WA Police Commissioners 1958-present

1853-1867 | 1867-1958

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.

Athol Logan Moore Wedd (1912-1993)
Commissioner: 1 June 1971 to 13 September 1975

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.

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
Commissioner: 20 June 1994 to 20 June 1999

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 WA 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 Eldon Matthews
Commissioner: from 21 June 1999 till 20 June 2004

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.

Karl Joseph O'Callaghan
Commissioner: from 21 June 2004 till 15 August 2017

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

Chris Dawson
Commissioner: from 16 August 2017 to present

Chris Dawson returned to WA Police 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.

1853-1867 | 1867-1958