How to Join the Special Constabulary

If you're thinking about joining the Specials it can all seem a bit daunting, there's lots of questions you may have about what it's like being a Special, and how to go about applying. This page collects together hopefully all of the information you need in one place, and gives you some pointers on where else you might find the answers you need.

There are links on the left hand side that will take you to other areas of the site, as well as external sites, with additional useful information.

I'm often asked to explain the recruitment process for the Specials. Well it's pretty similar to the process for joining the police full time, although Special Constabularies tend to operate separate recruitment processes to the regulars.

Note that each force does Specials recruitment in its own way, so your experience may be slightly different. But these are the key elements of the process, in roughly chronological order. There's a lot of information here, but that's deliberate - I have tried to bring together answers to all the common questions.

If after working your way through this lot, you still need more information, or have questions that aren't answered here, check out our forum.

  1. Before you start
  2. How often can you apply?
  3. Are you eligible?
  4. Criminal Record
  5. Tattoos
  6. Financial Status
  7. Eyesight Standards
  8. The Application Form
  9. Medical Questionnaire
  10. Background Checks
  11. Home Visit
  12. Assessment
  13. Police Initial Recruitment (PIR) Test
  14. Fitness Test

Before you Start

Before you even take that first step of filling out the application form, take some time to really think about whether being a Special is right for you. You might like to consider if:

  • You have the support of friends and family - of course, you don't need this but believe me it makes it much easier to carry out what is sometimes a difficult and challenging role.
  • You have the time to give to it - in the initial training stages you may have to give up regular evenings and weekends, and once you're through that, you must give at least 4 hours a week to the Specials.
  • You're doing it for the right reasons - police work is absolutely not all about whizzing around in cars with blue lights and sirens. Much of the work Specials undertake these days is neighbourhood-based, talking to people in their communities, building relationships, tackling low-level nuisance behaviour and working on long term problem solving.
  • You have the appropriate level of confidence - police officers deal with people and situations that may be well outside your normal sphere of experience. While actually doing the job will undoubtedly build that confidence with time, if you honestly don't believe you will be able to adapt, then maybe the Specials isn't right for you.

If you want to talk to serving regulars or Specials, drop into your local police station, tell them you're thinking of joining up and ask to speak to an officer - I know this sounds a bit daunting, but I am sure they will be pleased to assist.

Alternatively, visit our forum where there are lots of serving Specials who can answer your questions and concerns - see sidebar for link.

There are a number of books available from the Police Specials Shop for prospective Specials that you might find useful when considering a police career and/or applying.

How Often Can You Apply?

Note that you can only apply to join one police force as a Special at any one time. If you apply to more than one, it is likely that all your applications will be rejected.

If you have applied before to join, and been unsuccessful, then you must wait at least six months from the date of the rejection before applying again.

Are you Eligible?

To be eligible for consideration to join the Specials, you must:

  • be a national of a country within the European Economic Area or, if a national of a country outside the EEA, have the right to reside in this country without restrictions
  • have the right to live in this country free of any restrictions
  • have reached the age of 18 when you apply - there is no upper age limit, provided you are fit and healthy enough to perform the role
  • be of "good character" (more on this below)
  • Have good vision (explained below)
  • Enjoy good health (explained below)

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Criminal Record

You may be worried if you have had dealings with the police in the past, or if you have a criminal record (i.e. you've been convicted of an offence in a court, or cautioned by the police). Not all offences will bar you from becoming a Special, but it's vital to disclose all previous convictions - including motoring offences - on your application.

Applications from people with convictions or cautions for very minor offences, such as speeding, may be considered. If you have been convicted for drink-driving, or if you have been disqualified from driving as a result of any other conviction, most forces will not accept your application until at least 5 years after the date of conviction.

Although minor offences may not affect your application, certain cautions and criminal convictions will almost certainly mean a rejection of any application to join the Special Constabulary, including anyone who has received a formal caution in the last five years, committed a violent crime or public order offence.

If you're unsure about anything where you've come to police attention, my advice is to disclose it anyway. You should certainly declare any incident where you were arrested, even if the end result was a release with No Further Action ("NFA"). The police conduct fairly extensive background checks and it will probably come to light. If this happens, at best you'll be put on the defensive explaining why you omitted to mention it, or more likely the force will just reject your application without further consideration.

Restricted Occupations

People carrying out certain jobs are barred from joining the Special Constabulary because this may cause a conflict of interest under certain circumstances. These are basically jobs in the armed forces, other emergency services and security roles, although there are others. You are advised to check the list before applying (see Restricted Occupations) to avoid disappointment at the application stage.

Tattoos

Applicants should not have tattoos that could cause offence - tattoos are also likely to be unacceptable if they are particularly prominent, garish, offensive or undermine the dignity and authority of the role of a police officer. Bear in mind that police officers will meet people from a wide variety of cultures and backgrounds, often in their own homes, and what may seem inoffensive to some would be unacceptable to others. Even if accepted, the force may require you while on duty to cover up any tattoos that may cause offence to others.

Financial Status

Your financial status will be checked as part of the application process. This is because police officers often have access to private or privileged information, which may make them vulnerable to corruption. The thinking is that officers with out of control debts may be more liable to bribery or blackmail. Credit card balances, mortgages, and loans are not usually a problem provided that you are not in arrears.

Applicants who have been declared bankrupt, or who have outstanding CCJs (County Court Judgements) will be rejected. Discharged bankrupts can apply but must provide a Certificate of Satisfaction.

Eyesight Standards

The current Home Office eyesight standards for applicants to the police force were published on 1st April 2003 in Home Office Circular HOC 25/2003 (see sidebar for link), and are as follows:

  • Corrected near static visual acuity must be 6/9 or better, binocularly
  • Uncorrected visual acuity must be 6/36 or better, binocularly
  • Corrected low contrast distance visual acuity must be 6/12 or better for a 10% contrast target, binocularly
  • Correction should be worn where necessary to achieve 6/6 binocularly. Corrective spectacles and contact lenses can be worn by operational police officers
  • Field-of-view of at least 120 degrees horizontally and 100 degrees vertically
  • Monochromats will be rejected
  • Mild anomalous trichromats are acceptable, as are severe anomalous trichomats and dichromats (will be instructed in coping strategy)

Applicants who have had laser eye surgery should allow at least 6 weeks after surgery before applying or they may be rejected. Certain forms of eye surgery that result in a significant weakening of the cornea are likely to mean the applicant will be rejected.

Many forces require you to submit an eye test certificate during the application process. The Home Office has advised that in principle, forces should meet the cost of eyesight testing. I am not sure that many do, in these straitened times, so be prepared to stand the cost of the eye test yourself.

The Application Form

The Home Office no longer offers the facility to apply online. You need to contact the recruitment department of your chosen police force and ask them to send you an application form in the post, or via email. Police.uk have contact details for all police forces in England, Scotland and Wales.

The application form may be a very simple initial details form, or it might be a detailed form - in my experience this is the same one as for the regulars. Either way, when the form arrives, read everything carefully before you start filling anything out. Follow the instructions; so if for example, it says you should complete the form in black ink, use black ink! Write using your usual handwriting - don't fill everything out in CAPITALS! And be sure to watch out for spelling mistakes and keep it neat - avoid lots of crossing out. It's worth photocopying the forms and filling out the copy as a practice to get it right before you fill it in for real.

The application form may include some 'competency questions', which are designed to give you the opportunity to illustrate the skills that may make you a good police officer. A competency question may look like this:

Think of an occasion when it was necessary to work with others to get something done and where you played your part in getting a result. You will be assessed in this question on how well you co-operated with others in completing the task in hand.

These questions can be quite difficult to answer, but don't lose heart - for more information take a look at our sister site JoinTheJob.com, which has much more detailed advice on answering these sorts of questions.

Medical Questionnaire

The pack will also include a questionnaire about your medical history, and almost certainly a waiver form allowing them to check up on any details with your doctor.

You need to complete this honestly and in full. It's no good lying about a condition that might cause you problems when you're on duty as a police officer.

Your weight and height must be in proportion - you must also not be overly underweight or overweight. To assess this, your Body Mass Index (BMI) will be measured. Home Office guidelines suggest state an applicant with a BMI between 18 and 30 should be considered acceptable. If your BMI is above 30 then you would be advised to lose weight to reach a BMI of 29 or 30, likewise if your BMI was below 18 then you would be advised to gain weight.

The sidebar includes a link to a website where you can check your BMI.

Some forces ask you to submit to a medical check (i.e. an examination by a doctor) - including a hearing test, check on blood pressure, breathing analysis, and a test for illegal drugs - before you can be accepted, although this is still quite rare for entry into the Specials.

Background Checks

Once you've applied, sit back and wait... some forces are taking weeks or even months to fully process applications. Try to be patient; they have a lot of applications and limited resources to deal with them all. You ought to receive a letter acknowledging receipt of your application within a week or so - if not then there's no harm in phoning your chosen force's recruitment department to check you are at least in the system.

To be a Special you need to be a person of "good character". This means you must not be a criminal, nor must you associate with criminals.

The force will carry out checks into your background so if you were foolish enough not to declare previous convictions, this is where they'll come to light. They will also check into the backgrounds of your immediate family. These checks are very time consuming, so be patient! This is often called the "paper sift" stage, because the force is sifting through your application.

Some people fail at this stage because the checks on their family turn up something of concern. This can be very frustrating because it may be something that a member of your family has done which you know nothing about. This is usually only an issue if you live with the family member (e.g. brother, mother) or you still have a close association with them. On the positive side, if you are determined to be a Special, this may be something you can change (e.g. consider a move away from the family member).

Home Visit

Once the various security checks are successfully completed, you may be contacted by a serving Special from the recruitment team to set up a home visit.

The home visit rarely takes place these days, but some forces still use them as an opportunity for you or your family to meet one or two serving Specials and ask any questions or raise any concerns you may have.

Candidates are judged on the next stages (assessment, PIR, etc.) and on their own merits, not on what's discussed at a home visit, although if during the visit a candidate shows obvious warning signs, like using racist language, then their application is likely to fail.

Assessment

Most forces run some sort of assessment stage and this is the key event in the process. These typically take half a day or sometimes a whole day, and often take place at police HQ. You will be invited well in advance and given some basic information on what to bring, and what to prepare.

Assessments vary but usually they are broken into a set of exercises. During these sessions you will be evaluated on your confidence, interpersonal skills, how you work in a team, your demonstration of leadership and your overall initiative.

The exercises may include a presentation or talk to the rest of the candidates, a scenario that you need to discuss as a team, roleplay, and a logic exercise to try and solve, again usually as a team.

This whole process sounds a bit daunting, but don't be put off, the assessment is not designed to catch you out, but to ensure you have the "right stuff" to be a police officer. Obviously you're not expected to know any law or procedure at this stage but the assessors do want to see if you have strength of character and moral fibre.

Some of the characteristics assessors are looking for in a police officer include confidence, listening skills, common sense, empathy, leadership, an ability to express yourself and relate to people, initiative, maybe even a degree of moral and/or physical courage.

There's a link in the sidebar where you can get more help with the assessment centre.

The Police Initial Recruitment (PIR) Test

During the assessment day you will most likely be required to complete a written test. Increasingly, forces are using the Police Initial Recruitment test (also just called the "PIR"). This is used to establish if you are able to write clearly and accurately - since there is plenty of paperwork involved in police work too - but also to test reasoning and logic skills.

The main areas tested in the PIR are:

  • The ability to spell words and construct sentences correctly
  • The ability to check information quickly and correctly
  • The ability to solve numerical problems accurately
  • The ability to reason logically when given facts about events

The PIR is designed to assess the potential of an applicant's mental skills. You're advised to brush up on your basic mental arithmetic, i.e. without using a calculator, or working it out on paper. The PIR pass mark is 168 points out of a maximum possible total of 298.

See the sidebar for links to a practice PIR book with questions and answers.

Fitness Test

The final hurdle is the fitness test! This stage often causes the most concern for many potential recruits, but it's not as bad as you may fear.

The national fitness test has now been introduced in just about every force that requires fitness tests for Specials (they all require fitness tests for regulars). More and more forces are introducing fitness tests for Specials and in many cases they are the same as for the regulars. It means it's tougher to get in, but Specials these days perform front-line policing duties most of the time, so this makes sense.

The three elements of this test are:

  • Endurance (aka bleep/beep/shuttle test) to level 5.4 (different in Scotland)
    During this element you have to run to and fro along a 15 metre track in time to a series of bleeps which progressively become faster. You have to run as long as possible before you can no longer keep up with the bleeps. You must reach at least level 5.4 in order to pass the fitness test. The total running time is about 3 minutes, 40 seconds. Scotland has a different requirement for their Specials. There is more detailed information in the link in the sidebar.
  • Dynamic Strength - Push 34kg, Pull 35kg
    This part of the test is measured on a machine which (in my experience at least!) looks like a large rowing machine with a seat at each end. In the first part of the test, you are pushing against the machine, in the second part, you are pulling against it. You do 3 'warm ups' then 5 maximum force pushes/pulls. You must reach at least 34 kg push strength, and 35 kg pull strength. Grip Strength of 32kg
  • Grip Strength of 32kg
    This final part of the test measures the grip strength in your hand using a device called a dynamometer. You grip it in your preferred hand get two attempts to record the maximum grip you can. The pass mark is 32 kg.

Performance on each of these provides a good indicator of your capability of performing various police tasks. The test elements are run consecutively and minimum standards need to be achieved on each.

If you fail to reach the minimum standard in one component of the test, you fail the whole test. If you don't pass the test at your first attempt you can re-take it. However, if you fail the test after three attempts your application will be halted and you will have to wait for at least six months before re-applying.

Although the test is not particularly hard, it does require a certain level of fitness and if you are unfit, out of condition, or overweight, then you may fail this test. Start your preparation as soon as possible - have a look at our suggested training programme (see sidebar), or if you prefer visit your gym or sports centre, explain what you need to do to pass, and get them to help you.

Congratulations!

In theory, if you've passed the paper sift, successfully completed the PIR, shone at the assessment and sailed through the fitness test, you're in! Congratulations!

You will be contacted by the force who will provide you with details of your first posting (which police station you're going to be based at), when and where the training programme starts, where to report for your uniform fitting and how to get your warrant card.

Now the fun really starts!


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