Laser Eye Surgery And The Police

If you are considering joining the police and currently wear glasses or contact lenses you are likely to have a number of questions relating to your application. Let’s first take a brief look at the visual standards to see whether or not you already meet them.
Police visual requirements:
You can view the full police visual requirements here.
From this, you will notice that they talk about the visual requirements in terms of aided and unaided vision. Aided vision relates to what you can see with your glasses/contact lenses on and unaided vision refers to what you can see without your glasses (or contact lenses off). Unless you have a lazy eye, then the chances are you will pass the aided vision requirements without any problems. However, if you wear glasses or contact lenses then it is likely to be the unaided vision that results in you failing the standards.
I am not going to list all the requirements as they vary depending on which position within the police you intend on applying for. The most stringent requirements of unaided vision are 6/18 for Air observers and the most lenient category being 6/60 unaided for Police Community Support staff.
What exactly do these numbers relate to in terms of the optician’s eye test chart?

  • Unaided vision of 6/18: This relates to roughly halfway down the eye test chart.
  • Unaided vision of 6/60: This relates to the top letter (biggest) on most eye test charts.

How does this relate to the prescription in my glasses?
It is difficult to accurately explain this as it depends on whether you are long-sighted, short-sighted or have astigmatism. Most people who require glasses for distance tasks are likely to be either short-sighted or have astigmatism. The following shows a typical prescription that you are likely to get from your opticians:
This example relates to someone who is short-sighted as the prescription is a minus number. Plus prescriptions relate to long-sightedness. The column that it titled CYL is blank which means you have no astigmatism. CYL relates to astigmatism as does the axis. The axis only relates to the direction (type) of astigmatism, whereas the CYL column relates to the amount of astigmatism. See below:
0.00   -2.00    90.
This example suggests you only have astigmatism and the amount you have is 2 dioptres. The direction/axis is 90 and it is probably best to ignore this as it will only cause confusion and is not relevant to your application.
In terms of what amount of prescription relates to a certain unaided vision, the following gives a rough estimation. This is only an estimation as it is difficult to predict accurately:
Unaided vision  — Amount short-sightedness     ——– Amount of astigmatism
6/18 approx             -1.25 or more  (short-sightedness)        Approx -2.00 or more (Astigmatism)
6/60 approx             -2.00 or more (short-sightedness)        Approx -3.00 or more (Astigmatism)
These are only guidelines as there are many combinations of prescriptions. Most people have a combination of short-sightedness and astigmatism and it is impossible to list every combination! Furthermore, the axis of astigmatism does make a difference as well. For example, if your axis is 180 or 90 (or close to either) then your vision is generally not as affected as much. If your axis is 45 or 135 (or close to either) your vision is likely to be considerably worse.
Can I join the police if I have laser eye surgery?
Getting back to the original question, the simple answer is yes. This has changed in recent years as laser eye surgery has become far less invasive than it was in the early days. The 2 most common types of laser eye surgery are Lasik and Lasek and both are accepted by the police force. If you had laser eye surgery about 10 years ago, then you may have had one of the more invasive types of surgery such as Radial Keratotomy (RK). If this is the case, you will need to check with the individual police force to see whether or not they will accept you. This type of treatment is considered to weaken your cornea (surface of your eye), so they are concerned about the risk of trauma to your eye during your duty as a police officer.
How long will I need to wait after surgery before I can apply/return to work?
This is likely to vary depending on which police department you are joining/currently working for. The time period is likely to be between 4 – 8 weeks and could be more for some departments. If you currently work for the police you will have your vision assessed on your return.
In summary, both Lasik and Lasek are now accepted by the police and if you fail to meet the unaided vision requirements then laser eye surgery may be your only option. Only those who have had laser eye surgery over 10 years ago are likely to have any issues with applying for the police. The final say will always come down to the individual police department and if you have any doubts you should discuss these with them.

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