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Obituary: ASP (Retd) Stephen Koh – Goodbye to an SPF Legend ...


Meeting ASP Koh in 1995, 1997 and 2005
In all honesty, I only met ASP (Retd) Stephen Koh three times in my life.

First in September 1995, as a 19-year-old recruit at the Singapore Police Academy (Thomson Road) – whilst performing cleaning duties near his “adopted” pond outside the Academy mess, where he reared his prized fish. I remember trainers warning us as we cleaned the pond that if any one of the fishes died, our fate would lie in the hands of ASP Koh. When I told him this, he just laughed.

Next, at his office in May 1997, when interviewing him as a national service police reporter, months before his retirement from the Force. This too, after much persuasion from Supt (Retd) Chin Fook Leong, his close friend, and the then Deputy Director of Police Public Affairs Department. He only allowed us to feature him in a new profile section of Police Life Monthly if he kept the story simple and focused on him rather than his achievements.

And the last, in December 2005, as a reservist, working on a documentary entitled: “My Police Academy: 1929 – 2005”, paying tribute to the Thomson Road Academy as it closed its training doors before shifting to the new Home Team Academy in Choa Chu Kang.

On all three occasions, though, the impression he left on me and my peers go beyond what words can describe.

ASP Koh – the decorated officer
So who is ASP Koh, you ask?

ASP Koh, was Officer in Charge (OC) of the Police Tactical Team (PTT). During the early days, the PTT was a motley crew of officers from the eight troops in SOC, a band of volunteers who served even on their off days for a monthly allowance of $50. “My success was due to these volunteers. We were like family and I gave them fatherly advice when I could,” ASP Koh told us.

The PTT was re-organised in 1993 into the Special Tactics and Rescue (STAR) team with a dedicated armed response team under the Special Operations Command.

ASP Stephen Koh

 

When we first interviewed him in 1997, he was hesitant to allow us to acknowledge this – more out of humility than anything else but today, we can safely say that ASP Koh is also the man who shot the notorious gunman Lim Keng Peng aka Ah Huat, who had earlier killed a restaurant owner. Ah Huat also shot PC 3649 Goh Ah Khia on 18 December 1985 at Jalan Pelikat – PC Goh passed away in hospital a few hours later.

When relating the fateful day when the officers met Ah Huat once again at a coffeeshop at Sunset Way, Clementi, in a 1988 shoot-out, he said: “Yes, I did face situations in which some officers would have gone weak in the knees. If I said I was not afraid then, I would be a liar. But I guess it’s the training that steels your nerves.”

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"Yes, I did face situations in which some officers would have gone weak in the knees. If I said I was not afraid then, I would be a liar. But I guess it’s the training that steels your nerves."

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He also shared with us another landmark case - the 1978 Seng Poh Road, Tiong Bahru bus hijacking.He recalled how robbers when fleeing from the police, jumped onto a bus (with passengers) and held them hostage.

He recalled how, during the hostage bus situation, two gunmen seized two ladies and shot the bus driver. ASP Koh had three seconds to make his decision and from a distance of 40 – 50 feet, he immobilised the gunman. The bullet hit the windscreen, split into two and struck the gunman in the arm and the core of the bullet injured his chest. “I guess luck was not on his side,” ASP Koh said wryly.

For his bravery, he and other police officers were commended by the then-President Wee Kim Wee and he was promoted from Inspector to Assistant Superintendent of Police.

Leading by example
On paper, these were ASP Koh’s accomplishments acquired through his 35-year uniformed career.

But the deepest impressions he left on me were the philosophies he spouted during our brief conversations. A staunch believer in leading by example, ASP Koh always encouraged esprit de corps among his officers.

“I believe a policeman’s life is very precious. If anyone has to die it should be me. A commander’s responsibility is to ensure that every person is accounted for and no unnecessary risk is taken,” says ASP Koh.

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"I believe a policeman's life is very precious. If anyone has to die it should be me. A commander's responsibility is to ensure that every person is accounted for and no unnecessary risk is taken"

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Tough-guy Cop
He also shared with us how, during his early days with PTT as volunteers they trained with the Armed Forces, and learnt rappelling techniques from seasoned foreign officers. Volunteer or regular, for him, it was no guts, no glory and the pursuit of excellence.

Recalled Course Manager SSgt Eric Phoon, his former colleague at PTT: “Even though we were not professionals in those days, he would practise new rapelling techniques on his own. I remember once after we came back from a Commando course, we showed him and he did it without a second thought. He has suffered numerous injuries in his time, and recently went for an operation.”

A Humble Officer
He heartily recalled his humble beginnings as a police constable in 1962, and his days as a trainee at the Academy. During those times, recruits were issued a wooden box instead of a cupboard to store their police gear, and when policemen wore khaki shorts instead of the blues we see today.

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"An SPF legend has officially checked out of duty” and now leaves behind a legacy for the next generation.

Ms Kittybond Koo
Deputy Director
Ministry of Home Affairs,
Heritage Development Unit

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“I was a trainee in 1962. SI SaSa once caught me whistling at women police officers and as punishment, I had to stay in for three solid weekends. My task was to push a wheelbarrow of cleaning gear up this hill with Sgt Hassan, as we scrubbed and cleaned the Academy grounds. I will never forget that,” he recalled.

Goodbye ASP Koh! An SPF legend has checked out of duty …
As we pay our last respects, say our goodbyes and bid farewell to ASP Koh whether in individual silence or in uniformed unity, we salute this classic tough-guy cop and thank him for putting his life on the line time and again for fellow Singaporeans.

In the same breath, we salute past, current and future officers – identified or unnamed – for serving the nation and keeping crime at bay.

ASP Koh – as Ms Kittybond Koo, Deputy Director, Ministry of Home Affairs Heritage Development Unit, aptly describes: “an SPF legend has officially checked out of duty” and now leaves behind a legacy for the next generation.


The writer, Nisar Keshvani is a consultant, educator and journalist. During his National Service (1996 – 1998), he was Police Life writer.
     

ASP (Retd) Stephen Koh – Brief Biography
ASP Koh joined the Force as a constable on April 16, 1962 and served at Geylang Police Station. He later moved on to the Police Coast Guard and then to his legendary stint with the PTT. He retired as OC Fitness and Training, Police Academy and then from 2005 was attached to AETOS where he was trainer. He was last interviewed on video for the documentary – My Police Academy: 1929 – 2005. He passed away on 27 February 2010, at the age of 66.
Click here to read: 'ASP Steven Koh - the classic "tough guy" cop'

 
My Police Academy: 1929 - 2005 (12 mins)
By Effandi Mohamed, Ho Ser Ching and Nisar Keshvani 
Synopsis

During its 76-year history, the Police Academy has seen thousands of officers pass through its gates. The times, uniforms, skills, training and people have changed but the Police Academy at Thomson Road, as a training ground remained the same.

"My Police Academy: 1929 – 2005" is a 12-minute video tribute. The montage sequences are peppered with legendary police officers like DAC Ang Hak Seng, DAC Loy Chye Meng, ASP (Retd) Stephen Koh, ASP (Retd) C V Gabriel, INSP (NS) Dominic Chan Jin Hou, INSP (NS) Lawrence Yap, INSP (NS) Tan Siang Meng, SI George Pillay, SSSgt (Retd) Rengasamy Muthuveran, SSSgt (Retd) Madavy Nair, T/Sgt's Desmond Liang Chew Wei Bin, Choy Wei Hao, Fadhli Fadzli, and TS/Cpl Jayaganesh. 

From shooting, fitness, classroom to the morning parade call, it captures the everyday life of a trainee. Police officers reminisce trainee life in the 60s, describe changes in training philosophy, and recount romance and friendship in the Academy's rustic environment.

Click here for more information on My Police Academy: 1929 - 2005 (12 mins)
Read the story, 'To my Academy - 76 glorious years', and visit the accompanying photo gallery.

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