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Story: Police

The first police in New Zealand were mounted troopers transferred from New South Wales, and other armed police forces. By the end of the 19th century policing by consent was the goal. Modern New Zealand police have an international reputation for lack of corruption and relatively mild policing. However, there have been notable occasions where police use of force has been criticised, such as during the 1981 Springbok rugby tour.

Story by Richard S. Hill
Main image: A police officer using a laser speed camera, 2009

Story Summary

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Traditional Māori policing

Before New Zealand became a colony of Britain, customary laws were enforced by tribal leaders.

Early colonial police

When New Zealand became a colony, British laws were introduced and police were both brought over from New South Wales and recruited locally. Early police were heavily armed. In 1846 the Armed Police Force (APF) was established and included Maori police. The APF formed the basis of provincial police forces created in the 1850s. Policing was especially forceful in areas where there was war with Māori, and on goldfields. From 1877 policing was centralised.

New Zealand Police Force

By the 1880s New Zealand was considered to have been ‘tamed’. In 1886 the national New Zealand Police Force was established as a separate organisation from the military, and police were now routinely unarmed. However, heavy force was still used when it was seen to be necessary, such as during industrial strikes, riots and political protests, and to suppress Māori resistance.

Modern policing

The police adopted new technology as it became available, for example using fingerprints to identify criminals, radios to communicate, and police dogs.

Police work became more specialised, such as search and rescue or anti-terrorism duties. The Armed Offenders Squad was introduced in 1964 to deal with dangerous situations where guns might be involved. Most police personnel do not carry guns, but since 2006 Tasers – weapons that shoot electricity – have been trialled.

Some New Zealand police officers have been posted overseas to help in other countries after wars or natural disasters.

Police staff

In 2011 the New Zealand Police had almost 12,000 personnel, of whom 3,000 were unsworn (non-constabulary) staff.

From the 1890s women were appointed as ‘police matrons’ to deal with females arrested in cities, and policewomen were recruited from 1941.

How to cite this page:

Richard S. Hill, 'Police', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/police (accessed 22 April 2018)

Story by Richard S. Hill, published 20 Jun 2012