Women in Policing

Policing in NSW was a profession for men only until 1915, when the Inspector General asked that women police be introduced. The NSW Police Department advertised two positions for female police and nearly 500 women applied.

On 1 July 1915, Maude Rhodes and Lillian Armfield were appointed as the first women officers in the NSW Police Department. They were employed as Probationary Special Constables who acted as ‘social and moral guardians’ to women and children, and whose primary functions related to traffic direction and the control of juvenile girls.

The first female officers were not given the full powers and entitlements of constables. They did not wear a uniform and they had to sign an indemnity absolving the department from any liability if they were injured or killed on duty. In addition, they had to take out a life insurance policy and were not entitled to superannuation.

Special Constables Rhodes and Armfield were deployed to the Women Police Office within the Criminal Investigation Branch. Both women progressed and moved into more hazardous areas of police work. Lillian gained distinction as the first woman in the British Empire to be awarded the King's Police & Fire Service Medal for distinguished service.

After the initial introduction of women police, recruitment of women was slow and by 1929 they included Mary Paulette, Nellie Mooney, Nellie Kathleen Mitchell, Mary Madden, Ellen Bennett, Rose Cuneen and Eva Rosser. During World War II however, NSW Police found it harder to recruit men and in 1941, the number of women police increased to 14.

In 1947, the duties of women police were extended with a trial of Special Constables Amy Millgate and Gladys Johnson on traffic duties. By 1959, training for women police was extended in line with male recruits, although women’s training did not include physical training nor pistol practice.

In 1961, another barrier was broken when NSW Police allowed women to stay employed after marriage.

It was not until 18 March 1965 that women gained full police status and the title of Special Constable was dropped. Women officers received equal entitlement to superannuation, long service leave, a pension and other entitlements previously available only to men.

In 1976, the first women police officers were transferred to general police duties on a trial basis. By 1979 firearms became standard issue for policewomen. In 1981, the Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) Branch was established at Police Headquarters and began helping women with discrimination and harassment issues.

Women now participate in all areas of policing and make up approximately 34% of the NSW Police Force, and the number of sworn female police officers make up close to 27% of the total number of police officers.

Did you know?
Percentage of women employed in the NSW Police Force* has been steadily increasing:
1982 – 3.3% of police strength
1989 – 10.1% of police strength
1994 – 12.5% of police strength
1995 – 13.2% of police strength
2000 – Female sworn officers represent 19.8% of all sworn officers and female staff represent 29.9% of all NSWPF staff
2010 – Female sworn officers represent 26.7% of all sworn officers and female staff represent 34.3% of all NSWPF staff
2011 – Female sworn officers represent 26.8% of all sworn officers and female staff represent 34.4% of all NSWPF staff

Other milestones for women in policing:

  • In 1957, the first non English speaking woman officer, Johanna Suchy, was recruited.
  • In 1982 Sandra May was the first Aboriginal policewoman *
  • In 1988 Inspector Bev Lawson became the first woman appointed as Patrol Commander, Bev Lawson became the first woman superintendent in 1989. She went on to become the first woman chief superintendent and district commander, and later Deputy Commissioner.
  • Constable Sally Verhage became the first policewoman in the Police Rescue Squad in 1984.
  • Detective Inspector Lola Scott was appointed the first woman patrol tactician at Redfern in January 1993. The following year, she became the first woman detective chief superintendent when she was appointed Commander Internal Affairs, and the first woman to be appointed region commander in 1997.
  • Christine Nixon became the first woman to be appointed assistant commissioner in 1994. She went on to be appointed the first woman Police Commissioner in Australia on 23 April 2001. At the age of 47, Ms Nixon became Victoria’s 19th Chief Commissioner.
  • Deputy Commissioner Catherine Burn of Corporate Services received both the state and national 2011 Telstra Business Woman of the Year award.
* Data extracted from ‘80 years of Women in Policing’