Motivations to become a Police Officer: A Typology of Police Recruit

As part of a recent research study into the post-Macpherson career experiences of lesbian, gay and bisexual police officers in England and Wales, I attempted to identify whether or not the sexuality of officers played a role in their initial decision to join the policing ranks. Reflecting research by Raganella and White (2004), who examined whether gender and ethnicity impact applicants’ joining motivations, the motivations for joining the police cited by my LGB participants were consistent with the joining motivations of white, heterosexual male officers. Specifically, the following ‘types’ of applicants and joining motivations were observed:

  • The Childhood Dreamers: applicants who had always been fascinated by what the police do and had always wanted to be a police officer from as far back as they could remember. As a child, they had dressed up as police officers and had all of the police paraphernalia. By applying to join the police, they were taking steps to fulfil that childhood dream.
  • The Excitement Chasers: applicants who wanted to avoid a desk job and were attracted by the prospect of driving fast cars, chasing criminals and locking up the bad guys on a daily basis.
  • The Good Samaritans: applicants who wanted to give back to society and help people who were vulnerable and unable to help themselves. Becoming a police officer was seen as a logical way to achieve these personal motivational desires.
  • The Sensible Seekers: applicants who were drawn to policing because of the good salary, pension and career prospects on offer. These applicants acknowledged that policing was not a vocation, but rather the best option out of a list of careers that they had considered pursuing.
  • The Graduates: applicants who had completed a degree, often in a subject completely unrelated to policing (examples include music, astrophysics, chemistry), but thought that their degree would provide them with leverage to climb the ranks through the high potential development scheme offered by the police.
  • The Dysfunctional: applicants who felt that their lives were not going in the direction that they had hoped; in fact, they were engaging in activities that if continued would get them into trouble, for example partying, promiscuity and general excess. Applying to the police was therefore motivated by a belief that it would provide some discipline and focus and enable applicants to get “back on the straight and narrow”.
  • The Drifters: this was a term used by Raganella and White (2004) to describe those applicants who become police officers after several other different careers and roles. Within this research, drifters included those who had previously been in the military and saw applying to the police as an obvious next step, and those who had tried several other careers (for example farmer, chiropodist, counsellor) but were still looking for the career that gave them a desired fulfilment.
  • The Specials: applicants who had been volunteer special constables for many years, alongside another full-time career, and wanted to upgrade to become a full-time police officer. These applicants were unique in that they had previous experience of policing and police environments.

Are you a serving police officer? If so, what ‘type’ did your motivations to join fall into? Drop me a tweet or an email to let me know. I’d be happy to add to the list if you think there are some missing.

Dr Matthew Jones is a Senior Lecturer in Criminology at Northumbria University and Deputy Chair of he BSC Policing Network. Email: Twitter: @Matt_JonesCrim.

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