Agency VA 724
Victoria Police (including Office of the Chief Commissioner of Police)
About this Agency Records Related Functions Related Agencies
Date Range: 1853 - cont
Description of this AgencyDescription of this Agency
Background to Formation of the Victoria Police Force

The first police force in Victoria comprised the constabulary attached to the Police Magistrates, the first District Constable being appointed in September 1836 (New South Wales Government Gazette 14 September 1836). From 1837 to 1853, in addition to the local District and Rural Constabulary, there were a number of separate police forces, including the Melbourne City Police, Border Police, Mounted Police, Water Police, Native Police, Gold Escort and Goldfields Police (see VRG 10 for more details about the 1836-1853 period).

In 1853, following a Legislative Council Select Committee inquiry, a single integrated Victoria Police Force (VA 724) was established under the control of the Chief Commissioner of Police.

As the Victoria Police Force (VA 724) includes the Office of the Chief Commissioner of Police which performs a central management and administration role for the Force, the Victoria Police Force has been included in VRG 16 Colonial Secretary, VRG 26 Chief Secretary and VRG 73 Police and Emergency Services. It has also been included in VRG 10 Police in relation to its operational role.

Formation and Operation of the Victoria Police Force From 1853

A Legislative Council Select Committee on Police reported in 1852 that the existing police forces were "insufficient in numerical strength - deficient in organisation and arrangement - and utterly inadequate to meet the present requirements of the country." It recommended their replacement with a single unified force and the division of the colony into a number of uniformly administered police districts (see Report from the Select Committee on Police to the Legislative Council 1852, Votes and Proceedings 1852-3, Volume 2).

Following the recommendations of the Select Committee, a single integrated Victoria Police Force (VA 724) was formed by the Police Regulation Act 1853 16 Vic.,No.24 and placed under the control of a Chief Commissioner of Police. The existing forces, with the exception of the Water Police and the Detective Force, a branch of the Melbourne City Police, which continued to function within the Victoria Police Force, were disbanded, but many of their members were absorbed into the new Force. From 1853 a Victoria Police Gazette has been published weekly and in 1856 the first Manual of Police Regulations was issued.

In regard to its general law enforcement and policing duties the Victoria Police has operated since 1853 on a District basis with the Colony, and later the State, divided into a number of metropolitan and country Districts with further sub-divisions down to local police station and police office level. These regional arrangements have gone through a number of restructures. Initially there were nine police Districts, but these were increased to eleven following the 1881 Royal Commission. By 1971 there were nineteen Districts, seven metropolitan and twelve country, further divided into Divisions, then Sub-Districts. Recent restructures have resulted in the formation of large Regional Offices. District boundaries are detailed in the Gazettes.

The position of Chief Commissioner was also established by the 1853 Police Regulation Act. The Office of the Chief Commissioner provides central control, supervision, administration and co-ordination for the Victoria Police Force, its members and its operations. The Chief Commissioner has been responsible to the Colonial Secretary from 1853 to 1855 (VRG 16), the Chief Secretary from 1855 to 1979 (VRG 26) and most recently the Minister for Police and Emergency Services (VRG 73). Administrative assistance has been provided to the Force by Victoria Police and Public Service officers. Prior to the establishment of the Ministry for Police and Emergency Services (VA 421), the public servants belonged to the Police Branch or Police Department of the Chief Secretary's Department (VA 475). They now belong to an Administration section within the Office of the Chief Commissioner. Currently (1989) the Chief Commissioner's central police administration is divided into the following sections, each headed by an Assistant Commissioner - Crime, Operations, Traffic, Services, Personnel, and Research and Development. In addition to these regional and central management structures, a number of specialist areas have developed within the Force.

Criminal Investigation

Criminal detection or investigation was from the beginning the responsibility of the Detective Force which was reorganised into the Criminal Investigation Branch (CIB) following the 1881 Royal Commission. The Special Branch was formed within the CIB in 1931 with close links to the then Commonwealth Security Service (later Australian Security and Intelligence Organisation - ASIO), while in 1953 an Information Section/Bureau and in 1936 a Fingerprint Branch/Bureau were added. Until 1936 the CIB operated from the Melbourne District, but thereafter it was decentralised into eight Metropolitan Divisions. In 1948 it was further regionalised into twenty four Metropolitan and fifteen Country CIB Divisions. Other specialised sections and squads were added to it over the years - the Victorian Police Scientific Section and Detective Training School in 1938, the Homicide Squad in 1943, and more recently the Company Fraud Squad, Armed Robbery Squad, Arson Squad and so on.

Other Specialist Sections

Other special purpose units have also emerged, including the Licensing and Gaming Squads, Public Relations Office (1946), the Forensic Science Laboratory (established in 1955), the Police Surgeon (1947), the Motor Boating Squad (1964), the Dog Squad, Police Air Wing and Community Policing Squad. D24 was established in 1939 as the Force's Communication Control Centre.

Role in Times of Emergency

During the World Wars, the Force took on extra functions under wartime emergency legislation. From 1939 to 1945 D24 became a vital civil defence communications and air raid warnings centre with close ties to the military police organisations. Police also controlled lighthouses and Special Branch took on responsibilities for enforcing national security regulations. After World War II the police continued to be responsible for coordinating emergency services in an emergency until this role was assumed directly by the Minister for Police and Emergency Services following the 1982 Ash Wednesday bushfires. D24 continues to provide the State co-ordinating centre in an emergency.

Royal Commissions and Inquiries

A series of inquiries and Royal Commissions have been held into police administration and operations (see also VRG 14 Royal Commissions and Boards of Inquiry). These have included a Commission of Inquiry appointed after the Eureka incident in 1854, a Parliamentary Select Committee in 1862, a Royal Commission following the Kelly Outbreak in 1881, further Royal Commissions in 1906, 1923 (following the Police Strike) and 1936, the Abortion Inquiry in 1970 and the Beach Inquiry in 1975 (see the Bibliography "Victoria Police Reading and Study Guide" in Police Life, November-December 1982, for a listing of published reports). The recommendations of these inquiries and Commissions - and of Colonel Sir Eric St. Johnston in his 1971 Report - resulted in various organisational changes, restructuring, reforms and innovations, for example formal training for recruits was introduced following the 1906 Royal Commission; significant pension reforms after 1923; a major restructure, establishment of the Internal Investigations Unit, and an opening up of career opportunities for women after the St. Johnston Report in 1971.

Women in the Victoria Police

Women first joined the Victoria Police Force in 1917 when two women were appointed as "agents" - they received half the pay of policemen and did not have the constable's power of arrest. In 1924 the four women police agents were reappointed with full constabulary powers, the same wages, hours and pension rights as policemen. By 1942 there were twelve policewomen and by 1950 eighteen. Their work tended to be restricted to law enforcement in areas such as neglected children, control of prostitution and abortion. In 1950 the first woman was appointed to the Criminal Investigation Branch, and in 1954 the first woman was appointed to the rank of sergeant. By 1956 there were forty three policewomen and by the early 1970's one hundred and eighty five.

From the 1960's the traditional roles of policewomen were challenged and from the beginning of the 1970's policewomen began to be integrated into all aspects of policing and specialist duties.

Traffic Control, Motor Registration and Driver Licensing

From the early 1900's, police duties included traffic control at intersections. The Motor Police, equipped with bicycles, was formed in 1912 with duties including motor registration and driver licensing. By 1921 the Traffic Control Branch (from 1971 Traffic Department) and Motor Registration Branch (VA 488) had been established. The role of the police in road safety and traffic operations, and of the Motor Registration Branch were set down in a series of Transport, Transport Regulation, Road Traffic and Motor Registration Acts. From the mid 1950's their responsibilities for road safety and traffic control were greatly increased and a prevention and educational role emerged. The Road Courtesy and Accident Appreciation/Investigation Squads date from this period. In 1978 the operational wing of the Traffic Department, the Traffic Operations Group (formerly the Mobile Traffic Section) was regionalised.

Further research is needed to establish the varying roles of Victoria Police units and the Transport agencies involved in traffic management, and the type of coordination mechanisms in place. (See also VRG 49 Transport.)

Responsibility for motor registration and driver licensing passed to the Minister of Transport (VRG 49) and Transport Regulation Board (VA 2738) in 1981 under the Motor Registration Act 1980.

Neglected and Abused Children

Under the provisions of the Infant Life Protection Act 1890 the Chief Commissioner of Police was vested in 1890 with responsibility for the registration of homes used for the purpose of nursing, maintaining and adopting infants. This function was previously undertaken by local councils in their capacity as Local Boards of Health (see VRG 8 Health and Welfare Institutions and VRG 12 Municipalities). In 1907 a subsequent Infant Life Protection Act 1907 transferred responsibility for this function to the Department for Neglected Children, later known as the Children's Welfare Department (VA 1467) in the Chief Secretary's Department (see also VRG 26 and VA 475).

In addition to its related law enforcement and criminal investigation responsibilities, the Victoria Police Force has continued to play a support role to the agencies with responsibilities for neglected and abused children, increasingly in community education and preventive programs.


Sources used in compiling this Agency description include the official Victoria Police Force history: Police in Victoria 1836 - 1980 (Victoria Police Force 1980). A useful bibliography, titled "Victoria Police: Reading and Study Guide", was published in the Victoria Police Force magazine Police Life, November-December 1982.

Location of Records

Significant records are held by the Public Record Office. Researchers should also consult sections of the Summary Guide on the related Groups and Agencies referred to above.

See list below and List of Holdings 2nd edition 1985, section 12.0.0.

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    PROVguide033 Police Records
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Date Range Series Title Series Number Series Location Public Access
? 1925 - ? 1930 Pay and Allowance Registers VPRS 1776 North Melbourne Open
? 1929 - ? 1961 Salary Cards VPRS 1785 North Melbourne Open
? 1933 - 1993 Crime Reports (previously known as Criminal Offence and Modus Operandi Reports) [RETURNED TO AGENCY 2000] VPRS 2985 Other Not Applicable
? 1935 - cont General Correspondence Files VPRS 2400 North Melbourne Part Open
1853 - ? 1895 Register of Letters and Memos Sent (Outward Correspondence) VPRS 676 North Melbourne Part Open
1853 - 1889 Letter Books, Inc Memoranda and Reports, Bourke District Police Department VPRS 1557 North Melbourne Open
1853 - 1894 Inward Registered Correspondence VPRS 937 North Melbourne Open
1854 - 1884 Court Records and Police Magistrates' Note Books VPRS 1503 North Melbourne Open
1859 - 1860 Occurrence Book and Roster of Duties (Geelong) (GRS 357) VPRS 15866 Not Applicable
1859 - 1863 Registers VPRS 1488 North Melbourne Open
1864 - 1864 Extracts from Police Records of Juvenile Offenders (Geelong) (GRS 357) VPRS 15867 Not Applicable
1869 - 1877 Particulars of Children Licenced Out to Service VPRS 1551 North Melbourne Open
1894 - ? 1935 Register of Correspondence VPRS 675 North Melbourne Open
1894 - 1935 Inward Correspondence Files VPRS 807 North Melbourne Open
1894 - 1935 Index To Correspondence VPRS 10257 North Melbourne Open
1933 - 1993 Dockets [Offender Histories] (RETURNED TO AGENCY 2018) VPRS 9303 Other Not Applicable
1935 - cont List of Classified Subject Headings for Central Registry Branch Correspondence Files VPRS 7672 North Melbourne Open
1938 - 1939 Jewellery Reference Book VPRS 3606 North Melbourne Open
1945 - 1993 Central Names Index Cards [RECORDS NOT TRANSFERRED] VPRS 9304 Other Closed
1954 - 1954 Commonwealth Of Australia Security Of Classfield Matter in Governement and Instrumentalities Handbook VPRS 5592 North Melbourne Open
Functions for which this Agency has or has had primary responsibilityFunctions for which this Agency has or has had primary responsibility
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1979 - 1981 Motor registration and driver licensing VF 159
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1853 - 1855 Colonial Secretary VRG 16
1853 - cont Police VRG 10
1855 - 1979 Chief Secretary VRG 26
1979 - cont Police and Emergency Services VRG 73