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Heroes for Life: Strengthening the community through policing
Mr Tan Ngo Chew was part of the team that pioneered and elevated the concept of Community Policing in Singapore.

In 1983, Mr Tan Ngo Chew, was selected as one of a few officers who would visit Tokyo to study Japan’s Koban police box system.

Then the Officer-in-Charge (OC) of Paya Lebar Police Station, Mr Tan had, prior to the study tour, initiated a few community projects that had begun to strengthen some of the Police’s existing efforts to partner the community in solving crimes.

”It was more to see and study how they (the Japanese Police) operationalised community policing through their setting up of the Koban (‘Police Box’ in Japanese),” recollected Mr Tan.

“Our study visit entailed working with the Koban patrol officers, going on house visits with them and even covering night shifts, street patrols and car roadblocks with them… to get a feel of what it was like, firsthand.”

The intense and detailed Koban immersion programme in Japan led to a revamp of community policing in Singapore and the setting up of the Neighbourhood Police Posts (NPPs). “It showed us the importance of formalising a structure to community policing. So, we reviewed what we had and implemented what we thought suited us,” shared Mr Tan.

Very quickly, the team saw to the implementation of more structured foot and bicycle patrols that were coordinated by the OC NPP in areas which needed more police presence. Regular house or residential visits extended to visits to commercial and industrial areas. The Neighbourhood Watch Group was set up to rope in the help of residents, while the Crime Prevention Council was put together to oversee commercial and industrial premises. To generate greater awareness and create stronger, closer bonds between the community and the Police, exhibitions and events were also organised to share about crime prevention, road safety and many other issues that members of the public were generally concerned about.

“In the early part, when we started the NPPs, some residents would drop by and tell us that they would be going for long holidays, from this period to this period, with some even asking whether we could also help look after their pets. Those were the early days,” said Mr Tan, smilingly. “Of course, we had to turn them down for obvious reasons that we didn’t have trained people to look after pets and so on. They also saw the NPP as a very safe place for their children to wait for their friends or be picked up by their parents, grandparents or transportation to school.”

So successful was the NPP project in garnering the trust of the community that students would also drop by the NPPs to seek help from officers for their school projects on police matters.

“So, the signs were good and the progress was well-received by the residents,” said Mr Tan. “It was a bit labour intensive, but I guess it was a great start and we could review and build upon what we had achieved.”

There were the unsurprising teething issues, of course, such as the need for officers to understand various religious and cultural practices when interacting with closer proximity with the residents.

“Take house visits, for instance. A Chinese or Indian officer might find himself visiting a Muslim family at a wrong time, such as when the family was in the midst of prayers. These were things that we saw coming, so we tried, where possible, to get advice from our own Muslim officers on the time that prayers are conducted. There were also other things we reminded one another… When you enter a home, you should make sure that your shoes are taken out. You should also decline whatever is offered to you... After a couple of visits, we had to ensure that subsequent visits were done when not just one member of the family was around, but the entire family, so that we could get a more wholesome feedback,” added Mr Tan.

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Mr Tan Ngo Chew recounts his role in setting up the early NPPs. PHOTO: Singapore Police Force


The NPPs led to an overall reduction in crime, better traffic solutions to specific spots such as the vicinity of schools, shopping and food areas, among others. “I think these are very typical neighbourhood problems. They are very localised. The NPP officers are best suited to attend to such problems,” expounded Mr Tan.

 

“I think, it (Community Policing) further cemented the already basic, good relationship established between the people and the police. These can be seen by international surveys which give credit to the country and to the Singapore Police Force (SPF) in particular—Singapore is probably one of the safest countries in the world, and all these cannot come about if we don’t get the support of residents.”

Mr Tan received the Medal of the Rising Sun award from the Japanese Government in 2006; testament to the Japanese Government’s confidence in the Singapore Police Force in doing well in community policing.

“More importantly, we helped the Japanese Government to promote community policing to the other parts of the world,” said Mr Tan.

As part of the pioneer team of change agents in the Police, Mr Tan, who was also OC Secret Society and had headed four land divisions (‘F’, ‘B’, ‘E’, and ‘G’), felt honoured to have been selected to pioneer the system.

“I saw it as a challenge for myself to ensure that we do well and deliver… the fruits of community policing. It was a challenge to adopt and localise the Koban within the Singapore context,” he shared.

The success of the NPPs at the void decks and housing estates soon led to the emergence of the current Neighbourhood Police Centres (NPCs) in 1997, where investigation and specialist analytical work could be centralised in one facility in different parts of Singapore. The NPCs’ recent revamp and state-of-the-art technological upgrades, as well as the island-wide roll-out of community policing or COPS in 2012, has all served the community well.

When asked for his views on the NPPs’ transformation into the bigger NPCs of today, Mr Tan, ever the proponent of continual change, excitedly offered: “It is better coordinated, and… I think we will be doing a disservice to the SPF and to community policing if we do not (continue to) improve.

The fact that we have gone into NPCs is the right thing to do… I think the challenge now is where we go from here. Whichever way we go, I am confident that we will better perform community policing as compared to the very beginning, during the establishment of the first pioneer NPP service.”

Join the Home Team in celebrating our pioneers at our Tribute to HT Pioneers Exhibition @ the Home Team Academy from 28 to 30 May 2015!

*All stories are based on first-hand accounts of the officers. The Ministry of Home Affairs will not be held liable for any factual inaccuracy.

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


  1. by Mabelle Yeo
  2. 14 May 2015
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