Published: 06 February 2020
Commissioner Wee Teck,
Home Team Colleagues,
Partners and Community Members,
A very good morning to everyone here.
1. We are here for the SPF200 Exhibition. It is a whole-year celebration of SPF 200 years in Singapore’s 201st year.
2. The exhibits offer very good insights into that 200-year journey.
The SPF’s Role in Singapore’s Development
3. The Police started out with a 12-man team. Today, the SPF is a 15,000-strong professional force. Highly respected, highly regarded.
4. If we go back to the early colonial times - there were many challenges in the law and order situation. New migrants - they brought with them their old practices, gambling, prostitution, opium. Secret societies. And between the different groups, races, communities, there were conflicts and unrest.
5. Police officers under the colonial administration then were underpaid and ill-equipped. They faced an uphill battle in the early days.
6. Police officers often put their lives on the line, to keep law and order. But over time, their capabilities grew. The first patrol sector boundaries were established, and uniforms standardised, by 1846. Specialised units like the Marine Police and Detective Branch were also formed about 20 years later, 1866. And that continued providing some law and order.
7. Then came World War II and the established orders were swept away. Social disorder became the norm. You had substantial conflicts; people of different ideologies; Communists and their supporters; unions which were also infiltrated by the Communists; public unrest in schools, often in Chinese middle schools; and racial and religious disputes.
8. We also had one of the defining moments of our post-second World War history - the Maria Hertogh riots. That brought home the need for effective public order response capabilities, and led to the formation of the Riot Squad, now known as the Special Operations Command (SOC), with their very distinctive red berets and anti-riot vehicles which will be familiar to all Singaporeans.
9. And from then on, from the 1950s to the 1960s, independence in Singapore - again a different situation. With a challenging picture, in terms of violent crime, drug abuse, gambling syndicates - they were rising in number. Our population growth was explosive in those days. And it is a tragedy seen in many places in the world, where if you are a young population growing up, with lots of teenagers, crime tends to be high. Particularly among men or, young men. Crime patterns also changed with HDB living – which led to more housebreaking.
10. Facing all these challenges, the Government decided to form the Police Academy in 1969 and expanded recruitment. By the mid-1970s, there was tough and effective law enforcement and a strong framework of laws, with support from the Government for effective Police law enforcement, and through the Courts as well. The crime rate was brought to the lowest since independence in the first ten years. That underpinned the peace and security that in turn led to Singapore’s growth in the social and economic sectors.
11. Law and order is an essential, a sine qua non, before you can get peace, security and economic growth, and for people to go about their day-to-day lives.
The Role of the Community in Creating a Safe Society
12. The role of the SPF in the community is one part of the story. The role the community has played in partnering SPF for the safety and security of our society is an equally important part in the story.
13. I can offer a few examples. The first Volunteer Special Constabulary unit was formed in 1946, almost three quarters of a century ago. At that time, it was a small force; today, it is made up of more than a thousand community members. They give their time after their day jobs, they partner our regular Police officers, and they join patrols and other police duties.
14. In 1964, during the Confrontation, more than 10,000 people from all walks of life came forward to help the Police in their street patrols against saboteurs. One example is the experience of one of our retired officers, Deputy Superintendent Chan Soo Wah. One day in 1969, he was on duty, attending to several bomb hoax incidents. Towards the end of the day, he was tired, fatigued. He saw a paper bag containing a shoebox. He did not recognise it as a potential threat and was about to kick it. But an elderly Indian shopkeeper rushed forward, stopped him and told him this could be a bomb. It was a bomb and it was later detonated safely.
15. DSP Chan unfortunately did not get the name of the Indian Police volunteer, but to this day, he knows that he owes his life to that volunteer. So this spirit of community volunteerism and partnership with the Police has been channelled into a variety of initiatives, including the Neighbourhood Watch Schemes that we have today.
16. In the 1980s, the Police explored new ways to directly engage residents in fighting crime. Besides the Neighbourhood Watch Schemes, we also have the NCPC (the National Crime Prevention Council), as well as the NPPs (Neighbourhood Police Posts) and the NPCs (Neighbourhood Police Centres) that were set up to bring policing to the heartlands.
17. Civic-mindedness, social responsibility, respect for the Police, partnership with the Police, came to characterise Singapore society and they play an incredible part in the maintenance of peace and order that we enjoy today. I tell all my visitors, when you go out there, that this is one of the most law-abiding and safe cities in the world
18. But that maintenance of law and order and safety is not by having thousands and thousands of officers on the streets. It is maintained, despite the absence of such officers, and despite the fact that it is a relatively lean force.
19. That’s because the whole society has been conditioned to generally be law-abiding and it relies on a number of certainties. If there is an infraction of the law, there will be an investigation. It doesn’t depend on who you are, whoever you are, there will be an investigation. Second, it is likely that you will get caught and the likelihood of escaping is very low. Third, it’s likely that you will get charged and you will get convicted. Not that everyone who gets charged gets convicted, but the system is such that if you are innocent, you are most unlikely to be charged, but if you are guilty, you are likely to be charged and likely to be found guilty. So with those three certainties, there is an aspect and approach to keeping out crime.
20. SPF continues to prioritise community policing. 2019 was the 20th year of Citizens on Patrol (COP). 5,000 volunteers work with the Police, as ears and eyes on the ground. They help deter crimes like car theft, molestation on public transport and raise awareness of serial crimes in neighbourhoods. The volunteers who take part in it also get enthused enough to want to join the SPF.
21. Last year, at the COP’s 20th anniversary celebrations, an eighteen-year-old student, who had joined the COP after being present at a talk in school, inspired her mother and friend to volunteer with her. She said that her experience as a COP has not only taught her crime prevention, but also built her self-confidence. She aspires to be a Police officer after she graduates.
22. There are many other examples of our community partners – individuals, grassroots associations, hotels, businesses and public agencies. They continue to play an essential role in keeping Singapore safe, together with the Police.
Tackling the Challenges Ahead
23. In the last ten years, we have given a lot of thought to current, ongoing as well as future challenges. A number have forced themselves on us, like terrorism, radicalisation. Others may have to be prepared for, even though they are not here today.
24. We have prepared both the legal framework as well as reshaped most of the Police force, and the Home Team itself. Laws have been enhanced, new laws have been introduced – including the amendments to the Penal Code last year, and the introduction of the Organised Crime Act. A number of other important pieces of legislation have also been announced in the past two, three years.
25. On the physical side, SPF has built new capabilities – the Emergency Response Teams, the Anti-Scam Centre, and of course the Home Team Science and Technology Agency, or HTX, to bring the use of technology in Home Team to a different level.
26. This SPF200 Exhibition, titled “From Frontier Town to Safest City” provides an overview of Singapore’s policing journey over two centuries.
27. I hope that not just Police officers, but certainly Police officers and Home Team officers, but also other Singaporeans, will be encouraged and choose to spend a little bit of time here, learning more about the history of the Police. It is also a history of Singapore and a history of how our nation has progressed.
28. This 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.
29. I congratulate and thank the SPF for its 200 years of service and long may it continue.
30. Thank you.