Purpose – The aim of this paper is to examine the significance and the implications of efforts to institute workforce modernization within the police service in England and Wales. Design/methodology/approach – The approach taken uses an analysis of the modernization proposals advanced by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary as its starting point. Findings – The development of workforce modernization in the police service would appear to have eroded the hitherto “reform-resistant” nature of policing, however political factors continue to impede reform. Research limitations/implications – Although more evidence concerning the scale and the outcomes of the reform process would be desirable, the main implication of this paper is that workforce modernization in the police is viable, but constrained by political factors. Originality/value – Empirically, the paper focuses on developments in a sector – the police service – that has been neglected by the existing literature on workforce modernization; theoretically, it demonstrates the important influence often exercised by political contingencies over public sector workforce reform.