History of the NSW Police Force - Significant Dates

The NSW Police Force is one of the largest police organisations in the English speaking world. It began as the first civilian police force in Australia, known as the Night Watch, and was formed by Governor Arthur Phillip in 1789 to guard Sydney Town. In 1862, all Watch Teams were combined under the Police Regulation Act 1862 to form the NSW Police Force. That Act was later replaced by the Police Regulation Act 1899.

In June 1987, the NSW Police Force (which had carriage of operations) and the NSW Police Department (which had carriage of policy and administration) were amalgamated. Today the NSW Police Force has 19,516 employees: 15,633 police officers and 3,883 civilian staff. We operate under the Police Act 1990 and the Police Regulations 2008.

Click on the dates below to read about significant events in the history of the NSW Police Force.

1788 - 1888
1889 - 1987
1988 - 2012

1788 - 1888


With the arrival of the First Fleet at Sydney Cove, the initial policing of the colony of NSW was in the hands of the Royal Navy Marines. This role, however, was not one the Marines desired. Governor Arthur Phillip soon after appointed John Smith, a free settler, to the position of Constable. Although he did not remain long in office, Smith became the first recorded Police officer in Australia.


The Night Watch and the Row Boat Guard were appointed by Governor Phillip. These men were drawn from the ranks of the best behaved of the convicts.

The Night Watch were replaced by the Sydney Foot Police in 1790 and continued as an organised force (later known as the Sydney Police) until the amalgamation of all NSW colonial police forces in 1862.

The Row Boat Guard was both an independent Water Police and part of the Sydney Police, and is the forerunner of what is today known as the Marine Area Command.

In 1803, the death of Constable Joseph Luker of the Sydney Foot Police was the first recorded death of a member of the Police in Australia. While patrolling on foot at night in Back Row East, Sydney Town (now Phillip Street Sydney), the Constable was attacked and killed. His body was found the following morning with the guard of his cutlass embedded in his skull. Four offenders later faced court, where three were acquitted (including two fellow Constables) and one was sentenced to death (later commuted when three attempts to hang him failed).

1810 - 1850
Initially in rural areas, Police were appointed by the local Justices of the Peace and became known as Bench Police or "benchers."

In 1825, the Military Mounted Police were formed following clashes between Aboriginals and settlers in the central west, but were disbanded in 1850 in favour of a civilian Mounted Police (also known as the Mounted Road Patrol). These were the forerunners of today’s NSW Mounted Police.

Other colonial police forces included the Border Police (1839 -1846) and the Mounted Native Police (1848 -1859). The various Mounted Troopers in the colony were known colloquially as "traps."

In 1850, the Parliament in Sydney legislated to amalgamate all the various colonial police forces into one force under the superintendence of an Inspector General of Police. A solicitor, William Spain, was appointed as the first Inspector General.

1851 - 1862
With the discovery of gold, the Gold Escort were formed in 1851. In that same year, the Parliament in London disallowed the 1850 colonial legislation to amalgamate colonial police forces, resulting in the various forces remaining as separate entities.

During this period, police from the United Kingdom were offered free passage to NSW in return for three years service as colonial police. These years also saw the rise of the bushranging era.

In 1862, riots on the goldfields at Lambing Flat (near Young) saw police and the military deployed to restore peace and lead to a new push for more effective policing in the colony.

The Police Regulation Act was passed by the colonial Parliament and on 1 March 1862, all existing police forces amalgamated to establish the NSW Police Force under former Army Captain John McLerie as Inspector General.

The Police Force had its headquarters in Phillip Street Sydney, and the colony was divided into districts and sub-districts. There were 800 Policemen at the ranks of Superintendent, Inspector, Sub-Inspector, Sergeant, Senior Constable and Constable. The Force was divided into Foot Police, Mounted Police, Water Police and a Detective Force.

Police in Sydney were not routinely armed although they had access to firearms from the Police Depot. Police in country areas did however carry firearms.

The first death of a member of the new Police Force occurred when Constable William Havilland was accidentally shot at Orange whilst returning from Eugowra Rocks, where he had been guarding the gold escort which had earlier been bailed up by bushrangers.

Special Constables John Carroll, Patrick Kennagh, Eneas McDonnell and John Phegan were secretly sworn in as part of a covert operation to capture bushrangers who had shot and killed Constable Miles O'Grady at Nerrigundah in 1866. The four Special Constables were ambushed at night at Jinden (near Braidwood) and killed. Their deaths represent the largest loss of Police lives in a single incident of this type in Australia. Later that year, the Campbell Commission of Inquiry into the State of Crime in the Braidwood District was established. This was the first Royal Commission type inquiry into the NSW Police.

1889 - 1987

1889 - 1895
In 1894 as a result of the Bridge Street Affray, a number of Police in Sydney were injured while attempting to arrest a group of safe-breakers. Parliament subsequently passed legislation authorising the arming of all members of the NSW Police Force and all Police have carried firearms ever since.

In 1895, the Police Band was formed and it continues to perform and entertain throughout the state.

1903 - 1910
In 1903, the Fingerprint Section was formed. It became the Central Fingerprint Bureau of Australia in 1941, maintaining a nationwide manual collection of fingerprints and criminal records until 1986 when it reverted to a state-based role. It now forms part of the Forensic Services Group.

In 1906, Police Headquarters were relocated to the corner of Phillip and Hunter Streets, Sydney. The Police Depot was relocated from inner city Sydney to Redfern in 1907 and the Mounted Police have been located there ever since. From 1953 to 1984, it was also the main centre for education and training in its role as firstly the Police Training Centre and later the Police Academy.

Ernest Day, a former Mounted Policeman, was appointed Inspector General. Direct descendents of Inspector General Day include Tony Day who was a President of the Police Association of NSW, and former Assistant Commissioner Bob Day. Relatives of both these men have also served in the NSW Police Force.

Also in this year, the first Police Prosecutors were appointed to the Force and appeared in the courts.

1912 - 1915
The first motor vehicle was acquired by the NSW Police Force. It was a Sunbeam roadster and was for the exclusive use of the Inspector General. In 1913, a Douglas motorcycle commenced special traffic duties, and in 1915 a Renault was modified for use as a motorised patrol van.

In 1915, Lillian Armfield and Maude Rhodes were appointed as Special Constables and become the first women in the NSW Police Force. They were not allowed to wear uniform or to carry firearms. It was 1948 before women were allowed to wear uniform, 1965 before they were sworn in as Constables like male officers, and 1979 before they were routinely allowed to carry firearms.

1914 - 1918
Members of the Force volunteered to serve in the Great War, with many paying the ultimate sacrifice. They were commemorated on the Honour Roll at the Sydney Police Centre and on the Wall of Remembrance at the Police Chapel in Goulburn. The war years saw the first major change to uniform, with the military style cap (as still used today) replacing the kepi.

1924 - 1925
The use of wireless with morse code as the means of communication was introduced into a number of police vehicles in 1924. The main base wireless station in Sydney became known by the call-sign VKG in 1927, and by 1928 all police stations were linked to the telephone network.

In 1925, the Public Safety Bureau was formed within the Traffic Branch. This later became the Highway Patrol (HWP) and had responsibility for all traffic law enforcement.

Inspector General James Mitchell, who was appointed in 1915, became formally known as the Commissioner of Police, with the official change of title taking effect.

1927 - 1929
The so-called Razor Gang Wars raged in Sydney with criminals using the straight razor as their weapon of choice. Police put an end to the violence in 1929.

In the same year, the Criminal Investigation Branch (CIB) was formed from the existing Detective Branch. Today it is known as the State Crime Command.

1933 - 1938
The first 12 Police Cadets commenced training in 1933 and were sworn in as Police officers in 1936. The system of Police Cadets continued until 1980.
In 1933, the Police Choir was formed. Also in that year, the Police Association funded the erection of the original Honour Roll installed at Police Headquarters to commemorate Police who had fallen in the line of duty.

In 1937, the first Police Citizens Boys Club is established at Woolloomooloo. The Police and Community Youth Clubs (PCYC) movement continues to this day. Also in 1937, the radio began to replace morse code as the main form of communication.

In 1938, the NSW Police RSL sub-branch was formed to cater for returned servicemen from the Great War.

1939 - 1945
Policing was declared a reserved occupation during the Second World War. As a result, not many serving Police were released for military duties in Australia and overseas. Those who did serve in the military were commemorated on the Honour Rolls at the Sydney Police Centre and on the Wall of Remembrance at the Police Chapel in Goulburn.

With the threats of invasion from the Japanese, Police undertook many internal security roles in the community and trained with rifles and bayonets.

In 1942, the Police Cliff Rescue Squad was formed. Now known as the Rescue and Bomb Disposal Unit, it has a permanent base at Zetland and a number of part-time Units around NSW including Cooma, Goulburn, Bathurst, Lismore, and the Illawarra, Blue Mountains, and Hunter regions.

1944 - 1945
In 1945, Special Constables were introduced to regulate parking in Sydney. The Parking Police (also known firstly as "Brown Bombers" and later "Grey Ghosts" from their various uniforms) positions were originally reserved for disabled ex-servicemen.

In 1945, the Force also saw the death of Constable Eric Bailey who was shot at Blaney. Constable Bailey was posthumously promoted to the rank of Sergeant Third Class and awarded the George Cross - remaining the only Australian Police officer to be awarded the then highest award for civilian bravery under the Imperial Honours then in force.

1946 - 1954
In 1946, the Aviation Unit established flying a fixed-wing ex-military aircraft. The Unit was disbanded in 1950 but reformed in 1979 and is now the Aviation Support Branch flying helicopters.

The Police Pipe Band was formed in 1946 as was known as No. 21 Special Squad. This was later known as 21 Division, which was the training ground for the Criminal Investigations Branch for many years until its disbandment.

Also in 1946, there were changes to uniform which saw the introduction of the open tunic and tie. Also, the Australian Police Journal was first published for Police throughout Australia under the auspices of the various Commissioners of Police.

In 1947, the Stock Squad was formed.

The design of the current insignia for the NSW Police Force was adopted in 1959. The Latin motto ‘Culpam poena premit comes’ translates as ‘Punishment swiftly follows crime’. The insignia was not used on the Police uniform until 1972. In 1961 the long-sleeve shirt and tie without the tunic became the summer uniform.

The "Centenary Brochure - New South Wales Police Force 1862 - 1962" was produced and edited by Sergeant Lance Hoban on behalf of Commissioner Norman Allan and issued to all serving members.

In this year, the NSW Police Force comprised of 6139 members - 5336 Policemen, 58 Policewomen, 175 Police Cadets, 5 Police Trackers, 4 Police Matrons, 109 Special Parking Police, 30 Special Constables and 422 Administrative Officers.

Constable First Class Cyril Howe was shot and killed at Oaklands after his pistol jammed. He was able to write his attacker's name in his official notebook before his death. He was posthumously promoted to the rank of Sergeant Third Class and awarded the Queen's Police Medal for Gallantry. His death lead to the adoption of the Smith & Wesson .38 calibre revolver as the standard Police sidearm in NSW.

Members of the NSW Police were deployed to Cyprus with the United Nations (UN) as peace-keepers - a role which the NSW Police Force continued until 1974. Later NSW Police Force UN deployments included Cambodia, Yugoslavia and East Timor. Two NSW Police have been killed on UN duties.

1964 - 1972
The Vietnam War saw many Police conscripted to serve as part of National Service. They were honoured on the Wall of Remembrance at the Police Chapel in Goulburn. The war and conscription eventually polarised the community and Police clashed with demonstrators as the anti-war and moratorium movements grew.

Inspector Beth Hanley was appointed as the first female commissioned officer in the NSW Police Force.

A new style of uniform was introduced which featured the Police insignia on the shoulder flash and the Sillitoe Tartan (chequered band) on the cap. This uniform remains as the service dress uniform of today.

Cyclone Tracey devastated Darwin and the NSW Police Force were among those who responded from around Australia to bolster the local Police resources.

1977 - 1978
In 1977, the Granville Train Smash resulted in a major rescue operation by Police and other emergency services.

In 1978, a bomb blast outside the Hilton Hotel in Sydney resulted in the death of Constable First Class Paul Burmistriw and two city council employees. The regional conference of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) was being hosted at the hotel at the time.

The Office of the Ombudsman commenced to oversight the investigation of complaints against Police.

The first honorary Police Chaplains were appointed. Father Jim Boland had been acting unofficially in this role since 1972 and was later appointed the first fulltime Police Chaplain in 1986. He is now a Regional Police Chaplain.

In 1980 the Aboriginal Liaison Unit was formed. This lead to the eventual introduction of Aboriginal Community Liaison Officers (ACLOs) within the NSW Police Force.

1981 - 1984
The 1981 Lusher Commission of Inquiry into NSW Police Administration lead to the introduction of the Police Board in 1984, the same year John Avery was appointed Commissioner. He went on to oversee the reorganisation of the NSW Police Force based on the establishment of patrols within four geographic regions and the introduction of community based policing.

Also in 1984, the Police Academy moved from Redfern to at Goulburn and was later renamed the Police College.

The amalgamation of the NSW Police Force (the operational arm of the organisation) and the NSW Police Department (which dealt with policy and administration) created the current NSW Police Service. This was finalised by the Police Service Act in 1990.

1988 - 2012

1988 - 1989
During this period, Police Legacy was formed to care for the families and children of deceased members of the Force. The Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) was formed with a role in relation to the investigation of complaints against Police. Police were also heavily involved in the rescue operation following the Newcastle Earthquake and during the logging disputes in the south-east forests near Eden.


1990 - 1991
During this time, the Police Chapel and Walls of Remembrance were consecrated at Goulburn. In 1991, Don Wilson from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police was appointed to the re-created position of Inspector General alongside Commissioner Tony Lauer. The office lapsed at the end of his tenure. Leather jackets were also introduced as uniform items.

1994 - 1996
In this period, the Wood Royal Commission into the NSW Police Service occurred. This resulted in the introduction of the Police Integrity Commission (PIC) and the appointment of Peter Ryan from the United Kingdom as Commissioner of Police in 1996. The Royal Commission Reports were handed down in 1997.

Senior Constables Peter Addison and Robert Spears were shot and killed at Crescent Head. As a result of these deaths, the Glock self-loading pistol was adopted as the standard sidearm for Police. Bullet resistant vests were also generally made available to operational Police.

In 1997, a restructure of the NSW Police Service lead to 80 Local Area Commands as the focal point of policing within 11 geographic regions, with appropriate Specialist and Corporate commands.

Also during this year, the Memorial Rose Garden in memory of all NSW Police personnel was dedicated at the Police College in Goulburn.

1998 - 1999
In 1998, Detective Senior Constable Allan Sparkes became the first Police Officer to be awarded the highest Australian honour for civilian bravery - the Cross of Valour - for a rescue at Coffs Harbour.

2000 - 2003
The NSW Police Force was highly praised for the security arrangements for the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games.

In 2001, Assistant Commissioner Christine Nixon was appointed the Chief Commissioner of the Victoria Police - becoming the first female Commissioner in Australia. She had joined the NSW Police in 1972 and is the daughter of former Assistant Commissioner Ross Nixon.

In 2002, Ken Moroney was appointed Commissioner of Police. Two of his sons have followed him into policing. The NSW Police Service was renamed the NSW Police Force and referred to as "the Force."

Disaster Victim Identification (DVI) specialists from NSW were deployed to Indonesia in the wake of the 2002 Bali Bombing as part of the overall Australian police response.

In 2003, Police Headquarters relocated to Charles Street, Parramatta.

2004 - 2005
The Redfern Riot (2004) and Macquarie Fields and Cronulla Riots (2005) focused attention on public order policing and multicultural issues in NSW.

DVI specialists from NSW were deployed to Thailand as part of the Australian response to the Indian Ocean Tsunami (2004 - 2005).

On 1 September 2007, Commissioner Andrew Scipione is sworn in as Commissioner of Police.

The Community Awareness of Policing Program (CAPP), a first for law enforcement agencies in Australia, was introduced in NSW. Developed by the NSW Police Force Customer Service Program, CAPP provides leaders of our communities with a unique insight into policing in NSW.

In 2011, the NSW Police Force comprised of 19,518 personnel - consisting of 15,617 police and 3,901 civilian staff servicing a population of 7.25 million.