Adapting Fingerprints Within the NSW Police Force: An Historical Examination of the Geographical Barriers and Implications for Rural and Regional Policing




fingerprints, NWS Police, identification, rural


In the 1890s and 1900s, societies in Western nations, and in particular densely populated cities like London and Paris, became overtly concerned with the need to identify ‘habitual criminals’. In response, in 1903, NSW became the first Australian state to develop a designated fingerprint section or bureau within their police force, which, following international trends, was very much focused on metropolitan NSW. According to Cauchi and Knepper (2009), fingerprint technology as a form of criminal identification “was the mark of cosmopolitan police organization” (p. 74). Criminal identification was principally identified as a problem in the rapidly growing cities, and thus, fingerprinting resources were directed to those areas. As a result, for the first few decades of use, fingerprint identification in rural and regional areas was limited. For example, only officers in metropolitan NSW were trained in fingerprint identification and comparison methods, and police around regional NSW were expected to take finger-print exhibits to metropolitan areas for analysis. The limitations in technology available during the initial period of fingerprinting resulted in regional NSW police facing more barriers to the use of fingerprint identification technology than their metropolitan counterparts. To understand these barriers and the limitations of fingerprinting in rural areas, this paper explores the initial introduction of fingerprinting into the NSW Police system from 1903-1930, focusing upon the challenges and barriers experienced by regional police agencies in using what is now one of the most common forensic identification tools available to police worldwide.