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Curbing Secret Societies through Enforcement, Education and the Law
Having served with the Secret Societies Branch for over 10 years, Eric Toh is committed to fighting the threat of gang activities, wherever it is found.

For officers like Eric Toh, the CLTPA remains an essential tool in the fight against Secret Societies. PHOTO: Mike Tan


Veteran Police Inspector Eric Toh, 39, is passionate about his job. As a Senior Investigation Officer with the Secret Societies Branch (SSB), Criminal Investigation Department, Singapore Police Force, he’s part of a committed team that works 24/7 to curb gang activities in Singapore. And it was a chance encounter with a former Secret Society member that reaffirmed to Eric that he was on the right path. He took time out of his busy schedule to answer five questions about his work as an SSB officer.

Why did you join the SSB, and what does your work involve?

It started out many years ago when I was a detective in Tanglin Police Division. Back then, we handled all sorts of crime, and I came across many Secret Society members, and became curious about them. I wanted to learn how Secret Societies worked, so I asked to join the SSB.

I’ve been with the SSB since June 2007, and I have no regrets about coming here. I investigate Secret Society activities and do enforcement rounds at entertainment outlets, discos, nightspots, LAN gaming shops – anywhere Secret Society members hang out. We do this as often as it takes; sometimes two to three days a week. As part of my work, I also supervise those who are serving Supervision Orders under the Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act (CLTPA).

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Enforcement is one of the pillars of our response against Secret Societies, the activities of which pose a threat to public order and safety. PHOTOS: Muhamad Khair

Besides enforcement, how else do you curb Secret Societies?

We’re concerned about youths-at-risk being recruited and made use of by Secret Societies. I’ve seen kids as young as 12 or 13 years old being influenced to join gangs. Some are latch-key children, with no one to show concern for them, or they may have a parent in prison, so they went astray.

That’s why we do preventive education, through programmes like Streetwise and the SSB’s annual Camp ACE event at Pulau Ubin. We counsel youths to understand why they want to join a gang – is it out of fear, companionship or protection? We try to address their concerns, and work things out with them.

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Through preventive education programmes such as Camp ACE, youths who are at risk learn to say"no"to Secret Societies. PHOTO: SPF

How has your work changed since you joined the SSB over 10 years ago?

In the past, Secret Society members had tattoos to show their gang affiliations. But now, young gang members may not have tattoos, and if you speak to them in Hokkien, for example, they may not understand you. So it can be harder to identify them. It’s only through investigations and interviews that we know they are Secret Society members, and then we try to steer them away from criminal activities.

How active are Secret Societies now in Singapore?

The Secret Society situation is currently under control, but we shouldn’t be complacent. That’s why we rely on enforcement, preventive education and legislation like the CLTPA to deal with Secret Society members.

If we don’t keep Secret Societies at bay, they’ll cause more problems, and influence more people to join them. That’s why we won’t hesitate to take action against those who disturb public order and safety. With the CLTPA, witnesses don’t have to be afraid to come forward to share information.

Share with us an example of how your work made a difference.

About four years ago, I was at a shopping centre with my son, who was 10. I was doing some window shopping when someone slapped me on my back.

My son and I were both shocked. I turned back to see who had slapped me, and it was someone with tattoos. He stared at me and asked in Hokkien, “Sir, do you still remember me?”

I guessed that he was someone I’d met in the course of my investigations, so I asked, “What do you want?”

He replied, “No, don’t get me wrong,” and explained that he just wanted to thank me. If not for our enforcement actions, he’d still be a notorious gang member, and ended up seriously injured or dead. So he wanted to express his gratitude to me.

We need passion to be in this line. Whenever there’s a public holiday, for example, we’ll be doing our enforcement rounds. Besides checking for Secret Society members, we want to send the message that we’re around to keep our streets safe.


The Criminal Law Temporary Provisions Act (CLTPA)

The Bill to extend the CLTPA was passed in Parliament on 6 February 2018. The Act keeps Singapore safe and secure by effectively suppressing serious criminal activities. The CLTPA has been used to cripple gangs operating in Singapore and drug trafficking syndicates; against persons involved in loansharking activities; and to detain members of syndicates. In 2017, the CLTPA was used against two armed and violent gangs. In both cases, victims were unwilling or unable to identify their attackers, and while gang members were prepared to give evidence, they would not do so in court, for fear of reprisal. Here are three things you should know about the Act:

1. Amendments to the Act set out in a Schedule, the activities for which the CLTPA can be used. This ensures clarity on which types of activities come be a subject of a Detention Order. In the past: The Minister could order a Detention if he was satisfied that it was necessary in the interests of public safety, peace and good order within Singapore to do so. Now: the Minister can only order the detention if:

  1. he is satisfied that it is necessary in the interests of public safety, peace and good order within Singapore; and

  2. the activity is listed in the Schedule that has been added.

2. Amendments to the Act also introduced what has been called a “finality” clause, i.e. the position that the Minister’s decision on the facts are final. However, the power of the Courts to judicially review the Minister’s decision continues. The Courts retain the power to review the Minister’s decisions under the CLTPA based on the classic judicial review principles of illegality, irrationality and procedural irregularity.

3. Safeguards: Among the safeguards for the CLTPA are: Proposals by the Police or Central Narcotics Bureauto detain a person under the Act or to place him under Police supervision will be looked at carefully, by both senior officials in the Ministry of Home Affairs as well as the Attorney-General’s Chambers. The Minister only issues a Detention Order (DO) or a Police Supervision Order (PSO) after this process, and upon considering the opinions of senior officials. Also, the Minister must get the consent of the Public Prosecutor before making a DO or PSO.

Read the Second Reading Speech and Wrap-up Speech on the CLTPA by Minister for Home Affairs K Shanmugam.
© 2019 Ministry of Home Affairs, Singapore. All Rights Reserved.

  1. by Mike Tan
  2. 07 February 2018
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