WA Police Force Commissioners
Expand the below panels to view WA Police Force Commissioners for the listed years.
WA Police Force Commissioners 1853-1867
John Augustus Conroy (1822-1867)
Superintendent: March 14, 1853
Commissioner: June 20, 1854 to December 31, 1856
Aged only 31 when appointed, Conroy was the son of an army officer and the nephew of the notorious Sir John Conroy, formerly equerry to Queen Victoria's mother, the Duchess of Kent. The Conroys were in origin a very ancient Irish aristocratic family.
After serving in India as an officer of irregular cavalry, Conroy left the army because of a duel and fell on hard times. He was later made Deputy Overseer of Convicts and arrived in the colony of Western Australia in 1851. As Commissioner of Police, he was a flamboyant and committed leader, who fought hard to stabilise the new organisation in the face of resource restrictions. Conroy's career as Commissioner ended in controversy and accusations of financial impropriety. He went on half pay on the last day of 1855 and returned to England in a successful attempt to clear his name. He did not return and the position lapsed after another year. The ultimate fate of John Conroy and his family remains unknown.
Frederick Palgrave Barlee (1827-1884)
Acting Commissioner: January 1, 1856 to March 2, 1857
Of middle class origin and a bank clerk in early life, Barlee entered the British Civil Service and had a distinguished career. After work in the Ordnance Department in England, Barlee transferred to the colonial service and spent some time in Sierra Leone. From 1855 to 1876 he was Colonial Secretary in WA. It is probable he engineered the overthrow of Conroy.
Barlee later thought better of his actions and gave up control of the Police Force in the interests of the separation of powers principle. He was later Lieutenant Governor of British Honduras and died in office as Administrator of Trinidad. Barlee was knighted in 1883. He is the youngest head of the organisation in WA policing history.
William Hogan (1825-1898)
Inspector: March 3 to May 31, 1857
Superintendent: January 1, 1861 to July 11, 1866
William, the son of John Hogan, was of very obscure origin. He was a former soldier and a highly commended London detective who arrived in WA in 1854 to assist with criminal investigation work. Hogan was commissioned early and soon reached the rank of Inspector - he was the right-hand man of successive Superintendents of Police, although family commitments in Victoria led him to leave the WA police for a brief period.
Soon after he took command in 1861 a new Police Ordinance was introduced which set the scene for a period of reform. Hogan personally compiled the Police Rules and Regulations of 1863 and he worked tirelessly to raise standards and improve operational methods. He was under considerable personal strain by 1866 and a disagreement with officialdom led to his second resignation. Hogan moved east and worked as a detective in New South Wales until his retirement. One of his sons became an Inspector in the WA police.
Alfred Hawes Stone (1801-1873)
Acting Inspector: June 1, 1857 to March 1, 1858
Stone arrived in WA in 1829 with his brother. They were both heavily involved in the development of the legal profession in WA. A.H. Stone was the son of a lawyer of County Kent and was a solicitor himself. His legal career in the Colony was astonishing - Stone was given the high-sounding title of 'High Constable' for Perth township in the early years, but his real commitments lay elsewhere.
He established a successful private practice and by 1850 had accumulated a number of public positions to go with it - Crown Solicitor, Commissioner of the Court of Requests and Registrar-Clerk of the Civil Court. He filled in for William Hogan when the latter went to Victoria, although he had little time to devote to his duties as Acting Chief of Police. After the Supreme Court was established in 1861, he became Registrar, Master and Keeper of Records of the court. For good measure, he acquired some four other public posts over the next decade in a permanent or acting capacity.
Nobody in WA found reason to question Stone's integrity. He retired in 1870.
Charles Symmons (1804-1887)
Acting Superintendent: March 1 to May 31, 1858
Symmons was another well educated immigrant from the 'middle orders' of society, although little is known of his background. In 1839 he was appointed Protector of Natives in Perth and went on to hold other public positions. He was a member of the Board of Public Works from 1849 and Immigration Agent in 1855. After his short spell as a stop-gap Chief of Police, he went on (in Stone style) to become Acting Sheriff of the Colony, an Assistant Resident Magistrate, a Justice of the Peace and Police Magistrate in Fremantle.
Sir Alexander Thomas Cockburn-Campbell (1804-1871)
Superintendent: June 1, 1858 to December 31, 1860
Cockburn-Campbell was of minor Scottish gentry in origin; his family became wealthy through mercantile activity in India. The baronetcy was obtained by marriage to the heiress of a famous British general of the Napoleonic Wars. Sir Alexander served for a short time as an army officer in India and held some civil posts. He then devoted a lot of time and energy to work for the Plymouth Brethren religious movement, of which he and his wife were founder members.
As Superintendent of Police in WA, he was a hard taskmaster and disciplinarian, a man who set high standards both for himself and others. At the same time, he was astute enough to propose a couple of changes aimed at alleviating the severe working conditions endured by his junior officers. Cockburn-Campbell resigned to become Resident Magistrate at Albany, where he spent the rest of his life.
Robert Henry Crampton (1827-1871)
Acting Superintendent: July 12, 1866 to June 17, 1867
Crampton was the son of a prominent Anglo-Irish clergyman, Cecil Crampton, and married into a family of English landed gentry. He received a commission in the British Army at the age of 20 and made his mark in two colonial wars in South Africa, during which he received several wounds. Crampton was very well thought of by senior army officers and was sent to WA as a major and staff officer in the Enrolled Pensioner Force.
Crampton took over as Acting Superintendent after Hogan's final resignation and showed himself to be a gifted administrator; he developed a couple of plans for police reform which were eventually put in place by his successors. During Hare's tenure, he again acted as Chief of Police whenever the Superintendent was absent. In 1870 he became Commandant of the Colonial Defence Establishment, and was made a colonel of volunteers (militia). Crampton died in office.
WA Police Force Commissioners 1867-1933
Gustavus Edward Cockburn Hare (1811-1881)
Superintendent: June 18, 1867 to April 24, 1871
Hare was a member of yet another well-known family of British gentry, in this case one based in County Sussex. He was educated in Germany and graduated from the Bonn University. He is believed to have served as a captain in the Prussian Army. Later he retired to an estate in Ireland before accepting the position of Superintendent of Police in WA. Hare was a good administrator while serving as Superintendent and had the common sense to draw on the experience and knowledge of long-serving officers.
However, he seems to have been forever hunting for better paid public positions. It became evident he had his eye on Cockburn-Campbell's position. Gustavus Hare resigned as soon as the latter had died and went south to live out his remaining years as Resident Magistrate at Albany.
William Henry Timperley (1833-1909)
Acting Superintendent: April 24 1871 to 9 May 1871
This officer was a member of the Timperley family of Manchester, who in turn were descended from a prominent family of medieval English gentry. William was the son of a 'failed' settler who remained in WA to make his own way after the family returned to England. He eventually became a career police officer who commanded several important police districts and was for many years the second most senior officer in the Colony. Timperley left the Police Force in 1885 to become Superintendent of Rottnest Island.
He was the Resident Magistrate at Bunbury in later life and a notable figure in the cultural life of Late Colonial and Early Federation WA. Being a keen amateur anthropologist and scholar of the humanities, he was much in demand as a public lecturer. In addition, Timperley helped found an orchestral society and was the author of two novels. He received the Imperial Service Order for his contributions to the community.
Matthew Skinner Smith(1836-1887)
Superintendent: May 9 1871
Commissioner: January 13 to April 18 1887
Smith was a former captain in the British Army with a distinguished record in the Crimean War of 1854-1856 and the China Expedition of 1860. He was a member of an English landed gentry family with a strong tradition of military service – his father Matthew Smith reached the rank of lieutenant general. Smith arrived in WA with expectation of becoming secretary to the Governor, but the position fell through and he became a bank clerk until being handpicked to lead the Police Force.
Smith had gained much administrative experience in the army and he used this to good effect in the Police Force. In the face of press hostility and acute financial restrictions in the 1870s, he pushed through a number of reforms in a methodical and intelligent way. Amongst other things, a Detective Branch was established, the Imperial Water Police became part of a united Police Force and problems over uniforms and the rank structure were resolved. He also took measures to assert the independence of his office and strove to improve the lot of his subordinates. The Fenian episode of 1876 did not harm Smith's reputation. The Police Force was in relatively good shape by the mid-1880s, a situation marked by improved morale and public praise for the Commissioner's work.
In 1880 Smith was given the additional position of Commandant of the Enrolled Guard, consisting of former soldiers who protected Government House and other key sites and installations. From late 1885 to early 1887 he was Acting Colonial Secretary and an appointed member of the colonial Legislative Council. Commissioner Smith died in office and is buried at Albany.
George Braithwaite Phillips (1836-1900)
Acting Superintendent: December 9, 1885 to January 13 1887
Commissioner: April 1887 to March 26, 1900
As was inevitable, another Commissioner who was of gentry origins - in his case 'plantation aristocracy' from Barbados in the West Indies. Phillips was the son of J.R. Phillips, Resident Magistrate at Albany in the 1840s. George Phillips joined the public service in 1852 and rose to become Assistant Colonial Secretary. He took time out to take part in Robert Austin's exploration expedition to Shark Bay in 1854. Phillips had reserves of both moral and physical courage and was active in the Colonial Defence Force - he was Commandant on two occasions and reached the rank of lieutenant colonel.
He was related by marriage to other families of the colonial elite, such as the Burts and Hares and, like Smith and his successor Frederick Hare, a member of the influential Weld Club. The Police Act of 1892 was brought into effect in his time - it is still the governing legislation of the Western Australia Police.
The Phillips years were difficult ones for the police of the day, due to the impact of problems relating to the Gold Rush, labour disputes and the pastoral frontier. George Phillips also died in office.
William Chipper Lawrence (1848-1923)
Acting Commissioner: March 26 to April 18, 1900 and February 22 to 28, 1905
Lawrence, born in Bunbury, was the son of early settlers James Lawrence and Harriet Moore. He was a career police officer who joined in 1871 and rose through the ranks to be commissioned as a Sub-Inspector in 1885, after which he served as head of the Detective Branch and Officer in Charge of the Northwest in turn. In the mid-1890s he coordinated operations against the outlaw Pigeon and his followers. He was promoted to Inspector (1893), Chief Inspector (1899) and Superintendent (1900). Lawrence was second in command of the Police Force for many years and senior officer in the Metropolitan area. During two brief periods when the office was completely vacant.
Lawrence was Acting Commissioner, to be replaced by the new appointee in 1900 and the substantive holder of the post in 1905. He was compelled to retire in 1912 at the same time as Commissioner Hare.
Frederick Arthur Hare (1852-1932)
Commissioner: April 18, 1900 to March 31, 1912
The son of Chief of Police Gustavus Hare and related by marriage to Commissioner Philips, he entered the civil service in 1871 and held several administrative and judicial posts. He was an Inspector in the Police Force during the 1880s before taking up successive positions as a Resident Magistrate, ending with a controversial term on the Goldfields. As was customary with many leading families of the colonial gentry, Hare sought and obtained a commission (as a captain in a Rifle Company) in the militia. Hare was a colourful and outspoken Commissioner of Police and a capable administrator.
However, Hare's time in office was a torrid one. Constant bickering with politicians and some subordinates attracted press criticism and comment, while he was slightly wounded in a failed murder attempt in 1907. Despite receiving one of the earliest King's Police Medals awarded in Australia, Hare's career ended in forced retirement arranged by political enemies of the day.
The son of an Irish coast guard named Lot Connell, Robert Connell arrived in WA in 1886 and immediately joined the Police Force. In 1894 he was transferred to the Detective Branch (later the CIB) and rose through the ranks - Sub-Inspector (1899), Inspector (1904) in charge of the CIB and Chief Inspector (1911) - to eventually take over as Commissioner after the downfall of Hare.
As a Sub-Inspector at Kalgoorlie he was badly injured in the line of duty (1900) and had to be temporarily placed at Albany. After taking office as Commissioner under difficult circumstances, he followed through on many of the improvements planned or begun by Hare. Along with Matthew Smith, Connell deserves to be remembered as possibly one of the two most important Police Commissioners in WA history. Connell was a forward-thinking, strong willed officer, one capable of developing fairly intense personal likes and dislikes, but who also strove to maintain a balance between the different arms of the Force. The Traffic and Liquor and Gaming branches were founded during his years in office, while major reforms shook up the mode of police education in 1915. The introduction of women into the Police Force was another key change in direction. As Commissioner, Robert Connell was an interesting figure in public life – he spoke, wrote and acted like a model gentleman of the Victorian era. He was the grandfather of the famous 'wheeler and dealer' of the WA INC years, Laurie Connell.
WA Police Force Commissioners 1933-1975
William Archibald Douglas (1873-1934)
Commissioner: February 1, 1933 to November 23, 1934
William Douglas was a Victorian by birth and worked as a labourer before joining the police in 1896. He began in the mounted section and, like Hunter, tried the Criminal Investigation Branch (CIB) briefly. He showed greater aptitude for 'practical' policing and rose steadily through the ranks in the course of wide-ranging service all over the state. As a corporal (a rank abolished later) he was highly commended in 1916 for his interest in and humanity towards Aborigines. Douglas was placed in charge of the North-West District as a 3rd Class Inspector in 1924.
He was there at the time of the Forrest River incident. From 1927 he was a 2nd class Inspector at Perth Central Station and, after a notable promotional row with Hunter and Purdue (1929), Acting Chief Inspector in charge the Liquor Branch in 1932. His premature death while serving as Commissioner was blamed on ill health brought about by great hardships he endured in the outback.
David Hunter (1878-1947)
Acting Commissioner: November 23 to December 4, 1934
Commissioner: December 4, 1934 until December 31, 1945
After working as a store man in Victoria, David Hunter joined the police in 1901. He was transferred to the CIB in 1902, but had a somewhat chequered career. In 1907 he switched to the Mounted Police (Leonora, Laverton and Northampton), in which he served with great distinction. He took part (along with William Douglas) in the notable Canning Stock Route expedition of 1911-1912.
Promotion to sergeant did not come until 1923; Commissioner Connell handpicked him with a brief to totally reform Traffic Branch. Hunter performed so well that he was promoted to Inspector in 1927. After that, his rise was meteoric and controversial (Second Class inspector late 1927, First Class Inspector 1928, Chief Inspector 1933). His promotion to Commissioner was almost automatic - he had gained experience in all branches of the Force except the Water Police and had modernised and improved the Traffic portfolio. Hunter proved to be a wily and far-sighted Police Commissioner and made a major administrative contribution to the State during the traumatic Great Depression and World War 11 years.
John Doyle (1887-1987)
Acting Commissioner: January 1 to December 31, 1945
Commissioner: January 1, 1946 to April 15, 1951
John Doyle, originally from county Wexford in Ireland, served in the Royal Irish Constabulary from 1907 to 1913. He joined the Police Force in 1914. He was transferred to the CIB in 1916 and later worked with the famous Grenville Purdue on the O'Neill murder. Identified as a 'brainy' operator who specialised in complicated cases, Doyle reached commissioned rank (3rd Class Inspector) in 1935.
Doyle was officer-in-charge of the CIB from 1936 and jumped rank to 1st Class Inspector (1937), a promotion marked by disputes with the Commissioner and an appeal to the Minister. He succeeded Purdue as Chief Inspector (1940) and Hunter as Commissioner after the job was advertised for the first time. He proved to be a tough, demanding but fair-minded Commissioner and was later awarded an OBE. One of the most spectacular public events of his career was a Royal Commission of 1949 which investigated Doyle's management of the Force; the Commissioner was vindicated.
Thomas Hermann Andersen (1894-1975)
Commissioner: April 16, 1951 to January 4, 1958
Thomas Andersen, a former Fremantle labourer and the son of a settler of Danish origin, joined the Force in 1914 and gained experience as a mounted officer and in administration. He was transferred to the Liquor Branch when it was formed in 1923. Andersen became a sergeant in 1934 and jumped rank to 1st class sergeant in 1938; the responsibilities of the Inspector in charge of the branch had been expanded to include the Weights and Measures and Firearms Branches, so he was well-placed to secure a senior position.
He bolstered this by obtaining an array of qualifications in accountancy and mercantile law. Andersen was promoted to Inspector in 1945 and rose rapidly to Chief Inspector in 1949. As Commissioner in place of Doyle, he moved to capitalise on the passing of an era of continual financial constraints, but failed to manage internal turbulence in the Police Force effectively. He was eventually moved sideways and placed in control of the Betting Control Board.
James Murray O'Brien (1901-1989)
Acting Commissioner: 5 January 1955 to 4 January 1958
Commissioner: 5 January 1958 till 24 August 1965
A chemist's assistant before becoming a probationary constable in 1921, O'Brien spent time in general duties in various districts, gaining valuable administrative experience as a station boss. He then served in Traffic Branch from 1942 to 1948 before moving into administration. He was promoted to Inspector (1949), then Chief Inspector (1952) and was the first holder of the newly created rank of Deputy Commissioner from 1953.
An efficient administrator; during the difficult period from 1955 he demonstrated both reliability and tact as Acting Commissioner before officially taking over from Andersen in 1958. O'Brien presided over what was virtually a 'golden age' in terms of public respect for, and acceptance of, the Police Force. His reputation is secure; a well-educated, considerate, capable and popular Commissioner.
Richard Thomas Napier (1907-1984)
Commissioner: 24 August 1965 31 till May 1971
Richard Napier was a direct descendant in the male line of a Scottish family which can be traced back to the early 1600s and was almost certainly a branch of the famous Clan Napier. Napier was a WA farm labourer and the son of a policeman; he joined the mounted section of the Police Force in 1927. After performing duty at various city and country stations, he became a sergeant in 1946. Napier divided his time between Perth Central Station, Traffic Branch and the Liquor Branch until being promoted to Inspector and transferred to Perth Central in 1952.
During several years as officer-in charge of the large, complex Traffic Branch (1954-1959) he proved himself to be a capable administrator. As a uniformed officer, he had gained the broadest possible experience. Napier became Chief Inspector in 1959 and Deputy Commissioner in 1964 before being handpicked to succeed O'Brien. The general consensus is that he was a well-liked and efficient Commissioner whose achievements included a major rank restructuring of the Force and various other reforms.
A Probationary Constable from 1933, Athol Wedd moved to the CIB in 1939. He gained a reputation for thoroughness and efficiency as a Detective, being rewarded with the brevet rank of Inspector of 1960. Wedd was promoted to the substantive rank of Inspector in 1963, was in charge of the CIB (1966-1967) and then became Chief Inspector (1967) and Deputy Commissioner (1969) before taking over from Napier. He was the first of a series of CIB men who achieved the highest rank.
Wedd was an articulate and clever man who, for all his CIB experience, endeavoured to draw on his experiences as a uniformed man to maintain administrative harmony. His years in office were difficult ones - the highly charged political environment and very rapid social changes did not sit well with a traditionally conservative Police Force or with the Commissioner himself.
WA Police Force Commissioners 1975-present
George Owen Arthur Leitch (1919-2006, known as Owen)
Commissioner: 13 September 1975 to 15 February 1981
Owen Leitch was a member of the first intake of police cadets in 1936. He was attached to the Liquor and Gaming Branch until being selected for the CIB in 1948; from 1952 he was in the Scientific Bureau of the CIB, moving into administration in 1971. Leitch was commissioned as an Inspector in 1970, becoming Chief Superintendent in 1971, Assistant Commissioner in 1974 and Commissioner in 1975. He left the Force in 1943 to serve in the RAAF during World War II. He reached commissioned rank, but arrived back in the Pacific theatre from officer training just a little too late for active service.
As was standard practice, Leitch returned to the Police Force without loss of seniority. As a detective, Leitch attracted notice for outstanding work on the Arrison, Armanasco, Elson and Winmar murders from 1952 onwards. His period as Commissioner was a colourful one; he attracted both praise and blame for taking a strong law enforcement stance on various issues. In general, he was popular with the rank and file for his strong and committed leadership.
John Henry Porter (Born 1922)
Commissioner: 16 February 1981 to 28 February 1985
John Porter was the son of a Scottish police officer and a member of the RAAF in World War 11, during which he served in New Guinea. He joined the Police Force in 1946. After a brief period in general policing duties, he spent the balance of his career in the CIB (both Perth and Kalgoorlie) until gaining senior administrative rank in 1975. He was successively an Inspector (1973), then Chief Inspector and Chief Superintendent (both 1975).Promotion to Senior Assistant Commissioner (1978) meant that he had jumped rank twice - an indication of how highly he was regarded within the Police Force of the day. Porter had gained a reputation for analytical skill in his handling of prosecutions in the 1960s.
As Commissioner of Police, John Porter was noted for his grasp of administrative detail and firm approach to disciplinary issues. A family tradition of police service continued after him - two of his sons became commissioned officers.
Brian Bull (Born 1933)
Commissioner: 1 March 1985 to 19 June 1994
Brian Bull was WA born and bred; he became a police cadet in 1949. He served in the metropolitan area in his early years and moved to the CIB in the 1960. Mr Bull was in charge of the Fraud Squad when promoted to Inspector in 1984. In the same year, he was successively promoted to Chief Superintendent and Assistant Commissioner and then became Commissioner on March 1, 1985. He obtained Tertiary qualifications before gaining commissioned rank. As Commissioner, he responded to the changed circumstances of the day by instituting a range of community policing initiatives, introducing merit-based promotion and expanding training and education for police officers.
During his term as Commissioner, the Police Force grew rapidly and the number of specialised branches and sections created to deal with ever-changing and more complex patterns of criminal behaviour increased. Before retirement, Brian Bull put in place mechanisms for truly large-scale reforms.
Robert Falconer was of Scottish birth and joined the Victorian police in 1963. He had gained very varied experience in practical policing work and was Deputy Commissioner in charge of operations when he was appointed to the WA position. Robert Falconer was the first person without any West Australian career background to be gain the office since Matthew Smith in 1871. There is little doubt that from day one Mr Falconer had a mandate for sweeping institutional change.
He instituted the Delta Reform program, which may be likened to a third managerial revolution in the history of WA policing. Some traditional branches were rationalised or even abolished, with widely differing outcomes. The Police Force was renamed the Western Australia Police Service. Opinion among police officers of the time was divided in terms of the success of the changes; few would have denied that radical reforms were necessary.
Barry Matthews was a career police officer from New Zealand who, after 30 years of service, rose to the rank of Deputy Commissioner. He obtained high academic qualifications and eventually became a Bachelor of Laws. Despite this, he remained with the police after being admitted as a barrister and solicitor. Barry Matthews was the first West Australian Chief of Police to be appointed directly from overseas since 1867.
During his time in office in WA, Mr Matthews continued with a steady and more deliberate process of reform implementation. As has often been the case in the past, there were differences of opinion with the political wing of Government over the independence of his office. Robust discussion over the issues attracted considerable media attention. The most important event of the Matthews stewardship was a Police Royal Commission that delivered its findings in early 2004. While past abuses of position and trust were identified in some areas, especially in crime detection, the findings where not as damaging as might have been expected. Many serving officers are of the opinion that the reform programme had already resolved some key problems.
Dr O'Callaghan was the youngest person to hold the position since Robert Connell and the first since Richard Napier who had never worked as detective. He became a police cadet in 1973 and graduated as Dux of the academy in January 1976, later gaining the highest academic qualifications ever held by a Police Commissioner in WA – the degrees of Bachelor of Education and Doctor of Philosophy. His 13 years as Commissioner were second only to Connell as the longest stint in the top job.
Dr O’Callaghan’s early years as Commissioner were marked by a renewed emphasis on the basic role of police as crime prevention and crime detection officers. This was reflected in the introduction of a 'Frontline First' policy and an organisational name change to Western Australia Police. In his final years he implemented the Frontline 2020 reform program, restructuring the agency to meet rising demand for policing services against a background of limited resources.
Chris Dawson returned to the newly named Western Australia Police Force as Commissioner, after three years as the Chief Executive Officer of the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission. He had previously served ten years as Deputy Commissioner, with responsibility for specialist portfolios of serious and organised crime, counter terrorism and state protection. In 2011 Mr Dawson headed up the biggest security operation in the history of WA Police, as State Commander for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM).
During his extensive law enforcement career Mr Dawson has served in country and metropolitan positions. As a superintendent, he was the inaugural principal of the Joondalup Police Academy. In 2002 Mr Dawson was awarded the Australian Police Medal for distinguished service.