Sunday, 31 May 2015

Home Team Celebrates SG50: Honours for those who kept Singapore safe

Home Team pioneers risked their lives to clean up country: DPM Teo
By Hoe Pei Shan And Rei Kurohi, The Straits Times, 29 May 2015

SHE remembers the people streaming in with bloodied faces, a few with limbs attached to their bodies by just shreds of skin.

The 1969 racial riots left many injured, and senior staff sergeant Evelyn Wong worked long shifts as the police grappled with the street fighting.

Two decades later, Madam Wong was with the airport police division when Singapore Airlines SQ117 was hijacked, and again she found herself in the thick of things with the police preparing for the possibility that the attackers could blow up the plane on the Changi Airport runway.

Commandos from the Singapore Armed Forces managed to kill the four hijackers and bring all 114 passengers and 11 crew to safety.

Those were just two incidents in Madam Wong's 31-year career with the Singapore Police Force.

The 70-year-old is one of some 2,000 Home Team Pioneers being honoured this year for their contributions to Singapore's safety and security.

About 150 of them gathered at the Home Team Academy yesterday and were the first to receive SG50 commemorative medallions and plaques, in conjunction with Singapore's jubilee celebrations.

"The harmony, order and stability that we all enjoy today would not be possible without our pioneers' contributions and sacrifices," said Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean at the event.

He recounted the city-state's tumultuous early years, marked by struggles against communism, terrorism, drugs, and civil emergencies. Home Team officers were the ones who made the "ultimate sacrifice", putting their lives on the line.

Two were killed in the 1955 Hock Lee Bus riot, and another nine assassinated by "communist killer squads" between 1950 and 1956, noted DPM Teo, who is also the Coordinating Minister for National Security and Minister for Home Affairs.

From 1963 to 1966, 37 bombs went off, with the worst attack being the one at MacDonald House which killed three and injured 33.

The rampant crime and violence are etched in Madam Wong's memory. "Those days there were lots of gangsters, a lot of armed kidnappers," she recalled. "They had parangs, some... had guns."

Drugs, too, were a huge problem. Long-time Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) officer Kandasamy Renganathan was roped in during the 1977 Operation Ferret, which resulted in more than 900 traffickers and addicts being arrested within four days.

Among the abusers he came across were a 10-year-old girl and her mother, both on heroin.

"We had a lot of addicts roaming the streets," said the 67-year-old Mr Kandasamy, who has been with CNB since 1972.

DPM Teo said the Home Team Pioneers helped clean Singapore up and make the Republic the safe home it is today.

"Today, Singaporeans are able to go about their daily lives, raise a family, carry on their business freely, free from the constant worry for their safety and security. This is a mission that Home Team officers continue to uphold to this day, every day."

He faced off against terrorists, triads
Ex-police commissioner recalls highlights of his career
By Hoe Pei Shan, The Straits Times, 25 May 2015

THEY had just set off bombs on Pulau Bukom, and were armed with more explosives.

Four terrorists - two from the militant Japanese Red Army and another duo from Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine - then hijacked a ferry, holding the Singaporean crew hostage.

In hot pursuit was then Marine Police officer-in-charge Tee Tua Ba.

Speaking to The Straits Times ahead of an event on Thursday to recognise the contributions of Home Team Pioneers, Mr Tee, now 72, recalled the 1974 incident that was Singapore's first brush with international terrorism.

He remembers the chilling warnings from the terrorists, during the seven days of negotiations to get the crew released safely.

"My boat approached the ferry they were on, and they said 'Remember Munich... sunset time is blowing-up time'," said Mr Tee.

The terrorists were referring to 11 Israeli athletes who were held hostage and eventually killed by the Palestinian group Black September during the 1972 Munich Olympics.

Undeterred, Mr Tee initiated plans to guarantee the attackers' safe passage out of Singapore and back to Kuwait, in exchange for handing over their explosives, as well as the ferry crew.

The terrorists agreed to all conditions, but insisted on keeping their firearms as they were escorted by Mr Tee and his team to Paya Lebar Airport.

But he was under instructions to disarm the terrorists before they boarded the plane.

So Mr Tee decided to put himself within the terrorist leader's crosshairs, if the rest would drop their weapons.

"I was prepared to do that to show goodwill," he said.

Thankfully, the leader told Mr Tee that he trusted the Singapore officials to be as good as their word, and complied with the order to drop their arms before boarding.

The incident was one of many harrowing episodes in Mr Tee's three-decade-long career with the Ministry of Home Affairs, during which he took on several leading roles, including being the head of prisons, director of the Central Narcotics Bureau, and eventually Commissioner of Police.

A trained lawyer, he was called to the Bar in 1966 but gave up his legal career a year later because he had always dreamed of becoming a police officer.

"When I was growing up, Singapore was a different world. I witnessed rioting, offices set on fire, curfews... I had seen the bad side of secret societies... and also the bad side of policing," he said.

"In school, when they asked us to write down our ambition, I wrote 'police officer', that was it, it was what I wanted to be."

His soon-to-be wife then did not approve.

"I didn't like the idea of him joining the police force... I didn't know what to expect from someone who is a police officer. But he said it was his purpose," recalled Mrs Adelene Tee, 68.

Adjusting to a police officer's long days proved tough, and Mrs Tee spent hours waiting for her husband to get off work, sometimes sitting by herself in his station, at other times standing on the street straining to catch sight of him.

Mr Tee's days were filled with violent gangsters, and triad and secret-society members who would throw acid bombs and glass in gang fights, often leaving the police to pick up bodies frothing from the mouth.

Barely a year into the job, he took part in an operation involving 300 officers to apprehend notorious kidnapper Loh Ngut Fong and his gang from a house off Yio Chu Kang Road.

Mr Tee hid in a drain opposite the house as he awaited orders. But the crooks panicked, resulting in a shoot-out that ended with Loh's death.

"That's what we used to deal with back in those days," he said.

"When was the last time we had an armed robbery in Singapore? It's so different now."

Gone, too, are the "opium farms" and opium dens of the past, he noted.

Much credit has to go to the founding government led by Mr Lee Kuan Yew and pioneer officers across the Home Team, added Mr Tee.

Effective policy changes included the introduction of criminal detention without trial, he said. "It was the law that broke the backbone of secret societies and triads."

On his end, Mr Tee tried to build trust between the people and police officers, introducing community policing, and also improving officers' interactions with the public, from making sure 999 emergency calls were received more politely, to better supervision and assessment of front-line officers.

It wasn't easy to change officers' habits, he admitted. "It starts with the small little things, you have got to push like hell."

Mr Tee hung up his police uniform in 1997, when he retired as commissioner from the force, and entered the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

He became Singapore's high commissioner to Brunei, and held several other posts around the world till 2007, after which he took on non-resident ambassadorship.

Since 2008, he has been chairman of the Singapore Red Cross Society (SRC), where he has carried over some leadership traits from his civil service years.

SRC secretary-general Benjamin William called Mr Tee a "straightforward man... of integrity and honesty".

"He always emphasises the need to maintain the trust of the people, he constantly reminds us that we should never lose the trust of the public who have entrusted their donations to us."

Mr Tee said the worst part of his career was losing out on family time. Mrs Tee gave up her job promoting loans in a bank to accompany her husband abroad, and throughout his working years the couple's two sons saw little of him.

"My work was everything," said Mr Tee, who is now non-resident ambassador to Switzerland.

Neither son has followed in his footsteps. Older son Ve-Yin, 40, is a university assistant professor in Japan, and second son Ve-Chen, 39, works in the food and beverage industry.

"After they'd seen what their father had done in the police force... I don't think they want to join," said Mr Tee with a chuckle.

"It's been a tough life, but I have no regrets."

His wife, perhaps, sums it up best: "Singapore has been very kind to us... If I were in another nation would I enjoy the same life? You give up a little but the country has also given you a lot of things - freedom to work as you want, live as you want, safety... so it's okay to give up a little, we do what we can."

Ex-SCDF chief honoured as Home Team pioneer
By Hoe Pei Shan, The Straits Times, 2 Jun 2015

BY HIS own account, being parachuted from the army to the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) meant dealing with a very different set of priorities.

"I was going from a soldier learning how to fight enemies to the SCDF learning how to save lives," said 68-year-old Mr James Tan, who in 1992 was appointed SCDF commissioner after serving as a senior exercise training planning officer in the Singapore Armed Forces.

To tackle the steep learning curve, he went to the front lines to witness first-hand the challenges SCDF personnel faced.

The SCDF had only 14 ambulances then, which were manned by overworked nurses, and around 700 firefighters who had to respond to tens of thousands of emergency calls. The tools used were rudimentary and personnel functioned with operating procedures that dated back to World War I, he recounted.

Mr Tan, one of around 2,000 Home Team Pioneers being recognised this year in conjunction with Singapore's jubilee celebrations, spent the next 17 years overhauling the system.

Under his watch, the SCDF took on new technology such as using "water mist" in fighting small residential and vehicle fires, smothering flames with steam formed from the droplets in the heat.

Mr Tan helped create training facilities and programmes that have made the SCDF a sought-after partner for rescue training by other countries today.

By the time he stepped down as commissioner in 2009, there were 40 ambulances, more than 2,000 front-line firefighters, rescuers and medical personnel, and a state-of-the-art Civil Defence Academy.

The SCDF now uses creative urban firefighting and rescue methods.

One of them is the Red Rhino - the first light fire attack vehicle specially designed to manoeuvre in tight concrete spaces, such as through HDB void decks.

Now leading security firm Aetos, Mr Tan said he hopes the SCDF will continue to evolve to meet emerging urban challenges in firefighting and rescue operations.

Problem-solving and continually improving SCDF's capabilities were what drove him during his time in SCDF. For his service in the Home Team, Mr Tan was one of 150 pioneers to be awarded SG50 commemorative medallions last Thursday.

He said: "I loved every day of those 17 years with the SCDF, and if it were not for my age, I would continue doing it for as long as I can."


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