The Northern Ireland Policing Board was meeting today to shortlist candidates for the North's second most senior post in law enforcement.
Six candidates are believed to have applied for the £100,000-a-year (€155,000-a-year) post as deputy to chief constable Hugh Orde.
Julie Spence, an assistant chief constable with Thames Valley Constabulary, Paul Leighton, who served in the old Royal Ulster Constabulary before switching to Northumbria, and another top officer with an English-based force are believed to be in the running.
Three senior Police Service of Northern Ireland officers are also among the applicants: Alan McQuillan, Stephen White and Sam Kinkaid.
The shortlisted candidates will be invited for interview at the end of January, after which the appointment will be made.
Alex Attwood, an SDLP member of the policing board, said: “There is a very strong field of candidates coming from a range of policing backgrounds.
“They are of high calibre and appear to be highly-motivated police officers.
“There are opportunities to build on the successes of the PSNI and the Policing Board in recent times and there are opportunities for both the police officers and policing generally.”
Mrs Spence will be hoping her work in countering a UK-wide terrorist threat will boost her chances of taking the Northern Ireland job.
She is a regional representative on the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) terrorism and allied matters committee.
The former teacher started her police career at Avon and Somerset Constabulary before joining Thames Valley.
She is the president of a British Association of Women Police officers.
But she faces strong competition from Mr McQuillan, the acting deputy chief regarded by many as one of the favourites for the post.
He earned plaudits for his handling of the Holy Cross Primary School protests in north Belfast during his time as the city’s top police commander.
Mr McQuillan was also on the shortlist of three for the top job secured by Mr Orde earlier this year.
Both of the other PSNI candidates’ profiles have risen sharply since they were promoted to the rank of ACC.
As the head of south region, Mr White has played a key role in security efforts to defuse the controversial annual Drumcree march at Portadown, Co Armagh.
Mr Kinkaid, who runs north region, is now in overall charge of the PSNI hunt for the Real IRA killers behind the 1998 Omagh bomb outrage.
Mr Leighton is also believed to be angling for a move back to Northern Ireland where he served before being appointed an ACC with Northumbria in January 2000.
While based in Derry he was responsible for dealing with contentious parades and counter protests.
Mr Leighton also spent time on secondment as a staff officer with the Inspectorate of Constabulary and was head of personnel at the RUC before leaving for England.