detectives – Inspector to Chief Superintendent – are also sometimes referred to as Senior Investigating Officers.  The more serious the matter, the more senior the SIO.  So murders are usually Detective Chief Inspectors or Detective Superintendents.  Serious violence or sexual offences, Detective Inspectors or Detective Chief Inspectors … and so on.

FRONTLINE COPS

Police constable – officers who turn up to public 999 calls, investigate volume crime or take initial action at critical incidents.  Also work on neighbourhood teams to target long-term problems.

Likely to be the ones supporting MHA processes like assessments on private premises; investigating volume offences against NHS staff by inpatients, detaining people under s136 MHA and locating / recovering AWOL patients.

Police Sergeant – supervise teams of officers, overseeing police operations, volume crime investigations, demand management issues and take initial control of critical incidents.

Usually at least two or three in each borough on duty at any time, as well as one or more working as “The Custody Sergeant” in the cells.  They are the first port-of-call for queries about police responses.

Police Inspector – Senior operational officer 24/7.  Oversees all officers on duty at that time – there is usually just one “duty inspector” in operational command at any time.

Oversees responses to critical incidents, can “call out” senior / specialist officers out of hours, as required.  Final arbiter of police response and resourcing disputes: internal AND external.

 LOCAL SENIOR OFFICERS

Chief Inspector – Usually two or three working on any borough.  Would oversee “Response Teams” and / or “Police Neighbourhood Teams” or “CID / Investigations / Offender Management”.

Also like to act as senior public order or firearms commanders and critical incident managers.  One of them will be “The DCI”, a senior detective, responsible for all crime investigation locally.

Superintendent – Usually one or two on each borough.  Responsible for “Operations” or “Crime” or “Partnerships”.  Also carry a range of particular statutory authorities and also act as senior public order or firearms commanders.

There is a superintendent on-call for every area; or one working 24/7 in most police forces.

Chief Superintendent – head of a policing area or headquarters department.  They are responsible to the Chief Constable for all policing activity in their area.  This person is the ‘local police chief’ to whom all local partnership, crime and operations matters are directed.

Otherwise known as “The Boss”.

FORCE SENIOR OFFICERS

Assistant Chief Constable (Non-London) – between one and five per force, dependent on size.  Responsible for a certain policy area forcewide, as well as “territorial” oversight of two or more boroughs.

Commander (London) – head of a major department or group of boroughs.  These are the chief officer rank.

Deputy Chief Constable (Non-London) – the senior discipline authority for each force and as name suggests, the 2nd in charge for the force.  Has certain policy responsibilities and an overall eye of force performance.  One per Non-London force.

Deputy Assistant Commissioner (London) – oversees groups of departments or boroughs in London.  There are eight of them.

Chief Constable (Non-London) – “The boss”.  Larger forces’ Chief Constables tend to have been CCs elsewhere first.  Chris SIMS (West Midlands) was formerly CC of Staffordshire.

Assistant Commissioner (Metropolitan Police) – there are four ACs and although they carry similar responsibilities to ACCs it is on a far broader scale and equivalent in rank to Chief Constables.

MOST SENIOR METROPOLITAN POLICE OFFICERS

Deputy Commissioner (Metropolitan Police) – similar roles / functions as per Deputy Chief Constable of a non-London force.

This police officer – currently Sir Craig MACKAY (former Chief Constable of Cumbria) – is the 2nd highest ranking officer in the UK and is usually a former Chief Constable.  He was appointed by HM the Queen on the Home Secretary’s recommendation.

Commissioner (Metropolitan Police) – “The Boss” and the most senior UK police officer.

Sir Bernard HOGAN-HOWE was appointed Met Commissioner in 2011.  He was previously one of HM Inspectors of Constabulary, is a former Chief Constable of Merseyside and was appointed by HM the Queen on the Home Secretary’s recommendation.

______________________________________________________________________
The Mental Health Cop blog

Badgewon the ConnectedCOPS ‘Top Cop’ Award for leveraging social media in policing.
won the Digital Media Award from the UK’s leading mental health charity, Mind
– won a World of Mentalists #TWIMAward for the best in mental health blogs

ccawards2013 was highlighted by the Independent Commission on Policing & Mental Health
– was referenced in the UK Parliamentary debate on Policing & Mental Health
was commended by the Home Affairs Select Committee of the UK Parliament.

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30 thoughts on “Police Ranks and Roles Explained

  1. Can i just ask, an inspector came to see me in the cells and told me that this is what an inspector should do if you’ve been in the cells for longer than 6 hrs. Is that true and why does the inspector have to see you in the first place?

    1. Various reasons an Inspector would see someone in custody, the most obvious of which is that every so often, they have a legal duty to “review” the detention of people who are under arrest. This is a mechanism to ensure that they are being treated properly whilst there and that the investigation is being conducted diligently. You have to be seen after 6hrs in custody and then at least every nine hours after that until you’re either charged or released.

      The inspector, if not satisfied, has the lawful authority to over-rule the decisions which may have been taken about your case or rectify any problems.

    1. The police aren’t in control of who emails them, but officers would be aware not to use their official email address for personal reasons, so I’d expect any reply to happen via another means!

      1. Ooo makes sense! But, what could happen/are the consequences if you do email their work personally? Been told you’d get the officer and yourself into trouble but never been explained why or how…

  2. Hi there can you please tell me how a constable would address a chief inspector. Would they use the term sir or madam?
    Thank you

  3. Hi. Thanks for the informative and succinct article above. Could you tell me: is an inspector on a serious crimes investigation accompanied by a constable or a sergeant? Which is likely to be his assistant, take notes, etc.?
    Thank you.

    1. That’s the sort of Inspector MORSE myth we see on TV, in the main – the senior detective and his sidekick. In reality, it depends on the size and complexity of the inquiry as to how senior the investigating officer will be and that determines a lot about the staffing. It’s not the case that senior Detectives have a sidekick but from time to time, may be accompanied by various more junior Detectives from that inquiry as they undertake various things. For example, when the SIO visits family they may well have the Family Liaison Officer present. Does that help?!

  4. Hi
    I’m police staff and have just started working in an office where there is a super and chief super. I’ve never heard anyone address them (they keep themselves squirreled away in their own offices.) should I encounter them in an informal situation do I address both of them as boss???
    Thanks in advance

    1. Formally, you address them by rank, and there are levels of informal(!) ranging from “Sir / Ma’am” to “boss”. Depending on which force you are in, some use other terms too like “Guv / Guvnor” (Met / South-East) or “Gaffer” (Midlands / north). I’m sure there are others besides!

  5. Really helpful guide, thank you – I’ll look fwd to reading some more of your blog. I worked in mental health advocacy 15 or so years ago, and am now considering joining the Police. Good MH policing is something I’m really interested in contributing to, but do you think I’ll be frustrated? I think police are called on more now than when I was working in the field, because of cuts to Social Services and NHS – I’m guessing this additional pressure doesn’t always help. Any thoughts?

  6. Hello!

    I wanted to know who is likely to attend a murder in an area like Greater Manchester? Also, if another murder happened, with similarities and a potential serial killer, who would then attend. Would it be escalated to more senior staff like a Chief Inspector?

    Finally, at what stage would a criminal psychologist become involved? Is it likely they would be approached after a number of seemingly connected unsolved murders? Are criminal psychologists on a consultancy basis or can they be based at a particular police station/force?

    Apologies for all the questions. I’m writing a novel for my university course and want to be as accurate as possible.

    Kind regards

    Adele

    1. In the first instance, 999 cops dash along there and start doing the basics: casualty assessment, first-aid if still alive, summonsing ambulances; second priority is to start preserving the scene – things like road block, identifying the extent of the scene, preserving any forensic evidence like blood, discarded weapons, clothing, etc.; and the areas sergeants would be a part of getting that grip. Ultimately, the answer in the first hour or so of the incident is that the police duty inspector would attend and take charge. They would then liaise with the force’s CID and a detective would be appointed. Big forces will have a duty detective sergeant available 24/7 and a detective inspector would get appointed as ‘Senior Investigating Officer’ if it was a murder.

      If a second incident happened, the same ritual would govern the first hour or so of response and an SIO would be appointed. If a link were made between two murders – or attempted murders, serious sexual assaults, etc., – then it would be put under the direction of the same SIO and depending how serious / complex / demanding the inquiry is, it may have a more senior SIO than a DI. This is where you’d get a Detective Chief Inspector (DCI) or Detective Superintendent in charge.

      Hope that helps!

  7. Hi there, I wonder if you could help me. In the town of Helmsley in North Yorkshire I think they have a small station in the nature reserve park since the old one shut down and I think it’s a cafe now. I’m not even sure if it’s called a station or a constabulary but I’m pretty sure it’s a division run by the North Yorkshire Police. So in these type of small run operations would they just have a Chief Inspector running the show with just a handful of officers. I’m just very interested to know how an office in a small place such as Helmsley would run for example when investigating crime. If it is a Chief Inspector would he be on patrol as well in such a small rural area like for example a chief or sheriff in a rural area of the united states.

    1. Best advice is to ring North Yorkshire and ask for the name of the officer in charge at that station. Police forces and their arrangements vary enormously – in my service, I’ve worked at a station where my sergeant was one of two sergeants and between them, they were in charge. Our inspector worked at a different police station altogether because we were just in a little community base with no front office facility and no custody area. When I became an inspector, my first job was to run a middle sized station where I was the senior officer – again, no custody area, but the divisional headquarters was some miles away where all the area’s very senior officers worked.

      Police forces use the ranks of Chief Inspector to Chief Superintendent differently, too – in some areas, the local senior police commander is a Ch/Supt, elsewhere it’s a Supt or Ch/Insp. So always best to ask your force or check their website, where it’s usually clear and where they publish email addresses for contact. 👍🏼

    2. Should add: nothing prevents Chief Inspectors going out on patrol, but it’s usually done for a particular purpose – like a high profile operation; or as part of them taking time to work alongside front line staff and learn about the pressures they face, etc.. It wouldn’t be usual that they do it purely for its own sake, because they will have oversight of (probably) hundreds of PCs, Sergeants and Inspectors to do that stuff and you only really want the bosses hanging around for a particular reason – not just because they like it. 😉

  8. Thank you for your answer. I really appreciate it. Just one more question out of curiosity. Is it not enforced that all police constables have to wear a stab vest? On my travels I have seen some wearing them and others not, so wondered if this was also dependent on a particular police force. I just mostly wonder if all North Yorkshire police should be wearing them or if it is not essential wear?

    1. Most, if not all forces have this policy, yes – but in some circumstances some of them allow officers to carry the vest in vehicles and put it on if required. I’m not specifically sure about North Yorkshire, but you could probably find out or ask via their website?

  9. Hello,
    Would you be able to tell me waht are the main responsibilities of an Assistant Commissioner and a Deputy Commissioner ?
    Thank you

  10. I am so pleased I found your site! Very informative and explains why I was coming up with contradictory information on structures for different stations. I have been trying to get a handle on who runs what and whether CID is now SCT or MCT and whether the latter only exists in London and other large cities. Can SCT investigate murder or can SCT do it?

    1. If you mean ‘serious crime teams’ and ‘major crime teams’, they are normally just the kinds of names that CID give to those teams who mainly focus on the big jobs. Those things vary from force to force whereas the ranks I’m outlining on this page are legal ranks that officers in any department can have. How the Chief Constable or Commissioner organises their ranks in to different teams – uniformed, CID or whatever else – is up to them, accountable to their Police and Crime Commissioner. Hope that helps!

  11. Hi
    So glad I have found this site. I am working on first crime novel and want to get the facts right. I have been researching into ranks and who would attend and at what time etc but wonder if any police allow you to spend a little time (I know they are mega busy) just having a look round. Having never ever been in a police station let alone a cell I could not get or give a ‘feel’ of the sense of place without it? Also spending times speaking with a duty sergeant would be brilliant. Would you be able to advise.
    BW
    Debbie

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