1872 - 1942

Modernisation under the Straits Settlements Police Force

The Straits Settlements Police Force

Shortly after the Straits Settlements became a crown colony in 1867, the police underwent a re-organisation with the enactment of the Police Force Ordinance (1871) in 1872. This gave rise to the Straits Settlements Police Force when one Inspector-General of Police, headquartered in Singapore, took charge of all the police forces in the Straits Settlements.

 Early khaki uniform worn from 1890 to before Second World War. Source: SPF


Sikh Policemen. © Gretchen Liu,"Singapore: A Pictorial History", 2007

The Straits Settlements Police Force faced many challenges in this new era. With the growth of trade due to events like the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869, Singapore grew rapidly. As the port flourished, large numbers of Chinese coolies flocked to Singapore looking for work. The new waves of mostly poor and uneducated male migrant workers brought along law and order problems. Prostitution, gambling, drug abuse, secret societies activities and riots were widespread.  Secret societies in particular, proved to be a major source of crime resulting in incessant rioting, thuggery and abuse of new immigrants. To combat this, the Chinese Protectorate was established in 1877 and new laws were passed to control secret societies. Following the 1879 Commission of Inquiry into the state of the police force, a new Sikh Police Contingent (SPC) was formed in the local police force in 1881. The SPC was deployed to form the nucleus of an elite armed police and, together with measures to reign in the influence of secret societies, proved an immediate success in maintaining law and order.


Old Hill Street Police Station vs now. The building was large for its time and once referred to as the ‘police skyscraper’. It was built as part of an infrastructural modernisation programme in the 1930s. Source: Courtesy of National Archives of Singapore


Central Police Station along South Bridge Road in 1911. The building was the police headquarters from the 1860s-1930s and demolished in 1978. Source: Courtesy of National Archives of Singapore



The turn of the century saw an ever increasing population and the police had to expand to cope with increasing crime, particularly internal security threats linked to overseas events in China, India, and Japan. The police responded with an expansion of policing and investigative capabilities, instituted proper training with the establishment of the Police Training School in 1929, as well as improved working conditions with new police stations. The Straits Settlements Police’s actions against communists and secret societies helped make Singapore safer and more prosperous but bred some resentment among the sympathetic Chinese who saw the police as a tool of the colonial government.


On 15 February 1942, Singapore fell to the Japanese and remained in occupation until their surrender in September 1945. This occupation dealt a heavy blow to the police force as many of its leaders, including Inspector-General A. H. Dickinson, were interned and it came under the control of the Japanese.