Identifying communists: continuity in political policing, 1931-1951
AbstractOn 14 April 1931, Constable E.R. Trask wrote a report which began: ‘I respectfully report that acting on instructions received, I attended a Communist Meeting, which was held in the Communist hall.’ 1 He carefully noted the names of all those who attended whom he believed to be communists. This typified police practice at that time. In other words, identification and surveillance of suspected or known communists in meetings, on demonstrations and in other settings, dominated political policing long before the Cold War. For the New Zealand Police Force, anti-communism was an organising worldview with communist influence their general explanation for any radical activity. This article examines how New Zealand police officers understood dissent among unemployed workers in the 1930s and during the 1951 waterfront dispute, and concludes that continuity in political policing prevailed, despite the momentous events of World War Two and the early Cold War years which intervened. It argues that policing methodology is a form of social knowledge, so that the words in the written police archives need to be seen in the broader perspective of surveillance as a knowledge system into which new constables were socialised. For example, each year detectives from other centres were sent to Christchurch during its Show Week in November to keep their ‘own city criminals under observation and to point them out’ to local police.2 This model of policing was already dated by the 1930s, even more so by the 1950s, but it continued to inform and structure political policing.
CitationMillar, G. (2017) 'Identifying communists: continuity in political policing, 1931-1951', Security and Surveillance Series,
JournalSecurity and Surveillance Series
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