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General duty federal and state police officers in Australia carry pistols, OC (pepper) spray, batons, and handcuffs. Such officers in most states and territories also have access to Tasers following various trials and reviews. Specialist units with responsibilities related to counterterrorism and responding to complex armed offender situations have special training and equipment, including high-powered rifles. The federal government recently funded the purchase of BearCat armored vehicles for use by these units in each of the states and territories. Some of the units have also started using drone technology in responding to high-risk situations.

Federal and state criminal and policing legislation contains provisions related to the use of force by police, requiring that the force used be reasonably necessary in the circumstances. There are also some provisions regarding the use of force for the purposes of suppressing riots. Over a period of around twenty years to July 2011, there was an average of five fatal shootings by police each year in the country. These events attract considerable attention and scrutiny. There have also been various inquiries and legal proceedings related to other controversial matters involving police, including in relation to corruption, deaths in custody, and riot tactics.

I.  Introduction

The Australian population was estimated to be about 23.3 million at the end of 2013.[1]  The country has a federal system of government, established by the 1901 Constitution.[2]  There are six states and two mainland territories, with the most populous being New South Wales (about 7.5 million), followed by Victoria (about 5.8 million) and Queensland (about 4.7 million).[3]  A national police force, the Australian Federal Police (AFP), was established by the Australian Federal Police Act 1979 (Cth).[4]  The AFP investigates federal offenses, such as “drug trafficking, illegal immigration, crimes against national security and crimes against the environment.”[5]  All of the states plus the Northern Territory have their own police service and relevant policing legislation, and are charged with enforcing state and territory criminal law.[6]  The Australian Capital Territory (ACT) Policing is a business unit of the AFP that operates pursuant to an arrangement between the federal and ACT governments.[7]

Apart from the AFP, which is funded by the federal government, funding for police services in Australia “comes almost exclusively from state and territory government budgets, with some specific-purpose grants provided by the Australian Government.”[8]  As of June 30, 2012, state and territory police forces comprised a total of 51,778 sworn officers—about 228 officers per 100,000 persons.[9]  At the end of 2013, there were 3,552 sworn AFP members and 718 Protection Service Officers (PSOs) based throughout the country and overseas.[10]

Specialist police units that provide support in complex situations (such as sieges and raids involving armed offenders) include the AFP Specialist Response Group (SRG), which includes a Tactical Response Team, Marksman Reconnaissance Team, Police Negotiation Team, Dog Team, and Bomb Response Team, among others.[11]  The SRG is “the largest centralised specialist policing capability in Australia comprising almost 200 personnel.”[12]  State and territory police also have special counterterrorism and tactical response units.  For example, in the New South Wales Police Force this includes the Anti Terrorism and Security Group, Coordinated Response Group, Public Order and Riot Squad, and State Protection Group.[13]  These units have special training and equipment.

In 2011, the Minister of Defence announced that the Australian Defence Force (ADF) will replace or upgrade up to 85% of its equipment over the next 15 years. This will involve disposing of multiple armored vehicles as well as weapons and explosive ordnance, among other items, within the next ten years.[14]   No reports were located that indicate any plans to distribute such equipment to Australian police forces, although it appears to be possible for the ADF to make transfers to federal or state government agencies or departments.[15] 

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II.  Police Weapons and Equipment 

A.  Australian Federal Police

Both federal police officers or agents and PSOs (uniformed officers who provide armed protection for certain federal government buildings and embassies in Australia) receive firearms and defensive tactics training.[16]  According to the AFP National Guideline on Uniform and Standards of Dress, AFP members performing operational duty in uniform must wear an AFP-issued accoutrement belt with the following items attached:

Master side:

  • a firearm in an approved holster
  • an approved baton, in an approved baton pouch, positioned directly behind the firearm.

Non-master side:

  • aerosol subject restraint OC [oleoresin capsicum or “pepper”] spray canister, in an approved pouch, on their non-master side front
  • handcuffs, in an approved pouch, in line with trouser seam and behind OC spray
  • an ammunition magazine in an approved pouch, positioned directly behind the handcuff pouch.[17]

In addition, the Guideline states that “[o]perational members wearing plain clothes will ensure any accoutrements carried in the normal course of duty are covered from general public view, for example under a jacket.”

In July 2012, the AFP announced that it was introducing “video camera enabled, X2 Tasers to frontline Sergeants in Australia’s 10 major airports.”[18]   The X2 model was also distributed to replace the X26 model that was previously used by “AFP specialist groups, Advanced Warrant Teams and ACT Policing frontline Sergeants.”[19]

B.  State and Territory Police Forces

State and territory general duty police officers carry pistols (particularly Glock or Smith & Wesson semiautomatics), OC spray, batons, and handcuffs.[20]  Following various trials and reviews, Tasers may currently be used by trained frontline officers in New South Wales,[21] Queensland,[22] Victoria,[23] South Australia,[24] Western Australia,[25] and the Northern Territory,[26] as well as the ACT.[27]  Tasers are only used by Special Operations Group officers in Tasmania.[28]

Appropriately trained general duty officers in states and territories may also have access to long-arms.  For example, the service rifle of the Queensland Police is the Remington Patrolman R4 carbine.[29]  These were purchased in 2013 to replace Ruger .223 rifles previously used by police.  According to reports, at least 1,000 officers will be trained to use this weapon.[30] 

In 2010, the New South Wales Police Force, the largest in the country with around 16,000 officers,[31] reported that it possessed 17,713 firearms of various types for operational police use.[32]

C.  Specialist Units

Between 2011 and 2013, the federal government provided funding for the purchase of “BearCat” (Ballistic Engineered Armored Response Counter Attack Truck) armored vehicles for use by the special tactical operations units of state and territory police forces.  The federal Attorney-General’s Department stated in 2012 that

New South Wales, Queensland, and Tasmania would receive the Commonwealth-funded vehicles as part of a NCTC [National Counter-Terrorism Committee] project. The vehicles are designed to help police deal with dangerous situations such as hostage incidents or acts of terrorism.  The purchase of the Commonwealth-funded vehicles reflects the close and collaborative relationship between the Commonwealth and the states in building Australia’s robust counter-terrorism capability. The first ‘BearCat’ armoured rescue vehicles were supplied to the Australian Capital Territory, the Northern Territory and South Australia in the second quarter of 2011.[33] 

In April 2013, Victoria also received a federally-funded BearCat vehicle.[34]  Western Australia Police announced the receipt of a second BearCat in May 2013, having first acquired one of the vehicles using state funding in 2007, and stated that it “would increase WA Police’s capacity to respond to hostile and armed offender incidents.”[35]  It appears that the New South Wales Police Force had also previously owned a BearCat since around 2004.[36]

Detailed information regarding other equipment used by specialist units throughout Australia was not located.  Images of members of these units show the types of items worn and carried, such as helmets, vests, goggles, pistols, and high-powered rifles.[37]  In each jurisdiction, special units have access to Tasers.  The following examples of other weapons or equipment were located from various sources:

  • South Australia: The Special Tasks and Rescue Group (STAR Group) was reported as testing the Blaser R93 LRS2 .338 caliber sniper rifle in 2010.[38]  The news article stated that the weapon is also used by the Australian military and some tactical police in the country.  In February 2014, an industry publication reported that the South Australia Police had acquired Altura 2 ATX8 drones, which would be operated by members of the STAR Group.[39]
  • Western Australia (WA): The Tactical Response Group has around forty operatives as well as a further forty in the bomb squad.  In addition to bomb detection and related equipment, the group reportedly has Blaser .338 caliber rifles.[40]  In May 2013, in addition to announcing the receipt of a BearCat, the Western Australian government noted that other “hi-tech equipment” owned by WA Police includes “48 Advanced Traffic Management Vehicles costing $3.78million and a hi-tech helicopter costing $20million,” and that the state government had also “provided $1.3million for two high-capacity police transport vehicles designed to assist in the management of out-of-control parties.”[41]
  • New South Wales: According to parliamentary committee records, the New South Wales Police Force Public Order and Riot Squad owns a water cannon.  Thirty of the 100 members of this squad are trained to operate it.[42] 
  • Queensland:  In December 2013, the Brisbane Times reported that the Special Emergency Response Team had used a remote controlled drone (Remote Piloted Aircraft) during an armed siege for the first time.[43]
  • Stun grenades and tear gas appear to be available to the specialist units of different jurisdictions.[44]

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III.  Rules on Use of Police Weapons

Various statutory provisions apply in relation to the use of force by police in Australia.  In addition, relevant rules, standards, procedures, and guidance on the use of weapons are set out in orders and handbooks or manuals of the different forces.  This includes the AFP Commissioner’s Order on Operational Safety (CO3),[45] the NSW Police Force Handbook,[46] the Queensland Police Operational Procedures Manual,[47] the Victoria Police Manual,[48] and the Tasmania Police Manual.[49]  Not all of these types of documents are currently publicly available.  Aspects of the state and territory documents appear to have been guided by the National Minimum Guidelines for Incident Management, Conflict Resolution and the Use of Force: 2004[50] as well as the National Guidelines for Deployment of Police to High Risk Situations, Deployment of Police Negotiators and the Use of Lethal Force – 2005,[51] both produced by the former Australasian Centre for Policing Research.

The federal Crimes Act 1914 (Cth), which contains provisions that apply to both federal and state and territory law enforcement officers,[52] provides that

(1) A person must not, in the course of arresting another person for an offence, use more force, or subject the other person to greater indignity, than is necessary and reasonable to make the arrest or to prevent the escape of the other person after the arrest.

(2) Without limiting the operation of subsection (1), a constable must not, in the course of arresting a person for an offence:

(a) do anything that is likely to cause the death of, or grievous bodily harm to, the person unless the constable believes on reasonable grounds that doing that thing is necessary to protect life or to prevent serious injury to another person (including the constable); or

(b) if the person is attempting to escape arrest by fleeing—do such a thing unless:

(i) the constable believes on reasonable grounds that doing that thing is necessary to protect life or to prevent serious injury to another person (including the constable); and

(ii) the person has, if practicable, been called on to surrender and the constable believes on reasonable grounds that the person cannot be apprehended in any other manner.[53]

The Public Order (Protection of Persons and Property) Act 1971 (Cth) also provides for the use of force in dispersing or suppressing assemblies in a territory, on Commonwealth premises, or in relation to protected premises (e.g., embassies) in certain circumstances, stating that it is “lawful for a person to use such force as he or she believes, on reasonable grounds, to be necessary for that purpose and is reasonably proportioned to the danger which he or she believes, on reasonable grounds, is to be apprehended from the continuance of the assembly.”[54]

State and territory criminal and policing statutes also provide for the use of force in overcoming any force used in resisting arrest or other law enforcement processes or to prevent the escape of an arrested person.  The wording of these provisions reflects the principle that such force must be reasonably necessary in the circumstances.[55]  Some statutes also contain provisions related to the use of force to suppress riots.  These provisions essentially reflect the above language in the federal statute in relation to assemblies.[56]

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IV. Incidents and Controversies

According to the Australian Institute of Criminology, 105 people were fatally shot by police between the fiscal years 1989–90 and 2010–11.  In 16 cases, the person was not carrying any weapon, while in 34 cases the deceased had been in possession of a firearm, 41 cases involved a knife, and 14 involved some other weapon.  In 42% of all cases the deceased was identified “as having some form of mental illness.”[57]  Police shootings receive extensive media attention and are subject to considerable scrutiny by official entities.

Police forces and officers in different parts of Australia have been involved in various controversies over the last two decades.  These have related to issues such as serious corruption,[58] deaths of aboriginal individuals in police custody,[59] excessive use of force,[60] and crowd control or dispersal measures.[61]  For example, the death in police custody of an Aboriginal man in Queensland in 2004 led to community protests and riots.[62]  Most recently, in September 2014, controversy arose in relation to a video of New South Wales police in “riot gear” removing several Aboriginal children from a residence during the execution of a warrant.  The police rejected claims that the removal was carried out at gunpoint.[63] 

As a result of different incidents and concerns there have been a number of independent or parliamentary reviews and inquiries,[64] as well as inquests and other legal proceedings.  These have led to recommendations for changes to some policies and procedures as well as the establishment or enhancement of oversight and complaints bodies.[65]

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Kelly Buchanan
Chief, Foreign, Comparative, and
International Law Division I
September 2014

[1] 3101.0 – Australian Demographic Statistics, Dec 2013: December Key Figures, Australian Bureau of Statistics (June 19, 2014),[email protected]/mf/3101.0 (last updated July 29, 2014).

[3] Australian Bureau of Statistics, supra note 1.

[4] Australian Federal Police Act 1979 (Cth),

[5] About Australia: Legal System, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, facts/legal_system.html (last updated Feb. 2012).  See also Our Organisation, Australian Federal Police (AFP),; Report a Commonwealth Crime, AFP, (both last visited Sept. 11, 2014).

[6] Police – States and Territories,, (last visited Sept. 11, 2014).

[7] About Us, ACT Policing, (last visited Sept. 11, 2014).

[8] Australian Crime: Facts & Figures: 2013, Chapter 7: Criminal Justice Resources, Australian Institute of Criminology, (last modified July 7, 2014).

[9] Id.

[10] AFP Staff Statistics, AFP, (last visited Sept. 11, 2014).

[11] Specialist Response Group, AFP, (last visited Sept. 11, 2014).

[12] AFP, ACT Policing Annual Report 2012–2013 at 112 (2013), act/pdf/act-policing-annual-report-2012-13.ashx.

[13] Counter Terrorism & Special Tactics, NSW Police Force, specialist_operations/counter_terrorism_and_special_tactics (last updated Mar. 23, 2010).

[14] Press Release, Minister for Defence Materiel, Reforms to Disposal of Military Equipment (June 29, 2011),

[15] See What You Should Know, Department of Defence, Defence Materiel Organisation, (last visited Sept. 11, 2014).

[16] Recruit Training, AFP, (last visited Sept. 11, 2014).

[18] Press Release, AFP, New Model Introduced to the AFP (July 31, 2014),

[19] Id.  See also Press Release, AFP Policing, New Model Tasers Introduced to ACT Policing (Dec. 21, 2012),

[20] See ACT Parliament, Standing Committee on Legal Affairs, Police Powers of Crowd Control 51–57 (May 2007),

[21] Press Release, Premier of New South Wales, NSW Government Delivers Tasers for NSW Police (Sept. 6, 2014),; Crime: HSC Legal Studies: Tasers and Their Use by Police, State Library New South Wales, (last updated Sept. 8, 2014).

[22] Tasers, Queensland Police, (last updated Aug. 25, 2014).

[23] Press Release, Premier of Victoria, Tasers for All 24-Hour Regional Police Stations (Apr. 23, 2014),; Press Release, Premier of Victoria, Minister Briefed on Taser Rollout (June 3, 2013),

[25] Western Australia Police, Post Implementation Review of Taser (May 2010), http://www.police.wa.; Corruption and Crime Commission, The Use of Taser Weapons by Western Australia Police (Oct. 4, 2010), Reports/Published%20Reports%202010/Full%20Report%20-%20Use%20of%20Taser%20Weapons%20by%20 WAPOL.pdf.

[26] Press Release, Northern Territory Police, Fire and Emergency Services, NT Police Review of the Taser (Oct. 15, 2009),; Press Release, Northern Territory Police, Fire and Emergency Services, NT Police – More on the Taser Review (Nov. 30, 2009),

[27] See generally, At-a-Glance: Taser Use in Australia, SBS (Aug. 23, 2013), article/2010/10/05/glance-taser-use-australia.

[28] No Taser Roll-Out for Tasmanian Police, ABC News (Mar. 12, 2012),

[29] Queensland Police, Operational Procedures Manual, Chapter 14: Operational Skills and Practices at 7 & 27 (June 2014),

[30] Thomas Chamberlain, Cops Want This Rifle to Even the Odds Against Crime, The Courier-Mail (Dec. 2, 2012),

[32] NSW Minister for Police, Budget Estimates Hearing, Part A – Questions Taken on Notice, Question A11: Firearms – Audit of Police Firearms (Sept. 17, 2010), committee.nsf/0/d6392ddc5ed3fbd7ca2577bb00250123/$FILE/101013%20Answers%20to%20QoN%20-%20Police%20-%20asked%20during%20hearing.pdf.

[33] Attorney-General’s Department, Annual Report 2011–12, Chapter 10 – National Security and Criminal Justice – Administered Programs (2012), 12/Pages/Chapter10NationalSecurityandCriminalJusticeadministeredprograms.aspxSee also Press Release, Queensland Police, Armoured Rescue Vehicle Launched in Cairns (July 25, 2012), http://mypolice.qld.; Steve Rice, Armored Truck Rolls into South Australia’s Crime-Fighting Arsenal, The Advertiser (May 19, 2011), http://www.adelaidenow.; Press Release, Tasmania Police, Armoured Rescue Vehicle (June 20, 2012),

[34] Press Release, Premier of Victoria, Armoured Rescue Vehicle Boost for Victoria (Apr. 11, 2013),

[35] Press Release, Hon. Lisa Harvey MLA, New Armoured Rescue Vehicle for WA Police (May 6, 2013),; New Armoured Car Used in Police Raid, ABC News (Oct. 30, 2007),

[36] Motion: Policing Resources and Crime Rates, Hon. Peter Primrose, Parliament of New South Wales Legislative Council, Aug. 31, 2004,

[37] See, e.g., Melbourne Siege Continues, ABC News (May 22, 2012),; Paul Anderson, Inside the Shooting Death of Murder Suspect Wayne Joannou by Victoria’s Elite Special Operations Group aka the ‘Sons of God’, Herald Sun (Oct. 26, 2013),; Doug Robertson, Adelaide Has Witnessed Several Violent Incidents that Stopped the City Before Rodney Clavell’s Siege, The Advertiser (June 6, 2014),; Marissa Calligeros, Police Flex Muscle Ahead of G20 Summit, Brisbane Times (May 22, 2014), http://www.brisbane; SERT, ABC News (Apr. 30, 2014),

[38] Michael Milnes, STAR Group Snipers Test World’s Most Lethal Sniper Rifle, The Advertiser (Sept. 10, 2010),

[39] Emile Orzea, South Australian Police Incorporate Drones in Policing Operations, sUAS News (Feb. 11, 2014),

[40] Nicole Cox, Behind-the-Scenes with WA’s Elite Tactical Response Group Police, The Daily Telegraph (June 16, 2009),

[41] Press Release, Hon. Lisa Harvey MLA, supra note 35.

[42] NSW Minister for Police, Budget Estimates Hearing, supra note 32, Questions A8–A10.

[43]Cameron Atfield, Police Eye in the Sky Offers Remote Possibilities, Brisbane Times (Dec. 28, 2013),

[44] See, e.g., Police Subdue Fugitive with Stun Grenades, ABC News (Mar. 25, 2011), news/2011-03-24/police-subdue-fugitive-with-stun-grenades/2642826; Inquest into the Death of Joshua Stephen Walsh [2014] NTMC 005 ¶ 14, 5InquestintothedeathofWalsh.htm; Andrew Dowdell, Criminal Maniac Drew Claude Griffiths Jailed for Shocking Crime Spree, The Australian (Oct. 26, 2012),; Steve Lillebuen, Vic Stand-off Ends with Tear Gas, Shots, The Sydney Morning Herald (May 23, 2012),; Tear Gas Used in Another Night of Unrest at Christmas Island, Perth Now (Mar. 17, 2011),

[45] The AFP Commissioner’s Order on Operational Safety (CO3) (June 1, 2012), Operational%20Safety%20CO3.ashx.  This redacted version of the Order was published pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act 1982 (Cth). Much of the information regarding the use of particular types of weapons has been removed.

[47] Operational Procedures Manual, Queensland Police, Policies/opm.htm (last updated Aug. 25, 2014).

[48] See About Victoria Police: Policies, Procedures and Legislation, Victoria Police, content.asp?Document_ID=30299 (last updated June 16, 2014).

[49] See Matthew Holloway, Call to Suspend Oversight of Police Complaints, Tasmanian Times (Jan. 15, 2014),

[50] Australasian Centre for Policing Research, National Guidelines for Incident Management, Conflict Resolution and Use of Force: 2004 (Report Series No. 132.2, 2004),

[51] See Queensland Police, Operational Procedures Manual, Chapter 14, supra note 29, app. 14.1 (National Guidelines for the Use of Lethal Force by Police). A full version of the 2005 document could not be located.

[52] Crimes Act 1914 (Cth) s 3(1) (definition of “constable”),

[53] Id. s 3ZC.

[54] Public Order (Protection of Persons and Property) Act 1971 (Cth), ss 8(4) & 17(4), http://www.comlaw.

[56] See, e.g., Criminal Code Act 1924 (Tas) s 34; Criminal Code Act Compilation Act 1913 (WA) s 238–242; Criminal Code Act (Qld) ss 261–265.

[57] Police Shootings of People with Mental Illness, Australian Institute of Criminology (Research in Practice No. 34, May 2013),

[58] Lucy Carter, Australian Federal Police Officer Benjamin Joseph Hampton Charged with 12 Corruption and Bribery Offences, ABC News (July 17, 2014),

[59] See, e.g., Natasha Robinson, Aboriginal Man’s Death in Custody Triggers Call to Review ‘Draconian’ Law, The Australian (Sept. 9, 2014), 158909128c9; Kenneth Nguyen, Palm Island Man ‘Bashed to Death by Policeman’, The Age (Sept. 28, 2006), 1159337222690.html; Aboriginal Legal Service ‘Flabbergasted’ by Death in Custody Decision, ABC News (June 28, 2010),; Allyson Horn & Ruby Jones, ‘Lack of Care’ by NT Police Led to Death in Custody, ABC News (Sept. 17, 2012),

[60] See, e.g., Nick Ralston, Police Officers Should be Charged Over Fatal Shooting, Watchdog Says, The Sydney Morning Herald (June 26, 2013),

[61] See, e.g, ACT Parliament, supra note 20; Policing, Police Culture and Corruption, UNSW Crime and Justice Research Network,; Occupiers ‘Brutalised’ in City Square Chaos, The Age (Oct. 24, 2011),; Christopher Gillet, Occupy Melbourne Protesters Leave $1 Million Legal and Clean Up Bill, Herald Sun (May 7, 2014),

[62] See Samantha Healy, Palm Island Riot Class Action Alleges Discrimination, Townsville Bulletin (June 24, 2014),

[63] Police in Riot Gear Removing Aboriginal Children at ‘Gunpoint’, SBS (Sept. 12, 2014), news/article/2014/09/12/police-riot-gear-removing-aboriginal-children-gunpoint.

[64] See, e.g., Victoria Office of Police Integrity, Review of the Use of Force By and Against Victorian Police (July 2009),; Mark Coultan, Robert McClelland to Lead Inquiry into Handling of Police Shootings, The Australian (Sept. 18, 2013),

[65] See, e.g., Gabrielle Appleby, South Australia Finally Moves to Establish an Independent Commissioner Against Corruption, University of Adelaide Public Law Blog (May 19, 2012),; About Us, NSW Police Integrity Commission, (last visited Sept. 12, 2014).