Ghana Police Service - Then and now

BY: Compiled by Mary Mensah
IGP David Asante-Apeatu

The Ghana Police Service (GPS) is the main law enforcement agency in Ghana mandated by law to protect and preserve internal security of the country through law enforcement.

Since its inception, the service has been in the frontline of the criminal justice system of Ghana. It is clearly the most visible arm of government as the symbol of law and order for the good people of Ghana.

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It was first created by the colonial administration to produce an enabling environment for commerce through the maintenance of law and order, as well as the arrest and prosecution of people who fall foul of the laws.

Brief History of the Service

Policing in the Gold Coast was originally organised by traditional authorities, led by local kings or chiefs. This they did by employing unpaid messengers known as "ahenfie police" to carry out executive and judicial functions in their respective communities.

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Professional policing was, however, introduced by the British colonial authorities in 1831. The colonial administrator at the time, Captain George Maclean, Governor of the Gold Coast, recruited 129 men, known as the Gold Coast Corps, and later as the Royal Corps, to patrol the trade routes between Ashanti and the coast and to protect colonial merchants and officials around the castle.

However, these groups were disbanded in 1860 and replaced by the more efficient West Indian Regiment. When the British colonialists gained control over the entire colony of Gold Coast in 1871, there was the need to create a police force to help them to deal with the warlike ethnic groups.

Colonial masters

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The colonial masters then brought an army of 700 Hausa men from Northern Nigeria and the West Indies into the Gold Coast. Out of the number, 400 were used to form the Gold Coast Constabulary in 1871, under the Police Force Ordinance, which was promulgated in the same year. As years went by, more Ghanaians were added and it became the Gold Coast Police Force.

All the commissioned officers at the time were British and the force became the "Gold Coast Constabulary" in 1876. The Police Ordinance, passed in 1894, gave legal backing to the formation of a civilian police force in the colony.

By 1902, the police had been divided into General, Escort, Mines and Railway Police units, which were legalised by the Police [Amendment] Ordinance of 1904.

A Marine Police Unit was formed in 1906 but was replaced by the Customs, Excise and Preventive Service years later, while in 1921, the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) was established. The plain-clothes personnel of this branch are employed as specialists in various aspects of crime detection.


The organisation of the service first started during the 1950s, when the British instituted several changes in the Gold Coast Police Service to modernise, enlarge, better equip the police and of greater importance was the decision by Britain to Africanise the police.

Initially, they had restricted access to senior positions in all branches of colonial administration, but trend changed.

That followed the agitation which erupted 70 years ago after the three ex-servicemen, Sgt Adjetey, Corporal Attipoe and Private Odartey Lamptey, were killed in 1948 by the colonial police while leading a peaceful march to the Osu Castle to present a petition to the then Governor of the Gold Coast.

In 1951, for example, 64 of the 80 senior police officers were foreigners, but by 1958 only 11 of these senior officers were of foreign origin. The first Ghanaian Police Commissioner was Mr E.R.T Madjitey. After Mr Madjitey, there have been 23 IGPs.

The attainment of independence in 1957 saw the Ghana Police Force being renamed Ghana Police Service to give it a human face and enable it to serve the citizens better.

In 1970, the service received legal backing with the promulgation of the Police Service Act, 1970 (Act 350). The arrangement to give the police more legal teeth was supported later by other legislative instruments and as the chapter seven of the 1992 Constitution.

The core duties of the Police Service are to ensure a proactive and professional approach to the prevention and detection of crime, protection of life and property and the apprehension and prosecution of offenders.

Organisation and Administration

The Police Service is currently divided into two main groups; the overall command, control, supervision and monitoring activities are done at the national headquarters level while policing, in general, has been spread throughout the length and breadth of the country under a regional command structure, with a regional commander at the helm of affairs. For effective policing, the police administration added Tema to the 10 regions of Ghana and each of the 11 regional commanders operates from a regional headquarters.

The police has shifted to a new paradigm of operations to make it more humane and democratic and community policing is at the core, where members of the public are involved in policing. Human rights and related issues have now been brought to the fore and the rights of the citizens are taken into consideration in the handling of suspects and police operations.

The service has also created specialised units to meet contemporary demands. Among these are the Rapid Response Unit, Organised Crime Unit and Crime Scene Management to ensure that all crimes are well investigated, using forensic science application and the Critical Intelligence Response Team, an anti-terrorist unit created by the police administration to manage crises and terrorist-related activities.

The service has forged partnerships with other police organisations such as INTERPOL, FBI, French National Police and the British police in the fight against transnational crimes.

The Ghana Police Service prides itself on the newly established Women and Juvenile Unit, popularly known as WAJU. Established in October 1998, WAJU, now the Domestic Violence and Victims Support Unit (DOVVSU), responds to the increasing number of abuse and violence against women cases.

Peacekeeping missions

The Ghanaian contingent of the International Civilian Police (CIVPOL) has been involved in peacekeeping missions around the world, including Liberia, Namibia, Cambodia, Kuwait, Bosnia, Kosovo, Sierra Leone, East Timor and Haiti, crediting the service as one of the most acclaimed peacekeeping forces.

Currently there are 13 regions under the Police Service and each of them is headed by a Regional Commander with a rank of Assistant Commissioner.

Each region, with the exception of the National Headquarters, has divisions. There are 51 divisions nationwide. These are further subdivided into 179 districts and 651 stations across the country.

Its law enforcement establishment consists of 351 police officers, 649 inspectors, and 15,191 personnel in other grades distributed, among 479 stations.

There is no doubt that the Police Service in Ghana performs one of most essential key services to the state. It is also one of the most misunderstood state organisations in the country.

The Ghana Police Service seeks to become a world class Police Service capable of delivering planned, democratic, protective, and peaceful services up to the standards of international best practice.