A division was the usual term for the largest territorial subdivision of most British police forces. In major reforms of police organisation in the 1990s divisions of many forces were restructured and retitled Basic Command Units (BCUs), although as of 2009 some forces continue to refer to them as divisions.
The term has existed since the creation of police forces in the early 19th century. Most police forces were divided into divisions, usually commanded by a Superintendent. These could cover a wide rural area, a substantial town, or a portion of a city, depending on the population (London, for instance, was divided at one point into 67 Metropolitan Police divisions and a further four City of London Police divisions). In 1949, the Metropolitan Police regraded its divisional commanders as Chief Superintendents and most other forces followed suit.
Divisions were usually divided into Sub-Divisions, commanded by Inspectors (or, in the Metropolitan Police, Sub-Divisional Inspectors, a higher rank). Some rural forces did not acquire this further organisational level until well into the 20th century, however. Sub-divisional commanders were later regraded as Chief Inspectors in most forces.
In the United Kingdom, divisions functioned as semi-independent bodies, with the divisional commander being allowed a great deal of freedom in the way he policed his "patch". A division had its own Criminal Investigation Department (CID) officers, who handled all investigations except very specialist operations and serious crimes such as murder, for which experienced specialist officers from headquarters were called in (although the groundwork was still largely done by local CID). There was frequently great rivalry and even dislike between officers based "on the divisions" and officers based at headquarters, with the former seeing the latter as elitist fast-trackers who did not know what real police work was all about, and the latter seeing the former as unimaginative "plods" without any real ambition or ability. There was also great rivalry between adjacent divisions, which sometimes degenerated into operations deliberately designed to embarrass or discredit the other.
With the reforms of the 1990s sub-divisions, as well as divisions, acquired a variety of new names.
In India, the equivalent to a division is a Police District. Policing in India is on a state basis, and every state is divided into a number of districts. Each district is headed by a Superintendent of Police. The district is subdivided into Sub Divisions, each commanded by a Deputy Superintendent of Police. Sub Divisions are further divided into Police Circles. In the case of a district including large cities, two separate police districts are created, known as the City Police District, headed by a Commissioner, and the Rural District Police, headed by a Superintendent.
Republic of Ireland
In The Republic of Ireland, the Garda Síochána divides its operational area into 23 divisions, which in turn report to one of six regions. Most, but not all of these divisions, are aligned to county borders. Each division is commanded by a Chief Superintendent. Divisions are further divided into districts, commanded by a Superintendent.
The Singapore Police Force divides the city-state into six divisions of varying physical sizes and population. These boundaries tend to be demarcated in terms of cases handled by observing criminal trends over time, instead of being based on area or population sizes alone.
A few police departments in Canada use divisions to represent stations or patrol areas, but some are a mix of operational and administrative units with the force.
A few police agencies using divisions include:
- Peel Regional Police - 5 (4 geographic and 1 operational)
- Ottawa Police Service - 3 (geographic)
- Edmonton Police Service - 5 (geographic)
- Halifax Regional Police - 4 (3 geographic and 1 operational)
- Hamilton Police Service - 3 (geographic)
- Toronto Police Service - 17 (geographic)
- Vancouver Police Department - 3 (operational)
- Victoria Police Department - 6 (operational and administrative)
- Waterloo Regional Police Service - 5 (geographic)
- Winnipeg Police Service - 5 (geographic)