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ASP Steven Koh - the classic "tough guy" cop
Police Life Monthly - May 1997
ASP Stephen Koh instills fear and awe in the hearts of criminals and officers. Police Life Writer Nisar Keshvani engages in a nail-biting interview and brings you a personal account of the legend.

Walking into ASP Stephen Koh's office in the Police Academy is like flipping a page in history.

When I was enlisted, he was reputed to be the most feared man in the entire Force. If we encountered him on his normal rounds feeding his beloved cats and fishes, some would greet him but carefully keep our distance while others would simply stand speechless in awe.

As I entered his office, the first thing that struck me was a personally autographed photograph of former President Wee Kim Wee. Handwritten on it was a note by President Wee that read: "Insp Stephen Koh, I wish you continuing success."

No ordinary officer
ASP Koh is no ordinary officer, and the numerous certificates and commendations highlighting his bravery on his office walls say it all.

As a newcomer to the Force, I had only heard tales of the man. Many told me he was greatly feared by criminals in the '80s and that he was one of the toughest men in the Police Tactical Team (PTT), now known as STAR. Stories had it that he never baulked at confronting criminals in armed combat and that he even patrolled the grounds in the middle of the night in full battle gear.

ASP Koh laughs it all off. "It's true I am a perfectionist and demand the best from my men but I am just an ordinary person, and I don't know where all those stories come from," he says.

Mortal Kombat
"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," he observed.

He recalls how, during a hostage situation in a bus, 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.

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. During the early days, the Police Tactical Team was a motley crew of officers from the 8 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," said ASP Koh.

Leading by example
Presently he is OC Operations and Fitness at the Academy. A staunch believer in the philosophy of leading by example, ASP Koh has 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.

A softer side
As the interview unfolded, I discovered a softer side to ASP Koh. He dotes on his children and grandchildren and dedicates much time to them.

His other two loves are singing and fishing. And he also has a special love for animals. The Police Academy's precious cats, fishes and aviary birds are maintained by him and he takes special care of the pond outside the PA Mess.

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 ASP Koh of this, he laughed.

Making toughness a tradition
But ASP Koh really is a tough character. Says 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."

The toughness seems to run in the family for ASP Koh. One of his two sons is a Major with the SAF Commandos Unit. The other left the Red Berets after his NS.

When asked if his children were proud of him and if their friends knew about his illustrious career, he said: "Of course, they are proud, just as I am proud of them and I believe their friends have heard of me because I have worked with some of their colleagues too. Our paths cross, but I guess that is part of life."

Well, with men like them around, ASP Koh's legacy will definitely live on.


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