Police Procedure - Convicts to Federal Agents

by Tracey Hawkins


Australian Police Forces - Convicts to Federal Agents

Imagine yourself walking the dog when it suddenly goes berserk. It races ahead barking and scratching under nearby bushes. Since it's not responding to your calls you edge forward into the darkened bushes.

Something about the dog's bark and frenzied activity alerts your senses… Pulling the dog away, you see it. A woman's naked body lies secreted in bushes. Blood oozes from underneath her pooling about your feet. Your hair stands on end and your heart thuds painfully. Who ya gonna call?

000 - good start.

Who attends? A uniformed Police Officer.

So begins my next topic in the Police Procedure Series. Who and what is a Police Officer? What makes a Police Force?

To answer these questions I decided to begin at the beginning.

The First Fleet

Once upon a time, a newly settled country full of convict immigrants needed to establish a basic law system to deal with the troublesome part of the population that abided by no rules. So in 1789 Governor Arthur Phillip established the first civilian Police Force in Australia.

Rules were set for the public and punishment used as a means of controlling the masses. Law and order was vaguely established and deployed, in many cases by crooked members of the hierarchy. Therefore, the 'lucky' country had established a lawful society in which people could live.

Barricades and Batons

Policing in Australia was established piecemeal during the 1830's with South Australia establishing the first recognisable centralised state Police Force in 1844. The Industrial revolution during the first half of the 19th Century saw growth in cities and towns. The population growth stimulated changes in public order and a rise in criminal activity.

Most Police duties revolved around disputes with workers - conditions were bad and strikes frequent. Police intervention was a common scenario as they set up barricades to sort out angry unionists and keep the managerial types safe.

Picketers such as shearers, wharfies, and miners all wanted the same thing - a safe workplace, better conditions and more pay. The Police played the role of mediators during this period. Police and workers struggled violently to settle the disputes.

Striking workers aside; life was much less complicated that it is today. Crime levels, although shocking for their time, were no means as dreadful as the crimes we are subjected to in the 21st Century. Date rape, drugs, and IT crimes were not even commonly used words let alone part of criminal activity.

In the early 1960's a young boy called Graham Thorn was the first child kidnapped in Australia and held for ransom. His unfortunate parents had won first prize in the lottery. Poor Graham struck his head on a car-jack as he was thrown in the boot of the car. He lay unconscious, trapped in the boot for three days until he died.

This notable and sad death rocked the people of Australia. How could something so dreadful happen here? Graham's murderer was found and the case proven through forensic testing on hair fibres and matter found on his body. Forensic study was only in its infancy: how big it was to become none could have guessed. Unfortunately this kidnapping and death was just the beginning of similar crimes. Forty years ago, a writer creating a murder/mystery novel probably knew enough about the basics of the Police profession to write their masterpiece.

The Police Force as such had its worker ants: General duties Police and Criminal Investigators, with the Queen ant - the hierarchy - an Inspector and an overall Commandant of Police. You could throw in the murder scene, investigate it with the worker ants and create a more outstanding ant to be the prized sleuth who solved the case. How times have changed.

Beat Police to New Communication Systems

As the population of Australia grew and became scattered more widely around the country, the age of communication provided new ways to deal with this growth. Beat Police moved from foot patrols to cars.

The radio became a new means of communication to respond to "jobs". A radio dispatcher could pass on a call and send a Police car to a situation quickly. Communication gave Police a new freedom. Walkie-Talkie radios and transport allowed them to patrol larger areas. Just as well: as the population grew, so did criminal activity. Robin Hood's policy of robbing the rich to give to the poor has survived through the centuries. Many 'rotten' individuals steadfastly held onto the principle.

It is the basic drive behind crime that has never faltered. Crime took a turn for the worse and people started locking their front doors (previously unheard of). Thefts, murder, and break-and-enters started to increase. Policing changed to meet and address the new wave of crime. Recruitment for Police Officers began its slow rise to meet the demand.

George Orwell's "Nineteen Eighty Four" to Pandora's Box 2003

George Orwell envisioned a future in which the State would use information technologies to indoctrinate the population and repress any deviant thinking. Nice thinking by Orwell as an overall solution to addressing the violence and mayhem created by deviants. However, what about the genetic distribution of all those deviant genes through the past two hundred odd years? Where had they gone?

Thoughtfully they met soul-mates and took the lord's advice: they went forth and multiplied like sewer rats. It seems Pandora's box had been opened, probably by Orwell himself having a peek into our future.

So has policing the masses managed to address the wave of the technological tide that has taken us to new limits?

Policing has changed dramatically over the past fifty years. We now have a more expansive contingency of Police agencies and investigators than ever before. We have one National Australian Federal Police Force and seven State and Territory Agencies.

The 8 Australian Police Forces

I decided to take a look at the eight Australian police forces and see what differences lay within. Each, it seems, offers the same basic:

  • principles of management
  • rank of Officers
  • police procedure and
  • mode of investigation.

An Example:

New South Wales and the Australian Federal Police (AFP) - by far the largest contingency of them all. At the time of writing, the NSW Police Force has 13,300 members distributed across NSW, working in five regions.

(Note from Editor: This can change at any time - restructuring is part of any organisation - so make sure you check the current hierarchy if you're writing a police procedural novel. This is just a guide.)

Within these regions are the Local Area Commands (LAC) centres of service. The state has eighty LAC's each consisting of one or more Police Stations.

The Australian Federal Police is a National policing agency distributed throughout Australia and through twenty countries in the World. The AFP is a centralised police agency in the ACT with officers contributing to peacekeeping missions such as East Timor.


Nothing to do with the odious smell of rotten food or kids runners. The echelon of Officers begins with the lowest level ranks:

Constable 'Plod'

He is your regular every day beat Police Officer. Lowest level on the ladder but the diehard 'do gooder' that attends all the nasty jobs given. Poorly paid considering his range of duties and considered with distaste by anyone with a senior rank. 'Never fear Plod is here.'

He will be there when you get assaulted, raped, broken into, have your car stolen, have an accident/death/mishap or any other matter needing Police assistance. His is the face you will see if stuck in a drain or a burning car and in need of reassurance and help. He will throw himself into any situation to help and assist the public.

Writers' note ## Stick a good beat Police Officer like 'Plod' in every murder/mystery story. You need someone with brains, backbone and a heart. He is your initial response/discovery Officer and can add character to your story. Remember he is one of your 'worker ants'.

Constable 'Plod' comes through the ranks from Constable to Senior Sergeant. He can be easily recognised by his blue shirt, gun holster, cap/hat and black trousers. Unlike Commissioned Officers 'Plod" wears dirty issue black boots. (Not polished for fear of contaminating themselves from blood, vomit and faecal matter gathered on patrol.)

Detective 'Smart'

Once was a 'Plod' but as he has moved into the newfound world of Criminal Investigation he has forgotten his roots. He is the 'new kid in town' doing his best to solve all the puzzling murders and mysteries, chasing down felons discovered by 'Plod'. His is not the caring face in a time of need - he just investigates and interrogates.

He has spent months training to be an investigator and spent much of his personal time and effort perfecting his attitude. He will later possibly branch off into a specialist area such as Organised Crime or fraud investigation, never to been seen in blue again. Detective 'Smart' comes through the ranks as a Constable to Detective Sergeant.

Writers' Note ## In every good murder novel you will find a Detective Smart. He is essential in the process of investigation. He is easily recognised by his cool sunglasses, laid back stance and non- uniform. NB There is sometimes a Detective 'Plod' who is a likeable character with his own problems.

Yes Sir- No Sir: High Ranking Officers Inspector 'Controlit'

He has done his time through the years working as a 'Plod' and possibly a 'Smart' and shown he has the ability to command a station and be an authoritative figure. He supervises the levels below and keeps control of the squads at all times. He answers to Superintendents and above.

Commander 'Anchorage'

He is a high ranking Officer bearing many shiny pips on his shoulder strap. He is ranked Superintendent and is chief overseer of Police Stations and Units of Command. These areas are LAC or Local Area Commands. All Police Stations within the LAC's are to report to a Local Area Commander.

NSW has five Region Local Area Commanders. Underneath the Local Area Commanders you will find eleven Regional Commanders and eighty Area Commanders. The Area Commanders have been specially selected for the environment they manage. They have proven leadership skills.

Commissioner of Police: 'God'

The Commissioner of Police is the chief executive of the Police service and reports directly to the Minister of Police. The Commissioner's executive team is a two-part command.

He has two appointed Deputies that report directly to him:

(a) Deputy Commissioner of Support. This involves the command of teams of experts in their fields available to support local police Services when required. For example- Media advice, radio communications, education services. Forensic services, Police assistance line, Communication groups, Protective services and public Affairs report directly to this Deputy.

(b) Deputy Commissioner of Police Operations. Police Operations provide comprehensive local police services. Such areas include Traffic Branch, State Protection groups. Services provided by these areas are Hostage negotiation, intelligence information and Forensic expertise.

All these officers can be easily identified by the amazing display of shiny badges and rank insignia worn on shoulder flashes. They also have black spit polished shoes that never get dirty. Within each of these Ranks are the Supervising Officers who maintain and supervise the smaller divisions of investigation. Crime Managers, Duty Officers, Investigation Supervisors, Shift Supervisors, Custody Managers, Station Officers, Highway Patrol/Traffic Supervisors all have roles in the ranks of the Force.

Specialist Police fields have expanded and trained to address the Intelligence field, Anti terrorist and hostage attacks, Drug enforcement, child protection, Fraud and Organised Crime, and e-crime - the paradigm facing the world of investigators.

As you can see, the Police Force is far more complicated that it first appears. Go ahead…make my day. How does the modern murder/mystery writer attack the conundrum of writing a novel that encompasses the new type of crime facing society?

  • Research your subject 
  • Know your crime and be sure to cover the investigation with the right field of investigators. 
  • Remember that each of the major specialist areas have smaller divisions and sub divisions within. 
  • Research the areas in which you need information. Look up forensic and wheedle your way through to the subject you need. Talk to experts in these fields if possible. 
  • The field of investigation and the role of the investigators still follow the 'pecking' order found in any typical work environment. Make your characters real. There is always a 'boss', a 'worker' and someone with attitude -- that knows everything and nothing. 
  • Animosity and 'domestics' are common among Police Officers who work tightly in shifts around the clock. They know each other's idiosyncrasies and intimate details and become 'coupled' through their working relationship. As in any good marriage, you have your good and bad days.

Police Officers are human (some I know are doubtful) but still have blood flowing through their bodies and feel pain, loss and hardships like the rest of us. They just don't often show it as their outer core hardens to the shock and horror they come upon during their daily grind in keeping your streets safe. Next time you're out and about smile at a Policeman- he will either smile back -or think you have something to hide. Go ahead make his day!

© Copyright Tracey Hawkins


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