• PSNI chief constables have averaged 5.2 years in post.
  • Looking only at chief constables who finished their tenure this century, and at the 15 largest forces across the UK, we found that chief constables average 5.7 years in their role.
  • The average tenure for such forces in England and Wales specifically is 5.8 years.
  • For extra context, in the same period Garda Commissioners have averaged 4.1 years in position.

Following the resignation of Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) Chief Constable Simon Byrne, University of Liverpool Professor Jon Tonge claimed on social media that:

“[The] average tenure of a PSNI Chief Constable is about the same as those in England and Wales.”

Is this true? To check it out we looked at recent appointments for the 15 largest police forces across the UK – noting that the PSNI itself is one of the largest seven forces in the UK, by both officers numbers and total budget.

Our research found that chief constables in those 15 forces remain in post for a mean average of 5.7 years. For forces in England and Wales specifically, the average tenure was 5.8 year. PSNI chief constables have stayed in their role for 5.2 years, on average.

Based on those comparisons – with a gap in average tenure of under half a year – it’s fair enough to say that “the average tenure of a PSNI Chief Constable is about the same as those in England and Wales”.

And, for extra context, the average tenure for a Garda Commissioner is 4.1 years.

The claim is accurate.

  • Methodology

There are 48 police forces across the UK – 45 territorial forces covering Northern Ireland, Scotland and regions of England and Wales, and three special police forces covering transport, civil nuclear, and Minister of Defence security.

Examining the longevity of all chief constables within all forces was impractical, so instead we looked at chief constables who completed their tenure since 2000 – i.e. excluding those whose position is ongoing – and for the 15 large forces, defined as below.

Whether ranked by the number of police officers or by the size of their budget, the largest seven forces are (in alphabetical order):

Greater Manchester Police, Metropolitan Police Service, Police Scotland, Police Service of Northern Ireland, Thames Valley Police, West Midlands Police, West Yorkshire Police

To this list we added the next four largest by number of officers, and the next four largest by budget:

Avon and Somerset Constabulary, Devon & Cornwall Police, Essex Police, Hampshire & Isle of Wight Constabulary, Kent Police, Merseyside Police, Northumbria Police, South Wales Police

We also examined the tenure of Garda Commissioners.

To calculate the average service of chief constables, we excluded:

  • substantive chief constables whose service was completed in the last century;
  • acting chief constables;
  • chief constables of new forces (ie, Stephen House who served as the first chief constable of Police Scotland from 2012, an amalgamation of the previous eight regional forces; and Ronnie Flanagan who served for five months from November 2001);
  • currently serving chief constables (some of whom have only been in a post for a matter of months).

The majority of the start and end dates have been sourced from Police Forces’ Statement of Accounts and from national and regional media articles marking the first day, last day or retirement of chief constables. In some cases, only the start or end month are known, but not the precise day. These approximations are unlikely to significantly skew the figures.

  • Northern Ireland

Simon Byrne led the PSNI for 4.2 years.

The average tenure of a chief constable of the PSNI is 5.2 years: Hugh Orde (7.0 years), Matt Baggott (4.8), George Hamilton (5.0), Simon Byrne (4.2).

  • England and Wales

Professor Tonge’s claim was specific about comparing Northern Ireland with England and Wales.

We found the average length of service for chief constables in the largest 13 forces in England and Wales is 5.8 years.

This figure is boosted by the 13-year service of John Evans (Deven & Cornwall Police, 1989-2002) along with the 11-year services of David Wilmont (Greater Manchester Police, 1991-2002) and Charles Polland (Thames Valley, 1991-2002).

  • Scotland

Police Scotland was established in 2012, the amalgamation of eight smaller regional forces. After the initial incumbent, only two chief constables have finished their term. Their average service was 3.5 years: Phil Gormley (2.1), Iain Livingston (5.0).

  • Ireland

Five Garda Commissioners have completed their service this century, ranging from 2.8 (Nóirín O’Sullivan) to 7.0 years (Patrick Byrne). The average tenure was 4.1 years.

Table of tenure

RegionNumber of substantive chief constables completing their term post-2000Average tenure
Northern Ireland45.2
Top 13 forces in England and Wales575.8
Top 14 forces in Great Britain595.7
Top 15 forces in UK635.7
Garda Síochána54.1

Figure 1 – table of average tenures