1826 - 1872

The police force expands to fight rising crime in a flourishing town

Policing a Flourishing Town


In 1826, Singapore became incorporated into the Straits Settlements. The police force in Singapore came under the command of the Resident Councillor John Prince. Singapore, with its largely poverty-stricken immigrant population and pirate ships threatening maritime trade faced high crime rates in its early years. The development of the legal institutions could not keep pace with the growing population. Many crimes went unreported. Further exacerbating the problem was the lack of proper supervision in the police force and poor morale among the rank-and-file officers.

 Thomas Dunman
Thomas Dunman, the first Commissioner of Police.
© Donald Davies, "More Old Singapore", 1956



Detective Dept 1906

Detective Department in 1906. Source: SPF


Following an urgent public meeting in February 1843 to discuss measures to fight rampant crime, Mr Thomas Dunman was assigned the twin portfolio of Deputy Magistrate and Deputy Superintendent of Police. Working tirelessly to improve the Force, he raised the calibre of policemen by stressing on discipline amongst officers. By 1846, he had established rules and regulations for officers to adhere to, drew patrol sector boundaries and introduced a standard uniform for use. He also fought for better working conditions and wages, shorter hours and a pension scheme. When the Police Act of 1856 came into operation on 1 January 1857, Dunman became the first full-time Commissioner of Police. He served with distinction until 1871.

During this period, the police force also introduced its first specialist units to combat specific crimes. In 1866, a small Detective Department was set up to investigate secret societies. In the same year, a floating police station was built, marking the establishment of a Marine Police to combat piracy and protect Singapore’s vulnerable shipping routes.