FROM the VAULT – CoP James Patrick O’Sullivan

Prior to the retirement of Police Commissioner James Patrick O’Sullivan, Jenny Fleming from the Queensland Police Union Journal spoke with Mr O’Sullivan about his 41 year policing career, including 8 as Commissioner.  The following is a condensed version of that interview;

Jenny: In 1993 you had been Commissioner for a year. At that time you said to me: “My whole trust and philosophy revolves around our primary objective of preservation of life and property.  It underpins the whole strategy.  If we fail there we fail everywhere”.  How do you think the Service has aspired to this strategy?

Commissioner: The Service has come a long way on many fronts.  Particularly in terms of preservation of life and property.  The recent statistical review and report that came out of the Federal Bureau of Statistics, in eight of the thirteen categories of crime, Queensland was the lowest in the nation.  While property crime is still at an unacceptable level, we are on the right track.  Our strategies are working but there’s a lot more work to be done and while you have a drug problem you are going to have a lot of property crime.  If you could solve the drug problem you could reduce the property crime overnight, probably by 60, 70 percent.

Commissioner James P. O’Sullivan.
Image No. PM1486 courtesy of the Queensland Police Museum.

Jenny: What have been the highlights of your term as Commissioner?

Commissioner: There have been a lot of highlights really.  I think one of the main highlights is that we have come from a fairly ordinary sort of situation where respect for the Service was at an all-time low [during the Fitzgerald Inquiry] to a highly professional police service.  We have been able to regain the confidence of the community.  We are recognised now as the leader in areas of law enforcement in Australasia.  We are sending people overseas to lecture other law enforcement agencies on some of our computerised equipment.  We have seen the whole of the Service computerised, particularly in respect to crime, how it is reported, how intelligence is gathered.  We have reformed the Bureau of Criminal Intelligence totally.  We have overturned and reconstructed the educational training system in the human resources area and we are now recruiting top quality people who have work experience and life experiences.  We are targeting them at age 25, 26 and the majority have first degrees, some have second and third degrees.  We are getting the people who have all the skills and are highly motivated and top quality people.  So in terms of highlights, we have done a lot, and accountability… we have certainly made the Service open and accountable.

Jenny: What about the lows?

Commissioner: The only lows that I see are when we lose our people to tragedies, good decent people are killed in the line of duty.  That has been with us more than ever.  Quite recently too.       

Jenny: Do you think the North Queensland [Police] Academy has eased things a bit?

Commissioner: It has been very successful, quite frankly.  There was quite a lot of negativity coming from areas of the department and indeed government about that, but it is performing very well indeed.  So much so that we are in the middle of endeavouring to obtain funding to enlarge it and rebuild the campus.  It is a success story because most of the people graduating from the Townsville Academy stay in the north of the state.  For years we had a problem of finding people to go into those outlying areas.  Nowadays, I would say 95 percent of the graduates stay up there or go further west so that’s good.  We are recruiting people mainly from the north who don’t see Brisbane as their ultimate destination place.  As well we no longer have the difficult transfer issues we used to have.

Jenny: You come from an operations background.  What do you see as the major operational changes in the last 41 years?

Commissioner: When I was a young detective, we didn’t have typists.  Most of us couldn’t type, only with two fingers.  You had to type all your own briefs, all your own statements, prepare your own case, buy your own typewriter, and there you were.  There weren’t that many police around in those days.  We were very busy.  Now the technological age is with us and we have work stations and computers, and any amount of administrative assistants available as well as the computerisation of the Service.  In my day, when I was a young detective you might wait a fortnight to obtain a criminal history unless it was urgent, and you sent someone to the Sydney Central Fingerprint Bureau.  Now they have got instant access to intelligence and criminal history across the board.

Commissioner Jim O’Sullivan commissions the aircraft “Captain Stan Pullen” in 1996, named after the Police Airwing pilot, and was purchased by the Queensland Police Service for just over $3 million dollars.
Image No. PM2769 courtesy of the Queensland Police Museum.

Jenny: Have you enjoyed your career?

Commissioner: Oh, I have.  It’s been a wonderful career for me.  The Service has progressed very well.  I have been the leader but I say continually it is great people who are around me and throughout the department that have done a lot more than I have. They don’t get the recognition half the time.


The interview with James ‘Jim’ O’Sullivan was conducted by Jenny Fleming, and published on pages 14 – 17 of the Queensland Police Union Journal in September 2000.  The interview in its entirety is available from the Queensland Police Museum.  We are open from 9am to 4pm Monday to Thursday and 10am to 3pm on the last Sunday of the month (Feb-Nov) and located on the Ground Floor of Police Headquarters at 200 Roma Street, Brisbane. Contact: E: [email protected]

“FROM the VAULT- CoP James Patrick O’Sullivan” by the Queensland Police Service is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (BY) 2.5 Australia Licence. Permissions may be available beyond the scope of this licence.

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