Law enforcement in Australia

Last updated

Law enforcement in Australia is one of the three major components of the country's justice system, along with courts and corrections. There are law enforcement officers employed by all three levels of government – federal, state / territory, and local.

Justice Concept of moral fairness and administration of the law

Justice, in its broadest context, includes both the attainment of that which is just and the philosophical discussion of that which is just. The concept of justice is based on numerous fields, and many differing viewpoints and perspectives including the concepts of moral correctness based on ethics, rationality, law, religion, equity and fairness. Often, the general discussion of justice is divided into the realm of social justice as found in philosophy, theology and religion, and, procedural justice as found in the study and application of the law.

Judiciary of Australia

The judiciary of Australia comprises judges who sit in federal courts and courts of the States and Territories of Australia. The High Court of Australia sits at the apex of the Australian court hierarchy as the ultimate court of appeal on matters of both federal and State law.

Punishment in Australia

Punishment in Australia arises when an individual has been convicted of breaking the law through the Australian criminal justice system. Australia uses prisons, as well as community corrections. The death penalty has been abolished, and corporal punishment is no longer used. Before the colonisation of Australia by Europeans, Indigenous Australians had their own traditional punishments, some of which are still practised.


Federally, the main law enforcement agency is the Australian Federal Police (AFP), which has a wide mandate to enforce Australian criminal law and protect its national interests. There are also a number of other agencies that have powers confined to specific areas, such as national security (ASIO), customs and immigration (ABF), and white-collar crime (ATO, ACCC, ASIC). Each branch of the Australian Defence Force (ADF) has its own military police, although there is also an overarching ADF Investigative Service for more complex investigations.

Australian Federal Police federal police agency of the Commonwealth of Australia

The Australian Federal Police (AFP) is the national and principal federal law enforcement agency of the Australian Government with the unique role of investigating crime and to protect the national security of the Commonwealth of Australia. The AFP is an independent agency of the Department of Home Affairs and is responsible to the Minister for Home Affairs and accountable to the Parliament of Australia. Since October 2014 the Commissioner of the Australian Federal Police has been Andrew Colvin.

The criminal law of Australia is the body of law made, recognised and applied in Australia that relates to crime. Most criminal law is made and administered by the individual states and territories of Australia. However, a body of criminal law is also made and administered by the federal government. Criminal law may be differentiated from civil law, which in Australia relates to non-criminal law including civil wrongs, contract law, much of property law and other areas that concern the rights and duties of individuals amongst themselves.

The Australian Security Intelligence Organisation is Australia's national security agency responsible for the protection of the country and its citizens from espionage, sabotage, acts of foreign interference, politically motivated violence, attacks on the Australian defence system, and terrorism. ASIO is comparable to the British Security Service (MI5) and the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). ASIO is part of the Australian Intelligence Community.

As each Australian state enacts its own laws, general law enforcement duties are the responsibility of state police forces, who are in turn responsible to a government minister (usually the Minister for Police). These forces carry out the bulk of general policing throughout the entire state, including in metropolitan areas. Other state-government departments may also have investigative powers for specific offences within their purview. The Northern Territory also has its own police force, but in Australia's other territories (including the Australian Capital Territory) law enforcement is handled by the federal government.

State police police of subnational territories in various countries

State police or provincial police are a type of sub-national territorial police force found in nations organized as federations, typically in North America, South Asia, and Oceania. These forces typically have jurisdiction over the relevant sub-national jurisdiction, and may cooperate in law enforcement activities with municipal or national police where either exist.

Northern Territory federal territory of Australia

The Northern Territory is an Australian territory in the central and central northern regions of Australia. It shares borders with Western Australia to the west, South Australia to the south, and Queensland to the east. To the north, the territory looks out to the Timor Sea, the Arafura Sea and the Gulf of Carpentaria, including Western New Guinea and other Indonesian islands. The NT covers 1,349,129 square kilometres (520,902 sq mi), making it the third-largest Australian federal division, and the 11th-largest country subdivision in the world. It is sparsely populated, with a population of only 246,700, making it the least-populous of Australia's eight states and major territories, with fewer than half as many people as Tasmania.

Australian Capital Territory Federal territory of Australia, containing the capital city, Canberra

The Australian Capital Territory, formerly known as the Federal Capital Territory until 1938 and commonly referred to as the ACT, is a federal territory of Australia containing the Australian capital city of Canberra and some surrounding townships. It is located in the south-east of the country and enclaved within the state of New South Wales. Founded after federation as the seat of government for the new nation, all important institutions of the Australian federal government are centred in the Territory.

Australian state and federal police routinely carry firearms. While on duty, most officers' duty belts consist of a handgun, a Taser, an expandable baton, pepper spray, a set of handcuffs, ammunition magazines, gloves, torch and a two-way radio. Local governments have their own smaller force of authorised officers – known as council rangers – to enforce local laws pertaining solely to individual local government jurisdictions. Council rangers generally do not have full police powers (unless they are sworn as special constables).

Taser Electroshock weapon used by police

A TASER is a brand of conducted electrical weapon sold by Axon, formerly TASER International. It fires two small barbed darts intended to puncture the skin and remain attached to the target. The darts are connected to the main unit by thin insulated copper wire and deliver electric current to disrupt voluntary control of muscles, causing "neuromuscular incapacitation.” The effects of a TASER may only be localized pain or strong involuntary long muscle contractions, based on the mode of use and connectivity of the darts.

Baton (law enforcement) club of less than arms length

A baton or truncheon is a roughly cylindrical club made of wood, rubber, plastic or metal. It is carried as a compliance tool and defensive weapon by law-enforcement officers, correctional staff, security guards and military personnel. In many cultures, they are highly symbolic of law enforcement and are rarely used with the intention to kill.

Handcuffs restraint devices

Handcuffs are restraint devices designed to secure an individual's wrists in proximity to each other. They comprise two parts, linked together by a chain, a hinge, or rigid bar. Each half has a rotating arm which engages with a ratchet that prevents it from being opened once closed around a person's wrist. Without the key, the handcuffs cannot be removed, and the handcuffed person cannot move his or her wrists more than a few centimetres or inches apart, making many tasks difficult or impossible. They are frequently used worldwide to prevent suspected criminals from escaping from police custody.


Australian Federal Police

The primary federal law enforcement agency in Australia is the Australian Federal Police. The AFP are responsible for the investigation of federal offences (crimes against the Commonwealth) and have federal jurisdiction throughout Australia. They provide protective services to federal government property and personnel/dignitaries, including major airports, buildings, foreign embassies/diplomats etc. and provide state-styled law enforcement services to external territories, the Australian Capital Territory and the Jervis Bay Territory. The boundaries between the two levels of law enforcement are somewhat flexible and both state and federal police co-operate on or transfer cases between each other depending on the specific circumstances. State police can enforce federal, state and local laws, but federal police cannot enforce state or local laws.[ citation needed ]

Jervis Bay Territory Australia

The Jervis Bay Territory is a territory of the Commonwealth of Australia. It was surrendered by the state of New South Wales to the Commonwealth Government in 1915 so the Australian Capital Territory would have access to the sea.

The AFP also provides liaison officers to various overseas posts to assist in relations with various police forces overseas, as well as providing community policing to assist in the development of foreign law enforcement agencies and peacekeeping operations in locations such as the Solomon Islands with the RAMSI Mission and Cyprus.

Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands

The Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI), also known as Operation Helpem Fren and Operation Anode, was created in 2003 in response to a request for international aid by the Governor-General of Solomon Islands. Helpem Fren means "help a friend" in Solomon Islands Pidgin. The mission officially ended on 30 June 2017.

The AFP was created in 1979, having been the result of an amalgamation of the now defunct Commonwealth Police and Australian Capital Territory Police Force. This makes it quite young as many of the various state police forces were established in the 19th century.

Australian Border Force

The Australian Border Force is responsible for customs and immigration enforcement and border protection at Australia's ports as well as in Australian waters, and conducts investigations where the AFP does not have primary jurisdiction. Unlike AFP Officers, Border Force Officers do not have fully vested federal police powers, only arrest and detain powers at Airport jurisdiction. They may however detain persons for state or federal crimes or warrants until that person can be presented to a federal or state law enforcement officer with the appropriate powers. Australian Border Force officers have the authority to carry firearms where a supervisor gives approval. In practice only maritime officers and specialist counter terrorism officers carry firearms.


Military Police, also known as Service Police, are the law enforcement branches of the services of a military tasked with enforcing, and investigating offences against, military law. In Australia, each service of the Australian Defence Force maintains its own independent police force made up of military personnel from that service. Along with the independent service police forces is the Australian Defence Force Investigative Service, a special ADF unit made up of Investigators from each service's police and tasked with investigating more serious military offences.

Australian Army Military Police

Law enforcement duties in the Australian Army are provided by the Royal Australian Corps of Military Police. MPs provide everything from general law enforcement duties on military installations to investigations, close personal protection and more.

National common policing services

The Australia New Zealand Policing Advisory Agency (ANZPAA) [1] was established in October 2007. ANZPAA is a joint initiative of the Australian and New Zealand Police Commissioners and funded by contributions to Australia and New Zealand Police jurisdictions. ANZPAA is a non-operational policing agency which provides strategy and policy advice, and secretariat services to the ANZPAA Board on cross-jurisdictional policing initiatives that help enhance community safety and security. ANZPAA's strategic direction is set by ANZPAA’s board and the Australia New Zealand Council of Police Professionalisation (ANZCoPP, formerly Australasian Police Professional Standards Committee, APPSC).

The Australasian Police Professional Standards Committee (APPSC) was an organisation that served all police jurisdictions around Australia and New Zealand. It was the body for police education and training in Australia and New Zealand; the council comprising each of the police commissioners from Australia and New Zealand along with the president of the Police Federation of Australia and the president of the New Zealand Police Association. On 9 November 2007, APPSC roles and functions were amalgamated into ANZPAA. In 2013, APPSC was retitled to the Australia New Zealand Council of Police Professionalisation.

Crime Stoppers programs run in each state and nationally. Crime Stoppers collects information about crime and passes it on to the police ensuring that the community can participate in crime fighting.

CrimTrac is an intergovernmental policing agency that supports Australian policing through the provision of forensic and other information and investigative tools between state and federal police departments. The National Automated Fingerprint Identification System (NAFIS) is national fingerprint database, administered by CrimTrac. [2]


Each state as well as the Northern Territory is responsible for maintaining its own police force which is responsible for policing at the state and local level. This involves general law and order, traffic policing, major crime, anti-terrorism branches, water police, search and rescue and in some states transit police. Local policing in the Australian Capital Territory, Jervis Bay Territory and Australia's external territories is contracted to the Australian Federal Police (AFP).

In some states, local governments employ by-laws officers or rangers to enforce local by-laws or ordinances relating to such matters as parking, dog ownership, retailing, littering or water usage. These local government officers are not considered to be police forces as they generally only have the power to issue fines and do not have the same powers as state police. They may rely upon appointment as a special constable or legislated powers for their authority.

Policing agencies

State police also perform certain functions on behalf of the Australian government such as the enforcement of various Commonwealth Acts and regulations in conjunction with the Australian Federal Police and other Commonwealth officers.

While ACT policing is under the jurisdiction of the Australian Federal Police, the following policing agencies are regulated by their respective state or territory government and are highly visible:


In recent years, the states and territories have returned the responsibility of recovering court ordered fines to their sheriffs. In practice, the police often carry out the functions of sheriffs and bailiffs in rural and more sparsely populated areas of Australia.

The office of sheriff was first established in Australia in 1824. This was simultaneous with the appointment of the first Chief Justice of New South Wales. The role of the sheriff has not been static, nor is it identical in each Australian state. In the past a sheriff's duties included: executing court judgements, acting as a coroner, the transportation of prisoners, managing the jails, and carrying out executions (through the employment of an anonymous hangman).

Currently, no Australian state provides for capital punishment. A government department (usually called the Department of Corrections or similar) now runs the prison system and the coroner's office handles coronal matters. The sheriff is now largely responsible for enforcing the civil orders and fines of the court by seizing and selling the property of judgement debtors who do not satisfy the debt, providing court security, enforcing arrest warrants, evictions, taking juveniles into custody and running the jury system. [3] Some state sheriffs can also apply a wide range of sanctions ranging from suspending driver's licences and car registration through to wheel clamping and arranging community service orders, and as a last resort can make arrests.


Council rangers are officers employed by local government areas in Australia to enforce the by-laws (local laws in Western Australia); of those local governments and a limited range of state laws relating to such matters as litter control, animal control, dog laws, fire control, off-road vehicles, emergency management, and parking. Unless they are also sworn in as special constables, as many are, rangers do not have full police powers. Council rangers are also referred to as local laws officers in some of Australia's eastern states. Most Council rangers have the power to issue fines that don't exceed a certain amount.


Unmarked Police Holden Commodore. 2016 Holden Commodore (VF II) SV6 sedan (2017-11-18).jpg
Unmarked Police Holden Commodore.
A New South Wales Police Force Hyundai iLoad used as a prisoner transport vehicle 2014 Hyundai iLoad (TQ2-V) crew van, NSW Police Force (26743501006).jpg
A New South Wales Police Force Hyundai iLoad used as a prisoner transport vehicle
Queensland Police Toyota Aurion Toyota Aurion 306THV Queensland Police (TOYOTA CAMRY (cropped)).JPG
Queensland Police Toyota Aurion

By agreement between the various commissioners, most police cars in Australia are predominantly white, with a blue and white Sillitoe tartan checkered strip on the side. Some jurisdictions' highway patrol units and police also have fluorescent stripes surrounding the tartan. Most general patrol cars are Holden Commodores, Toyota Camrys, or Ford Falcons, but with Australian production of all models ending as of 2017, replacements have been sought, including the Chrysler 300 SRT, BMW 530d. [4] [5] , Kia Stinger [6] , and Opel Insignia-based ZB Commodore. [7]

Prisoner transport vehicles are based on light commercial vehicles such as the Ford Ranger, Toyota Hilux, Holden Ute, Mercedes Vito or Volkswagen Transporter. Highway Patrol vehicles are higher performance sedans, often in colours other than white - often Holden Commodore SS, Ford Falcon XR6 or Toyota Aurion.

A wide range of vehicles are used for unmarked purposes so as to not be easily identified as police. Many of these vehicles are also specifically chosen to fit in with civilian vehicles.

Emergency lights on police vehicles are now generally blue and red; historically though, blue lights were used for police vehicles and red lights for fire engines and ambulances.

Police are now increasingly employing the use of a diverse range unmarked police cars. These vehicles include, besides the Commodore and the Falcon, the Chrysler 300C, Toyota Aurion, Toyota Corolla, Ford and Holden Ute, Ford Focus XR5, Subaru Impreza WRX, and the Volkswagen Golf. In rural areas, SUVs such as the Toyota Land Cruiser, Mitsubishi Pajero, Ford Territory and Nissan Patrol are used.

Most Australian police services have mounted police units that are prominently used for ceremonial purposes, although in New South Wales, South Australia, Western Australia and Victoria the mounted police also undertake operational policing duties on a daily basis.

See also


Related Research Articles

Police Law enforcement body

The police are a constituted body of persons empowered by a state to enforce the law, to protect the lives, liberty and possessions of citizens, and to prevent crime and civil disorder. Their powers include the power of arrest and the legitimized use of force. The term is most commonly associated with the police forces of a sovereign state that are authorized to exercise the police power of that state within a defined legal or territorial area of responsibility. Police forces are often defined as being separate from the military and other organizations involved in the defense of the state against foreign aggressors; however, gendarmerie are military units charged with civil policing. Police forces are usually public sector services, funded through taxes.

Police officer warranted employee of a police force

A police officer, also known as an officer, policeman, policewoman, cop/copper, garda, police agent, or a police employee is a warranted law employee of a police force. In most countries, "police officer" is a generic term not specifying a particular rank. In some, the use of the rank "officer" is legally reserved for military personnel.

In some countries, security police are those persons employed by or for a governmental agency or corporations with large campuses who provide police and security services to those agencies' properties.

CrimTrac was a former Agency in the Attorney-General's Department that was merged with the Australian Crime Commission on 1 July 2016 to form the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission. Crimtrac had been responsible for developing and maintaining national information-sharing services between state, territory and federal law enforcement agencies. It was established to deliver on the vision of sharing national policing information to achieve local, national and international policing outcomes.

The Australian Protective Service (APS) was an Australian Commonwealth law enforcement agency which existed between 1984 and 2004. The APS was created by the separation of the Protective Service component of the Australian Federal Police (AFP) into a new agency based upon recommendations contained in the Stewart Royal Commission of Inquiry into Drug Trafficking. It was initially responsible for protecting personnel and property of the Australian government; foreign diplomatic missions and Internationally Protected Persons (IPPs); and the provision of custodial services at immigration detention centres. From 1990 the APS commenced providing Counter Terrorist First Response duties at certain security-designated airports including the specialist Bomb Appraisal Officer function and, following the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001, deployed Air Security Officers on board Australian registered commercial aircraft. Close Personal Protection (CPP), or bodyguard, functions were never provided by the APS; where this has been a Commonwealth responsibility, the function is provided by the AFP.

Council rangers are officers employed by local government areas in Australia to enforce the by-laws of those local governments and a limited range of state laws relating to such matters as litter control, animal control, dog laws, cat laws, bush fire control, off-road vehicles, emergency management, and parking.

Border guard Government service concerned with security of national borders

A border guard of a country is a national security agency that performs border security, i.e., enforces the security of the country's national borders. Some of the national border guard agencies also perform coast guard and rescue service duties.

Law enforcement in the United States is one of three major components of the criminal justice system of the United States, along with courts and corrections. Although each component operates semi-independently, the three collectively form a chain leading from an investigation of suspected criminal activity to the administration of criminal punishment.

See article: Law enforcement in Westchester County

Sheriffs in the United States deputized by a sheriff to perform the same duties as the sheriff

In the United States, a sheriff is an official in a county or independent city responsible for keeping the peace and enforcing the law. Unlike most officials in law enforcement in the United States, sheriffs are usually elected, although many states have state laws requiring that a person possess certain law enforcement qualifications before being able to run for the office. Elected sheriffs are accountable directly to the constitution of their state, the United States Constitution, statutes, and the citizens of their county.

In many countries, particularly those with a federal system of government, there may be several law enforcement agencies, police or police-like organizations, each serving different levels of government and enforcing different subsets of the applicable law.

A law enforcement agency (LEA) has powers, which other government subjects do not, to enable the LEA to undertake its responsibilities. These powers are generally in one of six forms:

Law enforcement in New York City is carried out by numerous law enforcement agencies. New York City has the highest concentration of law enforcement agencies in the United States.

State police (United States) police department of a U.S. state

In the United States, state police or state troopers are a police body unique to each U.S. state, having statewide authority to conduct law enforcement activities and criminal investigations. In general, they perform functions outside the jurisdiction of the county sheriff, such as enforcing traffic laws on state highways and interstate expressways, overseeing the security of the state capitol complex, protecting the governor, training new officers for local police forces too small to operate an academy and providing technological and scientific services. They support local police and help to coordinate multi-jurisdictional task force activity in serious or complicated cases in those states that grant full police powers statewide.

A law enforcement agency (LEA), in North American English, is a government agency responsible for the enforcement of the laws.

Department of the Air Force Police Civilian uniformed police service of the United States Air Force

The United States Air Force Police are the civilian uniformed police service of the United States Air Force, responsible for the force protection of assets and all aspects of law enforcement on U.S. Air Force installations, and other facilities operated by United States Air Force.


  2. The CrimTrac Agency. "CrimTrac".
  3. "Office of the Sheriff of New South Wales". Retrieved 3 January 2016.
  4. Andrew Chesterton (16 October 2017). "New NSW Police cars confirmed at last". MSN.
  5. Tim Robson (21 May 2018). "Chrysler 300 SRT and BMW 530d confirmed for NSW Police". CarsGuide.
  6. Dowling, Joshua (5 July 2018). "Queensland Police deploy Kia Stinger highway patrol cars" . Retrieved 11 July 2018.
  7. Stuart Marsh (13 July 2018). "SA Police to trial 100 German-made Holden ZB Commodores".