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United Kingdom

General Information

Admission to the OSCE: 25 June 1973

Policing overview: In the United Kingdom, law enforcement is, generally speaking, organized at the level of administrative districts, in England and Wales defined as Home Office police forces. The United Kingdom counts 52 police forces (constabularies): 43 in England and Wales, eight in Scotland, and one in Northern Ireland.


Metropolitan Police Service

1. General information
2. Functions and missions
3. Structure and organization
4. Staff data
5. Oversight

1. General information
The Metropolitan Police Service was established in 1829 as the first of the modern police forces. It is by far the largest of the police services that operate in greater London: since 2002, it covers an area of 620 square miles and a population of 7.2 million.

2. Functions and missions
The Mission statement of the Metropolitan Police Service is:  "Working together to make London the safest major city in the world."

The seven priorities of the Metropolitan Police Service are to:

  • provide a local policing team in each electoral ward in London;
  • combat terrorism and improve safety and security;
  • develop an understanding of criminal networks to reduce the harm they cause to London;
  • secure the safety of the transport network and the Olympic games, whilst ensuring the resilience to deal with major incidents;
  • ensure that staff, partners and the community have the information they need when they need it;
  • put what the public wants from the police service at the heart of the MPS;
  • improve the quality of leadership training that the workforce receives.

3. Structure and organization
The branches of the Metropolitan Police Service are:

  • Specialist Operations – three sections which specialize in counter terrorism, aviation security and the protection of royalty and diplomats and their buildings, government ministers and the Palace of Westminster;
  • Specialist Crime Directorate - specialist resources to reduce all aspects of serious and specialist crime;
  • Directorate of Information - provides information, communications and technology (ICT) services to the Metropolitan Police Service;
  • Human Resources Directorate- responsible for all personnel management and the training of police and civilian staff;
  • Territorial Policing (TP) – London’s local police comprising 32 Borough Command Units (BOCUs) within each of the 32 Local Government areas of London, and 1 BOCU for Heathrow airport. Within TP are various pan-London units including the following:
  • Traffic Policing
  • Dog Support Unit
  • Mounted Branch – high visibility patrols and public order;
  • Marine Support Unit
  • Central Operations Specialist Firearms Command (CO19) - provides firearms-related support to unarmed colleagues;
  • Territorial Support Group – provides co-ordination and control for major public events in London.

To see a full list of the departments of the service, please visit the official website, following the link in the Links section below.

4. Staff data
As of 2006, the UK Metropolitan Police Service employed 31,141 officers, 13,661 police staff, 414 traffic wardens and 2,106 Police Community Support Officers (PCSOs).

5. Oversight
The Metropolitan Police Authority (MPA) is an independent statutory body, established under The Greater London Authority Act 1999, and came into effect in July 2000. Its 23 members scrutinize and support the work of the Metropolitan Police Service.

Where a complaint is received from a member of the public about the behaviour of an officer or a police staff member, or facts come to light that suggest that a police officer may have committed a criminal offence or a breach of the Code of Conduct, the matter will be investigated. More serious complaints are sent for investigation to:

  • The Anti-Corruption Group, which is responsible for investigating corruption allegations and what are described as 'proactive inquiries';
  • The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), which is a newly formed organization that came into in April 2004.
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Serious Organised Crime Agency

1. General information
2. Functions and missions
3. Structure and organization
4. Oversight

1. General information
The Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA) is a new law enforcement agency created in April 2006 to reduce the harm caused to people and communities in the UK by serious organized crime. It is sponsored by, but operationally independent from, the Home Office.

2. Functions and missions
SOCA takes over the functions of the National Crime Squad (NCS), the National Criminal Intelligence Service (NCIS), the role of HMRC in investigating drug trafficking and related criminal finance and some of the functions of the UK Immigration Service (UKIS) in dealing with organized immigration crime.

The SOCA Board has determined five generic priorities:

  • To build knowledge and understanding of serious organized crime, the harm it causes, and of the effectiveness of different responses;
  • To increase the amount of criminal assets recovered and increase the proportion of cases in which the proceeds of crime are pursued;
  • To increase the risk to serious organized criminals operating in the UK, through proven investigation capabilities and in new ways;
  • To collaborate with partners in the UK and internationally to maximize efforts to reduce harm;
  • To provide agreed levels of high quality support to SOCA's operational partners and, as appropriate, seek their support in return.

3. Structure and organization
SOCA is an Executive Non-Departmental Public Body (NDPB) led by a Board with a majority of non-executive members. The Board is responsible for ensuring that SOCA discharges its statutory responsibilities and meets the priorities set by the Home Secretary.

4. Oversight
The Chair of SOCA, appointed by the Home Secretary, is responsible for SOCA's overall approach and for its relationship with Ministers and with Government generally, for SOCA's strategy and, with the non-executive directors, for oversight of its operational performance.

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Regional Police

1. General information
2. Functions and missions
3. Structure and organization

1. General information
In the United Kingdom, each police authority is charged with securing efficient and effective local policing for its respective area.

2. Functions and missions
The UK Police Service is composed of independently run police ‘Forces’ or ‘Constabularies’ that deal with a diversity of local issues ranging from community policing to corporate development; from crime statistics to domestic violence; from extortion to human rights; and from road policing to search and rescue.

3. Structure and organization
Separate but very similar arrangements exist for England and Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland:

  • England and Wales - 43 police services of considerable variations in size with some such as Greater Manchester covering large conurbations with several thousands of officers, whereas others operate in predominantly rural areas and so have only 1,500- 2,000 officers;
  • The "Police Service of Northern Ireland" (PSNI) gives its mission as: "making Northern Ireland safer for everyone through professional progressive policing" and is the only police service in that province;
  • Scotland’s police organization and duties are basically the same as in England and Wales, except for the Scottish Drug Enforcement Agency, which was created in July 2000 to prevent and detect serious organized crime as it affects Scotland at a national and international level. In addition, Scotland has eight separate police forces, each headed by a Chief Constable who runs the force on a day-to-day basis and reports to a police authority made up of Scottish regional councilors. Scotland’s Secretary of State has the same role in relation to policing as that of the Home Secretary in England and Wales. There is a Scottish Crime Squad and Criminal Records Office, both of which are based in Glasgow.
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British Transport Police

1. General information
2. Functions and missions
3. Staff data

1. General information
British Transport Police (BTP) is the national police force for the railways providing a policing service to rail operators, their staff and passengers throughout England, Wales and Scotland. The Force is also responsible for policing the London Underground system, the Docklands Light Railway, the Midland Metro Tram System and Croydon Tramlink.

2. Functions and missions
BTP’s goal is to provide a policing service which delivers a safe railway environment that is free from disruption and the fear of crime.

3. Staff data
BTP numbers approximately 2,280 police officers and some 700 support staff.

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Criminal Justice System

1. General information
2. Prosecution

1. General information
A wide number of agencies work together to deliver what is known as the criminal justice process, including the police, the courts, the prison service, the Crown Prosecution Service and the National Probation Service.The work of these various agencies is overseen by three government departments: the Home Office, the Attorney General’s Office, and the Department for Constitutional Affairs.

2. Prosecution
Before the Crown Prosecution Service was formed in 1986, it was the police who decided whether to take cases to court. Today, the Crown Prosecution Service decides whether or not to prosecute people in court. However, the police still investigate the alleged offence.
In most cases, Crown Prosecutors will decide whether to charge a person with a criminal offence, and will determine the appropriate charge or charges.

In those cases where the police determine the charge, which are usually more minor and routine cases, they apply the same principles.

For more information on the Crown Prosecution Service please view the document in the Attachments section.

Attachments

  "The Decision to Prosecute" [English] (118.44 Kb) "The Decision to Prosecute" [English] (Format: PDF) http://polis.osce.org/countries/view?item_id=73&attach_id=160
Leaflet published by the Crown Prosecution Service
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Links

Home Office - United Kingdom  Home Office - United Kingdom http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/
Official website of the Home Office

Metropolitan Police Service - United Kingdom  Metropolitan Police Service - United Kingdom http://www.met.police.uk
Official website of the Metropolitan Police, Scotland Yard, London.

The Metropolitan Police Authority - United Kingdom  The Metropolitan Police Authority - United Kingdom http://www.mpa.gov.uk
Official website of the Metropolitan Police Authority, London.

Independent Police Complaints Commission - United Kingdom  Independent Police Complaints Commission - United Kingdom http://www.ipcc.gov.uk/
Official website of the Independent Police Complaints Commission.

National Crime Agency - United Kingdom  National Crime Agency - United Kingdom http://www.nationalcrimeagency.gov.uk/
Official website of NCA, the new law enforcement agency established in 2011 and became operational in 2013, replacing the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA)

Police Service of Northern Ireland  Police Service of Northern Ireland http://www.psni.police.uk/
Official website of the Police Service of Northern Ireland

Policing Board of Nothern Ireland  Policing Board of Nothern Ireland http://www.nipolicingboard.org.uk
Official website of the Northern Ireland Policing Board.

The Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland  The Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland http://www.policeombudsman.org
Official website of the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland.

The Crown Prosecution Service - United Kingdom  The Crown Prosecution Service - United Kingdom http://www.cps.gov.uk/
Official website of the CPS - the Government Department responsible for prosecuting criminal cases investigated by the police in England and Wales.

OSCE/ ODIHR Legislationline - United Kingdom  OSCE/ ODIHR Legislationline - United Kingdom http://www.legislationline.org/topics/country/53/topic/12
Legislationline is a gratis internet-based legislative database published and maintained by the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR).

Last Updated: 6 December 2006

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