Policing

The State Records Office holds historical sets of records from the Police Department as well as from many individual police stations throughout the State.

An organised Police Force was not formally established in Western Australia until 1853 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 in 1834 and the Water Police in 1851. Between 1861-1995, 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 our online catalogue.

NOTE: Police files generally have a restricted access period of 50 years. Permission to access restricted records will need to be obtained from the Police Department. 

The following publications provide more detailed information about 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 / A.R. (Don) Pashley, (2000)
  • Grandfather was a Policeman : The Western Australian Police Force 1929-1889 / Mollie Bentley, (1993)
  • Aspects of the Western Australian Police Force, 1887-1905 / A.W. (Andrew W.) Gill, (1974)
  • Rescues, Rogues & Rough Seas: 150 Years of Water Police in Western Australia / Michelle McKeough, (2001)
  • Protect & Serve: A History of Policing in Western Australia / Peter Conole, (2003)

Departmental Records

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The following is a summary of the major series of Police Department records held by the State Records Office:

General Files, 1876-1985, Series 76

These 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.

Consignment 430 records prior to 1900 are available on microfilm on the 3rd floor of the State Library / State Archives. These files contain information on a range of matters including interaction with Aboriginal people (e.g. in regional WA), foreign visitors, 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, 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 provides the title of each individual file within this sequence. Subject Indexes, Nominal Indexes and Registers for the files are also 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. This series includes 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

This is a series of documents, arranged in chronological order, mainly covering the period 1858-1885 and is available for viewing on microfilm on the 3rd floor of the State Library / State Archives. The records deal primarily 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:

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

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, Series 3640

Copies of orders circulated by the Department to the Police Stations, covering a range of topics.

Criminal Registers (including photographs), 1921-1948, Series 449

Photographs ('mug shots') of persons charged by the Perth police and arranged in roughly chronological order. 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

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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 on the 3rd floor of the State Library / State Archives.

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:

Occurrence Books

All police stations used to maintain an occurrence book in which they kept a daily account of events 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

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

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.

Coronial Inquests

While Coronial records prior to the 1970s were previously disposed of, information relating to coronial inquests can occasionally be found within local police station records. The following are selected examples of the records available:

Water Police Records

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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
Page reviewed 5 February 2021