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Cause before self
What makes an officer a hero
Police Life Annual 1997
Singapore has changed over time and so has the Singapore Police Force. It has come a long way since its tough, gang-busting, riot-packed days. Operating in a more tranquil environment where law and order is prevalent, the SPF’s concerns have shifted more towards improving services to the public that are not always directly related to criminal matters.

The “soft approach” to policing however, has in no way diminished SPF’s ability to control crime. Indeed, its spectacular success in reducing the overall crime rate over the last eight years clearly demonstrates that it has sharpened its edge where crime control is concerned.

While its heroes today still continue to be “ tough cops” who can match physically and mentally the toughest and smartest criminals, it is just as proud of its less sensational but equally courageous officers who put cause before self in serving the community.

In this article, we look at the outstanding deeds of some of these officers, from the old days to the present, and acknowledge the many others whose unsung achievements have helped mould the SPF into a world class enforcement agency.

Thousands of police officers are trained to use the revolver but a very tiny percentage will have the occasion to use it in field action throughout their service. How they will actually fare in an emergency is impossible to predict because in mortal combat conditions, things happen so quickly; reflex action, impulse, intuition and the survival instinct tend to influence one’s actions more than logic and textbook techniques. Thus it is in such situations that an officer shows his true mettle.

The following story is about a courageous police office who kept a cool head when he was taken hostage by an armed criminal, and who, at the first opportunity risked his life to get the better of his captor.

“A Date With Death”
DSI Anthony Low

A criminal points a loaded revolver at an office and says: “Today is either my day or yours…or we die together.”

Sounds like a scene from a detective novel or an action movie? Maybe, but it actually took place. The officer looking into the gun barrel that fateful day on 6 June 1974 was D/Sgt Anthony Low, now a DSI.

It all began one morning at a finance company in Alexandra Road when a man walked in and demanded $10,000 from the manageress. The events that unfolded from that fateful moment on constituted a drama so bizarre it would have defied the imagination of the most creative crime writers.

To prove that he was not to be trifled with, the man told the manageress Ms Ng that it was he who had earlier robbed and killed a money changer in Tanglin Road. He then went on to tell her that he needed the $10,000 to buy two revolvers and six grenades with which he intended to use to rob a diamond dealer of $400,000!

Unfortunately, he underestimated the courage of the manageress, who coolly told him she did not keep that kind of money and that she would have to get it from the bank. The man agreed to accompany Ms Ng to the bank. While preparing to go with him, Ms Ng slipped a note to her assistant, instructing her to call the CID. Immediately after Ms Ng and the robber left the office, her assistant called the CID. D/Sgt Anthony Low and four other officers rushed to the office where they were told that Ms Ng and the man have headed for a mortgage company in Shaw House, Orchard rd. The detective headed straight for Shaw House.

Ms Ng entered the bank while the man waited outside. She came out a little while later and told him that the cheque would take time to clear. The man accepted the excuse, saying he would come to her office later to pick up the cash.

D/Sgt Low and his team arrived at the bank and identified Ms Ng’s car outside but saw no sign of the man. He approached Ms Ng who told him the man would be coming to her office to collect the money later.

The detectives took up ambush position in Ms Ng’s office and waited for the man. Another two detectives turned as reinforcements. By this time Ms Ng had given details of her encounter with the man. She told D/Sgt Low that the man had shown her a gun with two bullets in it, and that he had threatened to kill her is she failed to meet his demands or called the police.

12.00 noon
The man called Ms Ng on the telephone to inform her that he was coming. She stalled, telling him she was engaged with a couple of clients and that he should come at 12.30pm instead.

In preparation for his arrival, detectives took up positions outside the bank while D/Sgt Low sat behind a typewrite pretending to be a member of the staff.

The man arrived at the office and D/Sgt Low recognised him immediately as Chua Hung Pheng, also known as “Gia Kang” (“The Centipede”), a gunman who D/Sgt Low had arrested once before. Gia Kang looked around the bank, and suddenly decided to leave heading quickly for the front door.

D/Sgt Low rushed out after the gunman, signalling his colleagues to join in the pursuit. The gunman headed for a neighbouring blocks of flats. The detectives arrived at the block only to discover that their suspect has disappeared. They searched the stairs and the field adjacent to the block and concluded that he must have gone up the block.

The detectives fanned out all over the stairs and corridors and D/Sgt Low climbed one of the staircases. On reaching the 14th floor, D/Sgt Low was ambushed by Gia Kang who pointed a gun at him and demanded that he surrendered his service revolver. D/Sgt Low tried to talk but was strucked twice on the head with the butt of the revolver.

With his gun pointed at D/Sgt Low’s waist, the gunman relieved D/Sgt Low of his service revolver and raised it against the officer’s temple. He then ordered D/Sgt Low to ensure his safe passage to the ground floor.

With his revolver tucked into his waist, D/Sgt Low locked firmly one arm, and revolver pointed at D/Sgt Low’s head, the gunman moved down the stairs. He instructed D/Sgt Low to warn his men not to fire.

D/Sgt Low acted instinctively and grabbed the revolver from the gunman’s grip. As he was doing so, the gunman jumped down the last few steps, turned around and withdrew his own revolver. He tried to fire, but D/Sgt Low beat him to it, pumping three bullets into him.

The gunman collapsed. D/Sgt Low approached to apprehend him, but realised that Gia Kang was already dead.

“I guess I was lucky to come out of it alive. They were a mean bunch of criminals in those days,” said DSI Low.

D/Sgt Low was awarded the Police Gallantry Medal by President Benjamin Sheares for his tenacity in a moment of danger.

A shoot-out is almost always a gamble. You fire your revolver hoping that you will not miss, hoping the other man firing at you will miss. As long as you are on your feet firing, you feel you have a fair chance and will be inclined to continue the fight. The situation changes when you are hit because you are now a casualty. You can pull out of the fight if you choose and still be commended.

It takes a very brave man to struggle to his feet and continue fighting even after being hit, especially when he is outnumbered. That is precisely what DSI G Madhavan did. It took three bullets to stop him but he survived – and his efforts helped his colleagues round up an armed gang eventually.

“Down, But Not Out”
DSI G Madhavan

On Saturday 4 June 1988, DSI G Madhavan (then a D/Sgt) drove to Fook Hai Building to pick up his wife on his way home.

As he waited in the car park chatting with some friends, he heard three loud bangs that sounded like gun shots.

A few seconds later, two men came running out of the building pursued by a man shouting, “Robbery! Robbery! Police! Catch them!” Unknown to DSI Madhavan at that time, five armed men had just robbed a nearby money-changer, seriously injuring the owner and were making their getaway with thousands of dollars in their possession.

DSI Madhavan instinctively gave chase. As he and his fellow-pursuer (who turned out to be a shop assistant at the money–changer’s) kept up the pursuit, the robbers jumped into their getaway car and drove off. Unfortunately for them, their getaway was blocked by traffic stopping at a nearby traffic light junction.

Although the shop assistant shouted to DSI Madhavan that the men were armed, it did not deter the officer from confronting them. He rushed up to the car, flung open one of its doors, identified himself as a police officer and ordered them to pull up.

One of the men sitting in the back seat responded by pulling out a revolver and shooting point blank at DSI Madhavan. The CID officer heard a loud bang, and then a sharp pain as a bullet tore into his shoulder throwing him violently to the ground. Blood spurted out, turning his shirt bright red.

“I will not forget that moment for a long time to come,” he said. “It wasn’t the pain that was on my mind – it was my life flashing before my eyes. I had this vision of my wife, my kids and my family calling, and running towards me. But that passed very quickly, I knew what I had to do.”

DSI Madhavan drew his own revolver, got to his feet and fired back at his attackers, injuring three, one seriously. But it was a costly effort, because the robbers in turn pumped another two bullets into his chest, downing him for the second time.

The robbers managed to drive off, leaving a heroic casualty in their wake. Though DSI Madhavan knew his situation was critical, he remained cool and in control. When a second shop assistant came to his rescue, he instructed him to call the police, giving him clear descriptions of the men and the getaway vehicle. He also requested that shop assistant to inform Mrs. Madhavan of what had happened.

DSI Madhavan’s vehicle description helped the police locate the getaway car. The robbers had abandoned it, leaving one dead robber in it, as well as weapons, clothing and even a black briefcase full of foreign currency. Thanks to DSI Madhavan’s descriptions of the men, the rest of the gang was quickly identified and arrested at Bras Basah Park and Changi Airport.

For his valour in the face of extreme danger, D/Sgt Madhavan was accorded a field promotion from Sgt to DSI. In addition he was awarded the Pingat Polis Keberanian or Medal of Valour by President Wee Kim Wee.

Cpl Low did not risk his life in a shoot-out. But he risked it all the same, to save the life of a woman who was going to jump off a building and who could have taken him with her. At the time he carried out his rescue manoeuvre, he was aware of the risk. But he also knew that if he didn’t act, there was a real danger she would jump. He felt the risk was worth it, and he took it. His selfless act saved her life.

“Going To The Edge”
Cpl Low Han Seng

Cpl Low Han Seng of Geylang Police Division and his colleagues were summoned to investigate a case of attempted suicide. It had been reported that a woman was about to jump off an apartment block. When they arrived at the scene, it was pouring. Cpl Low and his patrolman rushed to the block leaving the driver to park the vehicle.

Cpl Low discovered then that his driver did not have a portable radio set. So he instructed the patrolman to get back to the Fast Response Car so that the patrolman could maintain contact with Operations Room while he checked out the floor on which the attempted suicide was reported to be taking place.

When he reached the floor, there was not a soul in sight along the balcony. On a suspicion, Cpl Low investigated the landing. He discovered that the trap door leading to the roof was wide open.

His first thought was that the woman had gone up to the roof and his second thought was one of fear – had she jumped? He rushed up to the roof and was relieved to discover that his first thought had been right – the woman was indeed there. But he was chilled to see that she was right at the edge of the roof, all ready to jump. Cpl Low knew that he had to move very cautiously because the woman was obviously distraught and unpredictable, and likely to jump if subjected to any further pressure. Recalling everything he had learnt during his training, Cpl Low spoke in the softest and most soothing tone that he could muster. And as he spoke, he advanced slowly towards her.

The woman did not respond to his soft approach but she did not seem intimidated by his presence either, allowing him to get quite close. It was only when he was within reach of her that Cpl Low realised how close to the edge she was. Cpl Low was perturbed by her lack of response. He knew that in the state she was in, she could throw herself off the edge at any second.

The best course of action was to grab hold of her and drag her away from the edge by force. It would have to be done quickly and decisively. Hopefully, she might be easy to subdue. But what if she put up a fight, and worse still, what if she grabbed him and leaped off, taking him down with her? She was close enough to the edge, literally and mentally, to do that.

Cpl Low decided that grabbing her was the only option, all risks considered, and that was exactly what he did.

“I’m lucky she did not resist because I was off balance when I caught her – if she had jumped off at that very moment. I would surely have gone down with her,” said Cpl Low.

While Cpl Low was engaged in this unnerving rooftop drama trying to defuse a panic situation, his crewmen were panicking elsewhere in the building. For a start they did not know where he was. Secondly, something had gone wrong with his portable radio set. Maybe the rain had affected it, but the distress signal on it had been activated, and Operations Room personnel had been thrown into a frenzy.

They were relieved when they found Cpl Low safe and sound, and even more relieved to see that he had rescued the woman. It turned out later that the woman was an Indonesian working in Singapore who had been severely traumatized upon hearing news of her father’s death.

Cpl Low admitted that when he joined the force (about two years before the attempted suicide case occurred), he had hoped to do his bit in battling crime, something like the police officers portrayed in the TV series ‘Triple Nine”. He conceded that the TV series was only fiction, and that in real life, police officers deal with more than just crime. But he was modest about his rescue case, for which he received the Commander’s Award.

“Honestly, policemen face a million and one different situations in one tour,” he said. “And I am sure every officer has his fair share of heroic tales. It’s just part of the job.”

Sgt Rose Abdullah had served for 25 years in the SPF and was a mother of six children. She probably never thought of herself as being a particular heroic sort of person. Yet, when a young boy found himself in difficulty while swimming at a beach, she did not hesitate to jump into the water to try saving him. And all this in spite of the fact that she was not a strong swimmer. Although she brushed off the incident as an impulsive gesture stemming from a maternal instinct to protect children, her deed was as heroic as any carried out by the most valiant officers.

“An Accidental Hero”
Sgt Rose Abdullah

Sgt Rose Abdullah was holidaying with her family at Sarimbun chalets, and was on the beach with her children and nieces when she heard a faint shout from the water. Turning to the direction of the shout, she caught sight of what looked like a young boy in difficulty. What she did not know then was that his float had collapsed. He was way out of his depth and he was a non-swimmer.

Without a moment’s hesitation, Sgt Rose dived into the water (jeans and all) and made for the boy. When she reached him, she found him hysterical with shock. “Aunty is here to help you,” she said, in an effort to reassure him and calm him down. He in turn frantically shouted back “Can YOU swim?”

Even at that grim moment, Sgt Rose could not help but smile. Swimming had never been her strong point in the Police Academy and she had always thought of herself as an average swimmer. But that smile was just for that instant, because she immediately discovered that both of them were in deep trouble. The boy was clinging on to her so tightly and restricting her movement that she found herself sinking. But even as she kept going under, she tried her best to keep his head above water.

The effort proved too strenuous for her. After three dogged attempts to stay afloat, she found her strength ebbing and with it her consciousness.

‘As I sank, I surrendered myself to God. I thought perhaps this was the way I was destined to die. But I just prayed the boy would survive. He was too young. I found my eyes closing and then I blacked out.”

Luckily, they were rescued in the nick of time. Some fishermen in the area who had seen the incident rushed to the spot and pulled them out of the water.

Sgt Rose spent four days in hospital recuperating from the ordeal. When asked why she had risked her life to save the child’s she replied that it was probably because of the maternal instinct in her. Sgt Rose has six children.

But as some people have pointed out to her, most women with so many of their own children to look after would not have endangered their lives for the sake of one child, and a total stranger at that. Indeed her children have mentioned that to her.

Sgt Rose does not see it that way. The officer with 25 years of public service said, “As adults, it is our responsibility to take care of children, whether they are our own or not.”

For her outstanding courage, Sgt Rose received the Guinness Stout Effort Award. Along with the commendation came a $500 cheque. In her typically unselfish and public- spirited way, Sgt Rose promptly gave the money away to charity – the Spastics Association, the Kidney Foundation and an orphanage.

The battle against crime is not waged mainly by gun-toting, tough-guy cops, although that may be the impression created by most TV serials. Most of the time, it is the low-profile, quiet investigator aided by equally low-profile researchers, lab workers and other behind-the-scenes personnel who help nail the criminals.

ASP John McNally from Tanglin Police Division and relatively fresh from the Police Academy was on routine patrol when he was called upon to investigate a routine case of theft in a vehicle. He solved it in a matter of 2 hours. His achievement lies in his hundred per cent commitment to his case. He refused to treat it as just another routine case. He applied himself to his task as if it were a major crime case, even emptying a dirty refuse bin in a men’s toilet for clues. Eventually it was his sheer tenacity that won the day.

“A Hundred Per Cent Commitment to Duty”
ASP John McNally

ASP John McNally proved that being a relatively new officer was no barrier in practising empowerment. Fresh from the training ground of the Police Academy, he put his skills and initiative to immediate practice during his three-month patrol attachment with Tanglin Police Division.

It all began when three friends went shopping at Takashimaya. They did not realise that their car was being ransacked while they were shopping. Stolen from their vehicle were a zonephone, camera, two Discman sets, house keys and personal documents valued at a total of $1,300.

ASP John McNally, accompanied by Cpl Mansor bin Abdul Aziz were sent to investigate the theft. He interviewed the owner of the car and people who had been at the scene, and established that a dark-skinned male in his twenties had been spotted around the car at about the time of the theft.

ASP McNally tried to mentally put himself in the shoes of the thief. “Now if I were him, why would I have chosen this spot?”

Looking around, he noticed that though there were CCTVs everywhere in the car park, the scene of crime was in the blind spot of the electronic eye. Obviously the thief was no amateur, nor merely an opportunistic thief.

“After he had ransacked the car, where would he have headed?” McNally asked himself. He noticed double doors nearby and on going through them found himself at the foot of an escalator.

“If I were the thief, I would have headed for the shops and lose myself in the crowd,” he thought. “But on the other hand, if I were a greedy thief, I would have wanted to check my loot immediately. And the best place for that would have been a toilet. I could have kept the valuables and dumped the rest of the stuff.”

ASP McNally checked out the nearest toilets, looking into every cubicle for clues. There was nothing there. He was not discouraged. There was still that dustbin over there, he thought. That’s where a thief would have dumped whatever was not valuable.

Going through the dustbin, ASP McNally discovered a document that turned out to be a resume of a female. “Hullo, what’s a lady’s resume doing in a gent’s toilet?” he thought. Along with the resume, he found examination result slips from the Singapore Polytechnic. The top of one of the result slips had been torn off. “Something just isn’t right,” he said to himself.

He went back to the owner of the car to ask if she knew anything about the stuff he had dug up from the bin. He was pleased to find out that the resume and slips belonged to one of the occupants. As for the torn slip, the owner said it was intact the last time she saw it. So assuming that the thief had torn the top part off, what was it that he had found worth keeping? Well, the car owner said, my home address was on it.

The pieces of the jigsaw puzzle fell into place. The thief had the house-keys and had discovered the address!

So the thief was not probably on his way to the address, ASP McNally thought. He immediately called Operations Rooms to alert them to the possibility of a break-in at the address. He requested them to dispatch a Central Police Division radio car to the location and alert all cars to look out for the suspect, giving them the description.

As ASP McNally had deduced, the thief did indeed set off for his victim’s house. Bu the thief did not know that she was no longer living there. Indeed the house itself had been torn down and marked for development. So when he alighted from his taxi, and could not locate his target, he was perplexed. He walked up and down the street trying to figure our what had gone wrong. He ended up back at square one on the vacant lot wondering what could have happened. And that was where he was spotted by officers in an Fast Response Car.

He tried to slip away but was apprehended and searched. Sure enough, the stolen property, including the house keys were found on him. He was placed under arrest and brought back to the station.

It is not common knowledge that public cooperation plays a vital role in helping the police prevent and solve crimes. It is also commonly accepted that public cooperation depends on friendly relations between the police and members of the community.

Over the years, a new kind of quiet police hero has emerged on the scene. This is the officer who performs community service not because it is part of his job but because he believes he can contribute as a private citizen to the well-being of his community. The officers profiled below fall into this category

“Showing Young People The Way”
SSgt John Vijayan

When SSgt John Vijayan became the first police officer to lead a Singapore contingent on the international “Ship for Southeast Asian Youth Programme”, it was just another project in a long line of community service programmes he has been involved with for over twenty years.

It all began in 1975 when SSgt Vijayan took up community work with the People’s Association Youth Movement. Since then he has been very active at grassroots level, working with organisations such as the Buona Vista Community Centre and the Singapore Planned Parenthood Association.

He has represented the People’s Association in several conventions overseas and also organised a variety of youth leadership activities such as camps and hikes. He said that traveling and meeting people have resulted in him making contacts that were extremely useful in all his work.

“It is especially satisfying to work with youth and to help them. One particular boy I gave tuition to years back has done well and is a manager today. He has not forgotten me. What could be more satisfying! “ he noted.

SSgt Vijayan helped to counsel youth and offered his help where possible. He helped them open up and though he was much older he has managed to keep in tune with their thoughts.

“I read teenage magazines. I visit pubs and discos just to get a feel of their world because I believe that to help them you must first understand them. If you can also show that you respect their views, they will open up to you naturally,” he said. At the moment he was helping a teenager to quit smoking.

Does his ‘extra-curricular’ activities get in the way of his police work?

“ I see it as an extension of policing. Now when any family in my area has problems dealing with their teenagers, I know how to help them. I don’t keep my job and work separate. In fact they complement each other. I’m simply helping youngsters so that they would not turn to crime.”

In 1996, Cpl Othman Ahmad received the Outstanding Young Person of Singapore award from Orchid Jayceettes of Singapore supported by the National Youth Council in recognition of his sterling services to the nation’s youth. Despite being pitted against professionals such as doctors, businessmen, researchers and directors, Cpl Othman’s dedication to the community stood him apart from the rest.

“A One – Man Boys’ Club”
Cpl Othman Ahmad

This active sportsman began in 1986 by helping Marsiling Community Centre conduct youth activities such as orientation camps and leadership courses. He then helped schools such as Marsiling Primary, Fuchun and Springfield Secondary organise camps, leadership and team-building courses. As the demand for such activities increased, Cpl Othman conducted training programmes for school teachers so that they could organise their own events. The officer is also an active scout with the Singapore Scout Association.

From here he went on to fund raising. He conducted a one-man 54km Jungle Route Fund Raising Run to raise $1,000 for Si Ling Secondary School. This led to a Guinness Stout National Award in April 1990 from Mr Zulkifli Mohamed, Minister for Community Development. The award was given in recognition of sacrifices made by individuals such as Cpl Othman who volunteered their services for the community.

A year later, he was awarded a Leadership and Community Service Award by Si Ling Secondary School during its 10th Anniversary celebrations.

His outstanding commitment earned him an appearance on the TV programme, “Extraordinary People” and profiles in the local newspapers.

In August 1995, he was presented with yet another award for Leadership and Contributions to Si Ling Secondary School from Dr Tony Tan, Deputy Prime Minister.

He is modest about the accolades he has received. He is touched that community recognises the efforts he has put in. But the many awards and certificates only serve as a constant reminder that much more can be done and needs to be done.


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