Transfer of Old Police Records to Archives New Zealand

The New Zealand Security Intelligence Service (NZSIS) has transferred to Archives New Zealand part of its file series known as the Old Police Records (OPRs). The OPRs index the reports of the New Zealand Police Special Branch, which existed from 1920 to 1957. Thirtyone volumes (of a total of 56) of the OPRs, covering the years 1920 to 1945, have been transferred. The full set of OPRs ends in 1957, by which time the New Zealand Security Service, the forerunner of the NZSIS, had been established. The OPRs are made up of individual Special Branch Recording Sheets, each recording the receipt of a report and collected (mostly) into annual files. Four cover more than one year: OPR 1920 – 1930, OPR 1922 – 1923 – 1924, OPR 1925 – 1926 and OPR 1941 - 1956. In addition to the 1920-1930 and 1941-1956 collections there are individual volumes for those years and the years between.

Special Branch was set up in 1920 “to investigate and report on revolutionary matters in New Zealand” (OPR 1920: S. 20/1a). In 1920 “revolutionary matters” meant anything to do with the promulgation of communism following the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917. The Recording Sheets that make up the OPRs index the receipt, undated but numbered by year and date order received (e.g.”S.31/544”), of reports about organisations and persons of interest (the actual reports referred to are held on separate classified files held by the NZSIS). Most Recording Sheets summarise the subject matter of the reports received and some list the attendees at public and closed meetings of the Communist Party of New Zealand (CPNZ) and its branches, and assorted leftist, pacifist and workers’ organisations. For the years 1932 to 1940 however only year and order of receipt are noted (e.g., 32/946), with no other information except file references, which indicate that the organisation of most concern to Special Branch was the CPNZ and that persons of interest were usually leftists. Examples of three Recording Sheets are attached.

The OPRs therefore comprise a unique index of Special Branch activities from the period from shortly after the Russian Revolution, through the Second World War, and into the early years of the Cold War. This first set of OPRs transferred to Archives NZ shows that Special Branch reporting evolved from covering not only suspected revolutionaries but also, during WWII, pacifists and anti-conscriptionists (the latter including members of the Comintern - directed CPNZ between the period of the Russo - German Non – Aggression Pact of August 1939 and the German invasion of Russia in June 1941). During WWII Special Branch also kept an eye on aliens of doubtful national and political loyalty, Germans and Yugoslavs being of particular interest. The 1920 - 1945 OPRs index the earliest mentions in the security context of future Prime Ministers Michael Savage, Peter Fraser and Walter Nash, and personalities of the Left like William Ball Sutch, Paddy Costello, Ian Milner, Jock Barnes and Elsie Locke.

The OPRs have been reviewed for declassification under the provisions of the Official Information Act 1982 (OIA). A Notice for Readers at the beginning of each OPR advises of the existence of Restricted Access “parallel” files, classified Confidential. These are made up of Recording Sheets removed from the original OPR under the protection of security and privacy provisions of Sections 6 and 9 of the OIA to enable declassification of the file intended for Open Access in Archives NZ. Redacted Recording Sheets replace the originals on the open Access file. The main reason for deletions of information has been to remove the identifiers of Special Branch secret agents or sources. The initials of NZSIS officers who later annotated the files have also been removed under Section 13A of the NZSIS Act 1969 (which restricts publicising that any person, other than the Director, is a member of the NZSIS), unless such persons have been publicly identified by name (e.g., in books or newspaper obituaries), or they are deceased and/or the initials do not enable identification. Any identifiers of overseas liaison agencies as providers of confidential information have been removed on security grounds. Public Access to the original Recording Sheets in the Restricted Access parallel files is restricted for 100 years after date of the last action on the file, when they will be reviewed for possible declassification. The review date selected has been chosen following Archives NZ’s Advisory Notice A6 “Making Access Decisions Under the Public Records Act” (2005).


Enquiries about subjects referred to in the Old Police Records may be made to:

The Archives Officer
New Zealand Security Intelligence Service
P O Box 900
WELLINGTON 6140
Tel (04) 472 6170