Published: 10 November 2023
Commissioner of Police Hoong Wee Teck
Police and HT colleagues
Ladies and Gentlemen
1. The SOC’s 70th anniversary is a significant milestone, not just for the Police force but also for Singapore.
2. Pre-independence, particularly in the 1950s, we faced ethnic clashes, riots, violent crimes.
3. One well-known example, in 1950 was the Maria Hertogh riots; 18 people died, including one Police officer, more than 170 were injured. The lesson that the British Colonial authorities at that time learnt, was that strong public order capabilities were needed.
4. In response, the Reserve Unit was formed in 1953, with 150 officers. That was the beginning of the SOC.
5. Two years later, in 1955, we had the Hock Lee bus riots. Four people died, 31 were injured; fierce clashes. The Reserve Unit was called in and it helped to manage the situation.
6. Then, in the late 1970s, the Police Tactical Team was formed. This was a response to a number of serious criminal incidents, violent criminal incidents, organised crime, and global terrorism. The PTT is now the Special Tactics and Rescue Unit, or STAR, part of the SOC.
7. In these 70 years, the SOC has grown significantly. Today, it has more than 900 officers – capable, well-trained, and well-regarded. Looking at you, everyone can know how far the SOC and SPF has come even in the last 10 years.
8. In Singapore, we have, over the years, built a strong framework of laws and social policies that has helped to keep peace, make people lives better, and generally therefore helped reduce violence within Singapore.
9. For example, we have the Public Order and Safety (Special Powers) Act, or POSSPA. Under POSSPA, Police have powers to act, to deal with terrorist attacks, and acts of serious violence.
10. Our Public Order Act also gives the Police the powers to intervene early, and minimise public order risks upstream.
11. The Government, and religious and community leaders, have also worked very hard to ensure religious and racial harmony. Government policies have meant that: (1) Incomes have gone up, (2) people’s needs are generally taken care of, and (3) we have managed to preserve racial and religious harmony. These efforts have meant that there haven’t been many serious public order incidents in Singapore in the recent decades.
12. But you need to be prepared. Case in point – Hong Kong.
13. Hong Kong Police were known as “Asia’s Finest”. They were well-trained, highly respected.
14. Four years ago, you had widespread protests which broke out over a proposed extradition law. There were also some underlying socio-economic issues.
15. I have spoken about this several times: (1) How agent provocateurs, saboteurs, infiltrated the protests, (2) How some of the media portrayed the police in very negative light, supported the rioters, and (3) How the HKPF was handicapped by their law – they could not intervene to stop protest until the protests got violent.
16. We all know – by the time the protests turn violent, Police are in a very difficult situation. It is almost impossible to deal with it without resorting to force. Overnight, the situation in HK changed.
17. And in other parts of the world, we also see other examples:
(a) 2021 Capitol Hill riots in the US saw far-right extremist groups storming the Capitol building, causing massive physical damage and hundreds of injuries.
(b) New Zealand: 2019 Christchurch attack, one gunman fatally shot 51 people in two mosques.
(c) In France: the 2015 Paris attacks saw terrorists using live news coverage to monitor the Police’s every movement, and hampering the Police from rescuing the hostages.
18. The role of the Government is to try to deal with societal issues and fault lines upfront, and create policies that bring about harmony and peace. And the goal is to avoid situations reaching the point where the SOC would need to be activated in the first place.
19. But as we saw from the examples above, situations can turn negative very quickly. Thus, the measure of SOC’s performance, if and when activated, will be how effectively, how appropriately, and how quickly, the situations can be resolved or neutralised.
Continued Investment into SOC
20. So, we will continue with our policies and laws, to try to ensure order, peace and stability – but we will also continue to invest heavily in troops like the SOC, and strengthen your capabilities.
21. Investment starts from the officers – in terms of selection and training.
22. All of you here today know that selection into the SOC is very stringent. This is a vocation that requires tremendous resilience – emotional and physical resilience – to deal with the risks and pressures of the job.
23. Once selected, you are then put through intensive training, to equip our officers with the tactical capabilities needed to be able to take firm, decisive action, so that you have the emotional resilience to remain calm and effective in times of severe stress.
24. The selection and training process, I’m told, is no walk in the park. It involves pushing officers to their limits.
25. And then, to support our officers, we also invest in the latest technologies, and equipment like tactical UAVs, camera systems mounted on K-9s, so that officers have the capabilities they need to succeed, and to stay safe.
26. SOC has been, will continue to be, a steady, professional force that Singapore can rely on.
27. To past and present SOC officers, including full-time NS officers and reservist troops, thank you for your service and dedication to this mission.
28. Congratulations to the SOC on your 70th anniversary and we wish many more good years ahead to you. Thank you.