An organised Police Force was not formally established in Western Australia until 1853. This occurred with the appointment of a Superintendent of Police and the publication of a 'Code of Rules' unifying the police force under one superintendent. Prior to this a number of part time constables had been appointed by Governor Stirling in 1829. Other forms of policing were added as the Colony developed, such as the Mounted Police, formed in 1834, and the Water Police in 1851. In 1849 an Ordinance for Regulating the Police in Western Australia was proclaimed, a second Police Ordinance replaced this in 1861. This further clarified the powers and responsibilities of members of the Police Force. From 1861 till 1995 the Police Force was known as the Western Australian Police Department. It changed its name to the Western Australian Police Service in 1994.
The State Records Office holds records that have been transferred from the Western Australian Police Service as well as predecessor and related agencies. Listings of records for police can be found under the Police Department or under the name of individual Police Stations using the online catalogue.
NOTE: Police files generally have a restricted access period of 50 years. Permission to access these records may need to be obtained from the Police Department. Please see the Accessing Restricted Records section for information on how to apply for access to restricted records.
The following are examples of some of the major series of Police Department records held by the State Records Office.
- General Files, 1876-1971, Series 76, Consignment 430
These general correspondence files cover a range of matters including routine reports, incident reports, murder and accidental death investigations and traffic matters. There are also a number of files containing copies of individual police journals sent in to Head Office. Accession 430 records prior to 1900 are now available on microfilm in the State Records Office Microform Area. These files contain information on a range of subjects including Aboriginals, aliens, asians, criminal activities, journals of district patrols by police, settlers complaints, missing persons, inquests, natural disasters, shipwrecks, deaths, mining accidents, gold discoveries, deceased estates, prostitution, wife deserters, strikes and riots and general police administrative business (transfers, promotions, applications for employment, dismissals). Journals of individual policemen detailing their activities are also held in this collection. The listings in Series 76 provide the cover title of each individual file within this sequence. Subject Indexes, Nominal Indexes and Registers for the files are available on microfilm for the years 1887-1915.
- Files - General Administration, 1900-1994, Series 488
General administration files, covering a wide range of topics, including files received from the Road Traffic Authority following its amalgamation with the Police Department. These include files on conferences (of CIB chiefs, Australian Police Ministers, commissioners and others), uniforms, police duties, royal visits, automobile licences, traffic accidents, missing persons, police premises police training and police stations.
- Early Police Department Records, c. 1859-1883, Series 2126, Consignment 1295
This is a series of documents, arranged in chronological order, mainly covering the period 1858-1885 and is available for viewing on microfilm in the State Records Office's Microform Area. The records primarily deal with general police business, floods and shipwrecks, or any other occurrences of special interest in country districts such as convict escapes, murders, exploration expeditions etc. Some records of interest include:
- Growing of beards by convicts at remote stations, 18 July 1864 (file 6/494)
- Assistance for Forrest expedition at York, 29 July 1871 (file 16/716)
- Escape of Fenians in American Whaler 'Catalpa', 18 April 1876, (file 23/164)
There is some overlap between these records and the files listed in Series 76 which cover the period from 1876 to 1883.
Applications to Join the Police Force, 1866-1948, Series 333, Consignments 949 & 3749
Applicants are listed alphabetically with details such as name, age, height, marital status, place of birth, religion, address and date of appointment included.
Circular Orders, 1861-1879, Cons 432, AN 5
Copies of orders circulated by the Department to the Police Stations, covering a range of topics.
Photographs, 1921-1948, Series 449, Consignment 3904
Photographs ('mug shots') of persons charged by the police and arranged in roughly chronological order. Generally, there are three photographs for each person. Other details provided include full name, height, colouring etc dates and nature of charges.
- Files - Liquor Licensing, 1912-1996, Series 2213
This series is made up of files received from the Liquor and Gaming Branch of the Police Department and its predecessors. The series includes files relating to applications for various types of liquor licences. The files cover matters relating to investigations into the potential licencee, infringements and prosecutions, and transfers of licences under the Licensing Act. Licensed premises include hotels, taverns, restaurants, wholesalers, wine bars, clubs and hotels with restricted or limited licences, stores, cabarets and canteens.
Police Station Records
In addition to Police Department records the State Records Office holds collections of records specific to particular Western Australian police stations. Listings of records held for various Western Australian police stations can be found online using the locality of the police station and by using the hardcopy AN 5 finding aids available at the State Records Office Search Room.
Station records may include correspondence, evidence books, requisitions for stores and stationery, occurrence books, horse and forage returns, journals, charge books and Police Court returns.
Some of the common types of records maintained by police stations, which may be held by the State Records Office include:
Until recently all police stations maintained an occurrence book in which they kept a chronological account of the daily events of note that occurred within their precinct (eg. robberies, deaths, accidents etc). Occurrence Books are often the source of information relating to police investigations. Some Occurrence Books include ships' arrivals and departures, lists of passengers and note travellers passing through a district. Occurrence Books may also record traffic incidents in the district.
Correspondence / Letterbooks
Detail records of inward and outward correspondence to the Police Station, sometimes copied out into letterbooks. Correspondence can include memos, correspondence between district offices and to the Chief Office in Perth or to the Resident Magistrate. Some letterbooks included telegrams while other stations created separate telegram books.
Charge Books and Police Court Returns
Charge Books and Police Court returns provide information relating to the arrest and trials of criminals in the district. Details in a Charge Book can include name of accused, nature of charge and action taken. Further information on prisoners and criminals can be found in local police station and local courthouse records.
See also additional information on Police Lockups.
Duty Books and Police Journals
Duty Books and Police Journals were completed by the individual police officers at the local stations and give details of duties performed by the officer and the hours they are on duty.
Registers list information relating to police matters in various districts. Some examples of registers that may be included within police station records are Ticket of Leave Registers, Warrant Registers, Missing Friends and Special Inquiries Registers, Birth Registers, Register of Police Gaol Prisoners, and Licences and Property Registers.
Information relating to coronial inquests can occasionally be found under the local police station records. The following are selected examples of the records available:
- Onslow Police Station, Coroner's Inquests, 1913-1927, Acc 1256, Item 5, AN5/ONS
- Pingelly Police Station, Inquests Book, 1921-1930, Acc1412, Item 7, AN5/PIN
- Wiluna Police Station, Coroner's Reports, 1967-1983, Series 2075, Consignment 5544
See also further information on Coronial Inquests.
Water Police Records
A small number of records for the Water Police have been transferred to the State Records Office and are listed in the hardcopy finding aids at AN 5. These include records for Albany, Fremantle and Perth Water Police.
In addition to these records files relating to the Water Police may also be found amongst the Police Department General Files, as well as through the records of individual police stations. For example the Vasse Police Station records include Shipping Lists (Acc 3315, AN 5/VAS) compiled by the Vasse Water Police.
The following are selected examples of the Water Police records held by the State Records Office:
- Albany Water Police, Occurrence Books, 1903-1906, Acc 1213, AN 5
- Fremantle Water Police, Duty Books, 1867-1869, Acc 1480, AN 5
- Perth Water Police, Occurrence Books, 1893-1969, Acc 1413, AN 5
Other Police Related Records
It is possible in some cases to locate police records in other related collections. For example, many copies of police reports can be located in the records of the Chief Protector of Aborigines and its successor agencies. These reports may be identified through the catalogue, particularly Series 3005. Following are other examples of police related records:
Copies of police reports containing information on matters relating to Aboriginal people were often forwarded for the attention of the Department responsible for Aboriginal affairs. These records can include information on rationing of Aboriginal people at local stations, gathering of witnesses for trials, records relating to Aboriginal trackers, as well as various criminal matters pursued by the police.
The Police reports forwarded can be located amongst the general files of the Department of Indigenous Affairs and it's predecessor agencies, dating back as far as 1898 and the records of the Chief Protector of Aborigines. In the case of the Chief Protector of Aborigines files the names of police officers mentioned in the files have been indexed in the Chief Protector of Aborigines Files Index which is now available online.
See also further information on the range of records available relating to Aboriginal people.
Colonial Secretary's Office (CSO) Records
Matters relating to the police, particularly prior to the establishment of the Police Department, may be located within the Colonial Secretary's Office correspondence. These records can be located through the Subject Indexes situated in the Search Room. Headings to check for relevant correspondence include "Police", "Mounted Police", "Police Magistrates", "Protectors of Natives" and under individual police stations.
See also further information on Colonial Secretary's Office records.
Records relating to Police Courts can generally be located through the records of the Local Courts at the hardcopy AN 17 finding aid available at the State Records Office Search Room. Court records sometimes contain records concerning police such as charge books and gaol registers, which may not be listed in the Police Station records. Furthermore files for individual court cases often contain witness statements from police and/or copies of police reports submitted as evidence. These case files are generally located through the records of the Supreme Court criminal sittings.
See also further information on court records.
Police Benefits and Gratuities Board
The Police Benefits and Gratuities Board was established in 1861 to deal with applications from individual officers for retirement benefits, either in cash or by land grant. The State Records Office holds minutes of the Board for 1861 to 1939 with listings available at Series 1632.
Royal Commissions and Committees of Inquiry
The State Records Office holds records relating to a number of Royal Commissions that have conducted investigations into various matters concerning the police in Western Australia. Examples include Royal Commissions into the dismissal of Constable Lambert (1926) and the administration of the police force (1949), as well as the Committee of Inquiry into the Police Benefit Fund (1926). The types of records available for these Royal Commissions can include transcripts of evidence and final reports.
Royal Commission and Committee of Inquiry records can be located through the State Records Office finding aids at AN 537 and AN 545 respectively. Relevant records may also be listed online by searching under the title of the required Commission or Committee.
Please Note: There is a 30 year access restriction on both Royal Commission and Committee of Inquiry records. See also further information on accessing restricted records.
The following publications are recommended for researchers interested in the history of the Police Force in Western Australia.
- Policing Our State : A History of Police Stations and Police Officers in Western Australia 1829-1945/ by A.R. (Don) Pashley, (2000)
- Grandfather was a Policeman : The Western Australian Police Force 1929-1889/ by Mollie Bentley, (1993)
- Aspects of the Western Australian Police Force, 1887-1905/ by A.W. (Andrew W.) Gill, (1974)
- Rescues, Rogues & Rough Seas: 150 Years of Water Police in Western Australia/ by Michelle McKeough, 2001.
- Protect & Serve: A History of Policing in Western Australia/ by Peter Conole, (2003)
State Records Office staff at the Enquiry Desk can provide additional information on the range of police records available from within the State Records Office collection. For more information contact us by telephone on (08) 9427 3600, via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or in person.