Saturday, 8 February 2020

SPF200: Celebrating 200 years of the Singapore police

New exhibition chronicles its evolution from 12-man team to 15,000-strong modern force
By Cara Wong, The Straits Times, 7 Feb 2020

The first police force in Singapore was started 200 years ago with an unofficial team of just 12 men.

Untrained men joined the force as a last resort when they could not find other jobs, and did miscellaneous work such as capturing tigers, fighting fires and numbering streets.

Officers even had to pay for their own uniforms, forking out more than half a month's salary for them.

Such details about the early police force are chronicled in the SPF200 Exhibition - Frontier Town to Safest City, which was launched yesterday by Minister for Home Affairs and Law K. Shanmugam.

The exhibition at the National Museum of Singapore is part of a series of activities to commemorate the police's bicentennial.

It tracks the evolution of the police force in Singapore over two centuries - starting with the ill-equipped 12-men team assembled by Singapore's first Resident and Commandant William Farquhar, to the current 15,000-strong Singapore Police Force (SPF).

The early days were tough, said Mr Shanmugam, noting that the police force faced an uphill battle.

New migrants were vulnerable to vices such as gambling, opium and prostitution, and secret societies were a menace to public order.

"They often put their lives on the line, these police officers, to keep law and order," he added.

But the police's capabilities grew, starting with the establishment of patrol sector boundaries, and then the formation of specialised units like the Marine Police - the predecessor of the Police Coast Guard - and a detective branch.

As Singapore evolved, the police continued to change, expanding operations and coming up with more specialist units like the Special Operations Command, then known as the Riot Squad, which was prompted by the Maria Hertogh riots in 1950.

The police also actively engaged the community through a Volunteer Special Constabulary unit set up in 1946, and a Citizens on Patrol initiative to engage volunteers to look out for and deter crimes.

In more recent years, the police has also set up the Emergency Response Teams and an Anti-Scam Centre to combat the rising threat of armed attacks and scams, said Mr Shanmugam.

"The exhibition pays tribute to police officers, past and present, for their sacrifices. The journey is an inspiring one, it holds many lessons both for SPF and for Singapore as a whole," he added.

Artefacts such as old police uniforms, photographs and firearms detail the changes in the police force.

In 1959, for example, the police established a Phantom Squad of plain-clothes policeman who went undercover as secret society members. To identify themselves as policemen to one another, they each wore coloured cloth armbands, which are now on display at the exhibition.

Visitors can also relive some of the crimes that have gripped Singapore in modern times, including the 2006 murder of nightclub owner Lim Hock Soon by "One-Eyed Dragon" gangster Tan Chor Jin.

A replica of the murder scene at Mr Lim's house has been set up at the exhibition, for the public to test their investigative skills through an interactive game.

Retired police officers will conduct free tours of the exhibition daily at 10.15am and 1.15pm for walk-in visitors.

The exhibition will run till May 17.

Singapore policemen share stories of secret societies, hell riders and cold-blooded murders
As the police celebrate their 200th anniversary with an exhibition at the National Museum of Singapore, The Straits Times' Zaihan Mohamed Yusof and Cara Wong speak to past and present police officers who are a part of the police force's transformation.


Most memorable case was audacious killing by One-Eyed Dragon
By Cara Wong, The Straits Times, 7 Feb 2020

It was a daring, cold-blooded, execution-style murder rarely seen in Singapore.

Nightclub owner Lim Hock Soon was shot in his home on Feb 15, 2006, in front of his family.

When Superintendent (Supt) Abdul Halim Osman's team of officers from the Criminal Investigation Division arrived at the scene, the body was on the floor with five bullet holes.

The scene at the apartment was chaotic, with Mr Lim's wife, daughter and maid in distress.

"We had to control the situation and manage the witnesses. It was important that we got as much information as possible from them," said Supt Abdul Halim, 55, who was investigation officer of the case then. He is now with the Tanglin Police Division.

It was also imperative that they managed the scene properly as the consequences were severe, he added.

A murder charge carries the death penalty.

"We had to be 100 per cent sure that we didn't make any mistakes," he said.

The police spent the next two to three days processing the scene, collecting evidence and speaking to the witnesses.

They found out the killer's nickname was Tony Kia and with that lead, they managed to establish the man's real name as Tan Chor Jin, 39, who was a member of the Ang Soon Tong gang. He was dubbed the "One-Eyed Dragon" because of his one blind eye.

But Tan had fled to Malaysia and the police relied on their counterparts there to nab him 10 days after the murder, said Supt Abdul Halim.

Tan was sent back to Singapore and tried. He was found guilty and hanged in 2009.

Despite having handled several other murder cases, Supt Abdul Halim considers the One-eyed Dragon case memorable for the sheer audacity of a killer who had shot a man in front of witnesses.

"I don't think we can find cases like this in Singapore. It was a very aggressive act, so we had to get him."

He joined the police after being robbed at knifepoint
By Zaihan Mohamed Yusof, The Straits Times, 7 Feb 2020

When Mr Chan Soo Wah was a Secondary Four student, gangsters robbed him of his watch at knife-point. That encounter sealed his decision to join the Singapore Police Force.

Mr Chan, who joined in 1965 and retired in 1999 with the rank of Deputy Superintendent of Police, was not looking for revenge. He was fascinated by the police officer who had handled his case.

"I was impressed with him. This investigator was thorough in his work," said Mr Chan, now 74.

Starting his career as a constable dressed in khaki shorts, he worked his way up the ranks, graduating from the police academy as an inspector and later moving to the Criminal Investigation Department's secret society branch.

Singapore's tough laws, namely the Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act - known to some in Hokkien as "go chap go" (55, for Section 55 of the Act) - kept secret societies in check in the mid-1970s.

Mr Chan said Section 55 gave the police powers to detain a secret society member without trial. "That's how we broke the backbone of the secret society menace."

A decade earlier in the 1960s, tensions arose due to student protests, the communist threat and the post Konfrontasi era.

The police received frequent calls whenever the public spotted suspicious items. Mr Chan remembers one of these calls in 1969 vividly.

He was responding to a call in the evening about an abandoned shoebox left in front of a British company in Bukit Timah.

The young and tired probationary Inspector Chan had assumed it was just another bomb hoax and was about to kick the shoebox.

But an older Volunteer Special Constabulary officer, who was first at the scene, stopped him from doing so.

Luckily, Mr Chan listened to him because the bomb disposal unit later confirmed the box was rigged with explosives.

"I'm here today because I survived. He saved me."

Ex-traffic cop recalls high-speed chases to nab hell riders on Lim Chu Kang '40 tiang' stretch
By Zaihan Mohamed Yusof, The Straits Times, 7 Feb 2020

The retired police officer's face lit up when he spoke about police motorcycles and hell riders of the 1970s and 1980s.

Senior Station Inspector 2 Nasir Said, 65, a former Traffic Police officer and trainer, recalled high-speed chases and waiting in cemeteries to ambush hell riders who raced their motorbikes along Lim Chu Kang's famed "40 tiang" stretch. Tiang in Malay means lamp-posts.

The long hours of waiting meant that officers like him often became targets for blood-sucking insects, said Mr Nasir, who joined the Singapore Police Force in 1972.

But his 32-year career, which was followed by another 13 years of re-employment, nearly ended prematurely.

He contemplated leaving the force after the death of a squad mate in 1983 during a night escort mission.

"I was very shocked," said Mr Nasir, who is one of the guides for the SPF200 exhibition at the National Museum Singapore.

"He was close to me... we were brought up together. He was the one who had encouraged me to join the mobile squad."

Mr Nasir had been leading the escort of a small RSAF aircraft when his colleague at the rear of the convoy hit a divider and crashed into one of the airplane's wings.

The officer, who was from the same village in Jalan Kubis (now Ubi) as Mr Nasir, died of a broken rib puncturing his heart before he arrived at the hospital. But Mr Nasir did not know then as there was no physical bleeding.

After being told of his friend's death at the hospital, he became distraught and was unable to convey news of the accident to the man's family.

Mr Nasir's senior officers understood his predicament and allowed him to take a break during that difficult time.

Till this day, he is grateful and said he cannot forget the support from his family members and supervisors.

At 98, he is Singapore's oldest surviving retired cop
By Cara Wong, The Straits Times, 10 Jan 2020

When Mr Yusof Mohammad became a police officer in the 1940s, he did, in fact, wear shorts as that was the official uniform.

The 98-year-old is Singapore's oldest surviving retired police officer, and is living proof of the old saying "when police wore shorts" - a popular adage to reflect on how times have changed.

He decided to join the force after witnessing the carnage and chaos of World War II while working as a hospital porter.

"It was very scary because many people were sent to the hospital during the war. Some lost their hands and legs. So when we carried them, we really pitied them... I decided to join the police after that," he said, adding that he wanted to keep the country safe.

Mr Yusof spoke to the media earlier this week, in an interview organised by the police to mark the Singapore Police Force's 200th anniversary.

The celebration starts with a run that kicks off today.

Police officers will collectively run 200km in 24 hours, passing by 30 significant sites, including past and present police establishments such as the first police station, which was located near the site of today's Asian Civilisations Museum.

Some of the sites, including the Old Police Academy in Upper Thomson, are familiar to Mr Yusof, who served in the force from 1946 to 1968.

As a patrol officer posted to the Queenstown Police Station, he would keep watch over the area by cycling or walking for eight hours a day, to maintain the peace.

"I felt proud when I was wearing the uniform," he said in Malay.

Mr Yusof still keeps his police insignia bearing the letters "SSP", which stands for Straits Settlements Police, the name of the police force then.

He said policing in Singapore was tougher in the past, with more disorder in the streets.

For example, when the Maria Hertogh riots broke out in 1950, many people were "angry with the police" and would assault them, he recounted.

"Sometimes, they would throw bottles, and it would hit the heads of our officers," said Mr Yusof, who was on standby with fellow officers during the riots.

"My friend even got shot in his leg," he added.

The riots broke out on Dec 11, 1950, after a court ordered that Maria Hertogh, who had been raised by Muslims during World War II, should be returned to her Catholic biological parents. She was aged 13 then.

Mr Yusof's life was not any easier when he was posted to the Marine Police later in his career.

He encountered many pirates at sea. "When we saw them, we would have to fire our pistols in the air to warn them off," he said.

He retired from the force at the age of 48 but continued in the same line of work, taking on the job of a security officer at a mall. He has since retired for good.

The father of seven believes that police officers today are better at reaching out to and engaging residents.

While times have changed and Singapore today is in much better shape, Mr Yusof believes the core mission of the police remains the same: to protect lives.

He said that officers now have better weapons and uniforms.

"But our responsibility as police officers is always the same," he added.

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