The Police in Scotland

There are eight police forces in Scotland. In the main, the territories of these forces correspond to local government regional boundaries, with the exceptions of Lothian and Borders Police, which covers Lothian and Borders Regions; and Northern Constabulary, which covers Highland Region, Western Isles, Orkney and Shetland.


Three parties share legal responsibility for police forces in Scotland; the police authority, the chief constable and the Secretary of State for Scotland. This arrangement derives from the Police (Scotland) Act 1967.


Each force is maintained by a police authority or joint board.

Joint police boards now maintain 6 of the Scottish forces: Northern Police, Central Scotland Police, Grampian Police, Lothian & Borders Police, Strathclyde Police and Tayside Police. Only Dumfries & Galloway and Fife Constabularies are directly administered by the councils for their geographical areas.

Joint police boards are composed of representatives of each council in the force area.

The main responsibilities of the police authorities are to:

  • set the budget for the force and provide the chief constable with the resources (manpower, building and equipment) necessary to police the area adequately and efficiently
  • appoint officers of the rank of Assistant Chief Constable and above


The chief constable alone is responsible for police operations. While police authorities appoint the chief constables (subject to the approval of the Secretary of State), neither police authorities nor the Secretary of State have power to direct chief constables on enforcement of the law or on the deployment of police officers. The chief constable has a duty to comply with instructions from the Lord Advocate, the sheriff principal or the appropriate prosecutor in relation to offences and prosecutions. Efficient and effective use of the resources placed at his disposal by the police authority is a matter for the chief constable.

The chief constable is required by law to submit to the police authority an annual report on the policing of the force area. It is also copied to the Scottish Parliament. In line with the Justice Charter, this report is also published and made readily available to the public. It not only gives an account of the policing of the area during the past year in terms of statistical results, but also comments on the performance of the force against objectives and targets set by the chief constable for that year. Also in line with the Justice Charter, forces produce their own Charters. In 1997 five of the eight Scottish forces had been awarded a Charter Mark.

How 2 Become – A UK Police Officer

The Scottish Police Practice Papers workbooks have been designed to give you the best chance of passing the entrance tests to join the Scottish forces (Standard Entrance Test). Since the Scottish police allow you only three attempts at the entrance test, there is a real need to be prepared if you want to make the most of each test opportunity.



Scottish Police Practice Papers – Entrance Numbers Tests 1–6

The Scotish Police Practice Papers Numbers Tests includes the following:
- Preparation techniques for improving number skills
- Working examples on how to tackle each of the questions in the numbers test
- Six number tests with answers



Scottish Police Practice Papers – Language Tests

Police Practice Papers Language Tests includes the following:
• Preparation techniques for improving language skills
• Four language tests with answers




HM Inspectors of Constabulary, under the direction of the Secretary of State, visit and inquire into the state and efficiency of police forces and report to the Scottish Parliament. These reports are published. HM Chief Inspector of Constabulary submits an annual report to the Scottish Parliament.


The police service is financed partly by central government and partly by local government. The local government contribution comes from the council tax and from the revenue support grant and non-domestic rate income provided to local authorities by central government. Police grant is paid by government at 51% of expenditure incurred by local authorities up to a specified limit.

Capital expenditure on the police is controlled by the system of capital expenditure consents to local authorities administered by the Scottish Parliament.


The Police (Scotland) Act 1967 (as subsequently amended) lays down the general functions and jurisdiction of police constables, but as society changes, so does the emphasis in police work alter to reflect current needs and attitudes. However the main functions of the service can still be summarised in the words of the Report of the 1962 Royal Commission:

  • to maintain law and order and protect persons and property; to prevent crime
  • to detect criminals and, in the course of interrogating suspected persons, play a part in the early stages of the judicial process, acting under judicial restraint
  • to control road traffic and advise local authorities on traffic questions
  • to carry our certain duties on behalf of Government departments – for example, to conduct enquiries on applicants for British nationality
  • by long tradition, to befriend anyone who needs their help, and to cope with any minor or major emergency which may arise
  • In carrying out their work, police constables work as members of a disciplined force under the direction of the chief constable, although each is expected to act on his or her own initiative and is alone accountable at law for the exercise of his authority. They do much of their work alone and without supervision and they must make decisions based on a sound knowledge of the law. Constables are therefore unique in the nature and degree of responsibility they are required to exercise


Police forces are generally divided for operational purposes into at least three branches – uniformed, criminal investigation and traffic – and some have, additionally, specialised departments such as under-water units, mounted branch and police dogs. Most Scottish police forces today also have a community relations branch which, as well as advising the public about personal and domestic security and crime prevention, also organises projects within the community designed to help young people understand the role of the police in our society, liaise with schools and provides advice on security in architectural design.


The ranks within the police service are, in descending order of seniority:
Chief Constable (Most Senior Police Officer)
Deputy Chief Constable
Assistant Chief Constable
Chief Superintendent
Chief Inspector


Members of the uniformed branch have a particular responsibility for preserving the peace, preventing crime, protecting people and property and maintaining public order. This is done by flexible systems of policing particularly in urban areas, which combine foot and mobile patrols, each with radio facilities. This ensures effective deployment of manpower and best use of modern communication techniques.


As well as investigating crime, the CID deals with the checking and classification of crime reports, collects all kinds of information relating to crime in a district, prepares crime statistics and advises on crime prevention. CID officers are normally distributed throughout the force area and work in close co-operation with their uniformed colleagues. Specialist drugs units operate in each force.


Officers of the Traffic Department are primarily concerned with enforcement of road traffic laws, traffic management, road safety and related matters. In many forces they also undertake a wide range of policing duties.


In addition to the Scottish Police Federation there are two other organisations which represent members of the Scottish police service. Chief constables and assistant chief constables are members of the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland whilst superintendents belong to the Association of Scottish Police Superintendents. The Federation is the only one of the three organisations to have a statutory basis. It operates nationally through an executive known as the Joint Central Committee. At force level the Federation operates through Joint Branch Boards, which, like the Joint Central Committee, may divide into separate bodies representing the interests of individual ranks for some purposes. Government consults the three representative organisations about a wide range of matters affecting their members and the service as a whole. They also participate in negotiations within the Police Negotiating Board on questions of pay, allowances and conditions of service, and are represented on the Police Advisory Board for Scotland.

RECRUITMENT AND PROMOTION (View Recruitment Information)

Entry to the regular police is open to men and women between 18 and a half and under 40. Cadet posts are available in some forces to prepare candidates between 16 and 18 and a half for a career in the police service but the great majority of entrants come in at the rank of constable. Consideration for promotion to sergeant and inspector requires a pass in the appropriate qualifying examination. A small number of promising officers – about twelve in any one year – have an opportunity for accelerated promotion by selection under a special scheme.


(Updated courtesy of

Scotland’s first constables were appointed in 1617 in the reign of James VI but city and burgh police forces were not established until the 19th century, largely replacing town guards of citizens or old soldiers (although a small but short-lived professional police force had been established in Glasgow in 1778).

The UK's first Police Act was the Glasgow Police Act of 30 June 1800 and another eleven Scottish cities and burghs established police forces under individual police Acts of Parliament before Peel's Metropolitan Police was established.

The Burgh Police (Scotland) Act of 1833 gave powers to Scottish burghs to establish police forces, if they had not already done so. The Act meant that each burgh did not need to seek an Act of Parliament to form a police force, but many had done so in the preceding 33 years.

The title 'Chief Constable' was used in cities and burghs from 1862. The Glasgow Police Act of 1862 extended the rank of Chief Constable to Chief Superintendent James Smart of the City of Glasgow Police. It was felt that the chief officer of Police of 'The Second City of the Empire' (City of Glasgow) was holding a lower rank than the chief constables of the county forces, and so the Act rectified the anomaly on 15 May 1862. Many other cities and burghs followed suit between 1862 and the late 1880's.

Glasgow then had a force of about 700 men. Edinburgh 300, divided into ranks of superintendent, assistant superintendent, lieutenant, inspector, detective, sergeant and constable. A series of measures during the next half-century strengthened the powers and improved the structure and organisation of the forces. Common methods of recruitment were adopted and pay scales and superannuation standardised.

Throughout the 19th century the constable’s normal protection was the truncheon, although during the Irish Unrest in 1867–68 most forces were issued with revolvers and cutlasses. Further trouble in London around 1910, including the murder of policemen, led to talk of arming officers but this was rejected for the same reason that prevails today, that is that criminals might then feel more justified in carrying weapons. Scottish police officers do occasionally carry firearms but only senior police officers can authorise their issue to fully trained individuals.

The diced cap of the Scottish police dates from 1932. The distinctive new pattern was quickly accepted throughout Scotland and has since been adopted by other police bodies.

After the Second World War, the police service in Scotland underwent a series of major changes. The Scottish Police College was established at Tulliallan Castle to provide residential training on a centralised basis and senior, junior, detective and traffic training are now provided on a single campus for all ranks up to Superintendent. In 1996–97, 126 courses were held involving 4,553 officers.

Improved effectiveness and efficiency have been achieved through standardisation of responsibilities in the higher police ranks; improvements in examination and recruitment methods, the introduction of new technology and reduction in the number of forces through a series of amalgamations, culminating in the creation of only eight forces covering the whole of Scotland at the time of local government reorganisation in 1975. Having proved its worth, this pattern of policing was continued after the subsequent reorganisation of local government in 1996.

The establishment of the Scottish Crime Squad in 1969 provided a ready means of tackling major crime affecting more than one police area. In 1986 a dedicated drugs wing was added to the squad with branches in Glasgow and Edinburgh and in 1988 a further unit was established in Stonehaven. A Technical Support Unit was set up in 1989 to provide from a central point a range of equipment for the use of police forces in Scotland to assist them in their technical operations. An office of the National Criminal Intelligence Service (NCIS) was established in Scotland in 1996 and is co-located with the Scottish Crime Squad, HM Customs and Excise Investigation Division and the Scottish Criminal Intelligence Office the other main law enforcement agencies responsible for intelligence gathering, analysis and dissemination. The function of NCIS is to provide an actionable intelligence service aimed at major criminals whose activities transcend regional and national boundaries. NCIS will provide a direct intelligence link between the police in Scotland and their counterparts in the rest of the UK and overseas by capitalising on its access to a wide variety of services both nationally and internationally.

The Scottish Criminal Record Office (SCRO)

First established in 1960, provides a criminal and fingerprint records service for all eight Scottish police forces. The criminal records section was computerised in 1988 and now provides forces with direct access to criminal records and associated information, which is assisting greatly in the investigation of crime. The Scottish police can also access records held on the Police National Computer

SCRO services were enhanced in 1997 with the introduction of Livescan which enables forces to electronically capture fingerprints of persons in police custody.

In addition to these centralised facilities all police forces have made considerable investments over recent years to improve communications and technology facilities generally.


The Scottish police forces, headquarters addresses, telephone numbers and web sites are as follows:
Police Force, Address of Headquarters HQ Telephone Number and web site address
Central Scotland Police
Stirling FK8 2HD
01786 456000
Central Scotland Police
Dumfries and Galloway Constabulary
Cornwall Mount
Dumfries DG1 1PZ
01387 252112
Dumfries & Galloway Constabulary
Fife Constabulary
Detroit Road
Glenrothes KY6 2RJ
01592 418888
Fife Constabulary
Grampian Police
Queen Street
Aberdeen AB9 1BA
0845 600 5700
Grampian Police
Lothian and Borders Police
Fettes Avenue
Edinburgh EH4 1RB
0131 311 3131
Lothian & Borders Police
Northern Constabulary
Perth Road
Inverness IV2 3SY
01463 715555
Northern Constabulary
Strathclyde Police
173 Pitt Street
Glasgow G2 4JS
0141 204 2626
Strathclyde Police
Tayside Police
PO Box 59
4 West Bell Street
Dundee DD1 9JU
01382 223200
Tayside Police

Details of Police in Scotland can be found above.

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