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Insights from a SPEAR Veteran
The Singapore Prisons Emergency Action Response (SPEAR) Force marks its 40th anniversary on 1 December 2017. We caught up with Senior Chief Warder 2 Zainal Haron, SPEAR’s longest current serving officer, on what defines his career in this elite unit.

How long have you been with SPEAR?

I’ve been in SPEAR for about 27 years. I first joined the Singapore Prison Service (SPS) in 1986 and after four years, I decided to join the original SPEAR force, then known as the Special Action Prisons Unit (SAPU).

Why did you want to join SPEAR?

It was all fuelled by passion. I thought to myself, “in times of inmate unrest, who will be there to resolve the problem?” That’s why I chose to join the then-SAPU.

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PHOTO: Mike Tan

Tell us about the work of SPEAR officers.

We assist SPS officers in handling non-compliant inmates. We will intervene when necessary. Our expertise lies in using softer options like beanbag rounds and soft projectiles. We also share our tactics and insights with other Home Team units as only SPEAR has this unique expertise.

How often has SPEAR been activated?

We have had no major incidents so far. The inmates are aware of SPEAR’s existence and they know we are always ready. Sometimes we are activated to respond to minor disturbances, and it is important for us to be on standby at all times.

We conduct regular operational exercises, which remind the inmates that SPEAR is ready to respond to any crisis, riot or hostage scenario. This also helps with deterrence.

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PHOTO: Desmond Ang

What are some things that SPS officers should consider if they want to join SPEAR?

SPEAR officers must be ever ready and committed to the job. We have two roles; we are rehabilitation officers and we are also a response force. So we need to balance our roles well. In addition to our responsibilities at SPEAR, we also have to keep up-to-date with our “jailcraft” as we are Prison officers, regardless of our posting. Prison officers have to be prepared to take on more rehabilitative responsibilities in the future, so we have to keep abreast of the latest developments in our work.

Working in SPS requires you to take on shift work. Has this affected your family life?

I have been married for over 20 years and have three grown-up sons. My family understands the hours that come with my job and they have been very supportive of me.

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PHOTO: Desmond Ang

How has your work in SPEAR influenced your sons?

My youngest son is currently serving National Service (NS) with the Singapore Police Force. I am very proud of what he and my other children have achieved in life. I feel that they have put into practice what I taught them, and given their best effort in everything they do.

Growing up, I always remind them that we, as Home Team officers, take on a special responsibility when we wear the uniform. Even after my two eldest sons have joined the workforce, I still remind them to be professional in their jobs, and sincere in whatever they do.

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Commissioner of Prisons Mr Desmond Chin inspecting the SPEAR Guard-of-Honour at a parade held in conjunction with SPEAR’s 40th anniversary. PHOTO: SPEAR

How do you feel about SPEAR celebrating its 40th anniversary this year? 

I feel proud and honoured to be part of SPEAR, which has grown from its humble beginnings forty years ago to, I dare say, one of the best Prison elite units in the world currently.

We participate in international competitions such as the Office of Law Enforcement Technology Commercialisation (OLETC) Mock Prison Riot where we showcase our tactical know-how and learn from counterparts from other leading prisons, correctional and law enforcement agencies. SPEAR did very well in the 2015 Mock Prison Riot, clinching champion and 1st runner–up titles in the individual and team categories respectively. We also organise the biennial Asian Prisons Lockdown Challenge (APLC) to enhance tactical capabilities, knowledge exchange in prisons and correctional services in the region.


Part of the SPS, SPEAR ensures the safe and secure custody of inmates and maintains a safe working environment for all Prison officers. The Force is an elite team trained to respond immediately to contain emergency security breaches and mitigate and resolve unrest within Singapore’s 13 prisons and drug rehabilitation centres. Today, from its dedicated base within the Changi Prison Complex, SPEAR complements Prison officers to ensures smooth operations across all SPS institutions.

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Commissioner of Prisons Mr Desmond Chin in a group photo after unveiling a new monument commemorating 40 years of SPEAR. PHOTO: SPEAR

Find out more about SPEAR in our previous story:
The Road to becoming a SPEAR Officer

© 2019 Ministry of Home Affairs, Singapore. All Rights Reserved.

  1. by Desmond Ang
  2. 01 December 2017
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