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A walk down memory lane
A tribute to our officers - PLM 21 Commemorative Book
September 1997
     
Police Life turns 21 this year. Did you know that over the past 21 years, 252 issues of the magazine have been published. Also, did you know that when the magazine was launched in August 1976, it was set up by a motley crew of part-time National Servicemen?

This group was brought together because of their talents in related fields. Editor Siva Choy, together with current writers Jason Chua, Tan Seng Teck and Nisar Keshvani, met up with the pioneers of the 1976 team to reflect on its birth, growth and achievements.

As the pioneers arrived for the "get-together" session, it was like a bunch of old friends coming together for a reunion. Jokes and banter were hurled across the room freely. When they finally calmed down, a very heartfelt yet jovial reminiscing episode followed.
   
Right from the start, our objectives were clear
To compile the rich history of the Singapore Police Force as seen through the eyes of Police Life Monthly (PLM). Why compile SPF's history and why through Police Life?

Ever since SPF was officially formed, only one book has been written - "In the Service of the Nation". Just as that book traced history, the Commemorative Book presents milestones and human interest stories that reveal the attitudes of officers during those times.

Each time we flipped through past issues of PLM,we gained insights into the colourful history of the Force so we figured it was only logical for us to put together this monumental chronicle.

Unfortunately we could only start from 1976 as that was when Police Life was officially launched. We put this idea across to Deputy Director Public Affairs Department, DSP Chin Fook Leong and Asst Dir (Info) Mr Toh Yong Chuan and together with the blessings of Commissioner Khoo Boon Hui and Senior Director (Discipline and Public Affairs) we began the arduous task of compiling the book.
 
This was the tough part. In 1976 Police Life had a unique system of employing NSmen as writers. As such, each passing issue saw a change in style and flavour. This meant that Police Life has seen a total of around 190 NSmen as writers since its inauguration.

And this number does not include the co-ordinators of Police Life. Imagine trying to trace pioneers from 21 years ago with only a name as a lead. Although all officers are trained in investigation we were not. And we had to rely on personal sources to trace them. Slowly we managed to find almost everyone we knew about and invited them for the function.

"The writers have done an excellent job in tracing our pioneers. They have gone as far as France tracing Mr Chandran Nair from UNESCO who used to be a writer in the 70's," said Siva Choy in his speech. Aside from compiling the book, we had to coordinate the function and also a video to launch the book.




"I felt in 1976 that a regular police magazine was a necessity, not an option. It had to reflect the latest developments
of the Force ...."

-- Retd Commissioner Goh

 

Retired Commissioner, Mr Goh Yong Hong started the discussion rolling: "I felt in 1976 that a regular police magazine was a necessity, not an option. It had to reflect the latest developments of the Force and give our men a better understanding of the Force's policies and at the same time highlight recreational and welfare activities within the Force."

"Such a magazine had the potential to become more than an in-house chronicle of events - it could ultimately reflect the Force's aspirations and achievements to the outside world. I entrusted this task to Daniel Tan."

Daniel Tan, currently with American Express, began the magazine from scratch with help from his dedicated team of part-time NSmen.

"It was a challenge. I was always keen to work in a creative field. Though it was far from the conventional policeman's job, I was excited. To me and I am sure the rest, Police Life was like our baby and we are proud of it," said Daniel.

He added: "I had barely any publishing experience and an arduous task ahead. I searched through PNS records and handpicked a team to help me. The management, especially Mr Goh was very supportive and we managed to turn the idea into a magazine in a matter of two months to launch our maiden issue in August 1976."

Before we began shooting our pioneers with questions (which we were most eager to do) on their feelings today that Police Life has turned 21, Siva and Daniel brought us on a walk down memory lane.

Police Life
"Until 1976, there had been sporadic attempts to create a police magazine but these early ad hoc versions of Police Life had been produced on an "as and when needed" basis," recalled Siva.

"The contents, editorial style and design depended on whoever was in charge of the publication at that moment, there was no consistent editorial policy and no permanent editorial team to give the magazine a proper sense of direction," continued Daniel.

"There was a variety of reasons for the lack of interest in starting a regular police magazine," added Siva, "firstly, some thought that running a magazine, even though about "policing", wasn't really a "traditional" police task. Secondly, the Force had many other more pressing matters to attend to such as major changes in operations and management.

"Thirdly, even if officers could be spared to run a magazine, would they be able to produce one of decent standard considering their lack of journalistic training? How could such a project be funded? What tangible benefits could it show to justify expenditure?" revealed Daniel, " these were the worries that went through management's mind when they contemplated the idea of the magazine."

"However, former Commissioner Mr Goh Yong Hong, who in 1975 was an Assistant Commissioner, saw things in a different light," continued Daniel.

"A regular police magazine would keep officers informed of developments in other departments, divisions and units, facilitating a useful exchange of ideas and methods," agreed Siva, "and the magazine would cover not only professional matters but welfare, sports, recreation, and personal achievements, it would strengthen esprit de corps and develop a greater sense of corporate pride among officers at all levels.

"Lastly, such a magazine would surely become an archive of the progress and aspirations of the Police Force you can clearly see today," said Daniel amidst firm nods of approval.

 




"I searched through PNS records and handpicked a team to help me. The management, especially Mr Goh was very supportive and we managed to turn the idea into a magazine in a matter of two months to launch our maiden issue in August 1976."

-- ASP Daniel Tan

Finding the talent
Knowing the true background of Police Life now, we queried how the expertise was sought in order to achieve the magazine's aim. "This is where my 'true' policing skills came in," joked Daniel.

Daniel scoured the Special Constabulary personnel records to identify "media professionals" and was staggered at the wealth of talent he uncovered.

His list included several professional journalists, a television reporter, public relations officers with statutory boards and multinational companies, as well as a press officer with the Ministry of Culture.

"Most of us were pounding the beat when Daniel approached us to work on this new magazine. He suggested we could contribute more to the Force by writing, sub-editing or designing for Police Life. All of us jumped at the opportunity as it was an extension of our expertise," said Yap Boh Tiong, Managing Director of Mileage Communications.

"I was a drill sergeant in Police Academy then. When serving PAD, all of us had an excellent overview of the Force, something we never got to see at ground level," added Herbert Teo, presently with the S-League.
 
Finding the money
For every magazine, aside the usual supply of literary talents, monetary support was also required. This was Daniel's forte, according to Boh Tiong. "I still remember him always asking for money," joked Boh Tiong, "but he always came through with the sufficient funds for Police Life, without him, Police Life would have been printed on 11 pieces of photocopied paper."

"He is a remarkable PR person and had a knack for sourcing advertisers to support our magazine. Though we barely broke even, it was the support which made us strive to make Police Life the best. We carried the process through from concept to writing to designing to the final printing stages," he added.

PRD's role in Police Life
According to Daniel, as the PRD was the leading authority on publicity and had the most experience dealing with publications, it was chosen to be the department to spearhead this project. Furthermore, as the magazine would be addressing Force-wide concerns, its Chairman would have to be someone from the highest echelons.

Subsequently, a Management Committee was set up headed by Deputy Commissioner Mr V N Ratna Singam, with PRD's civilian officer Mr Teo Han Wue as Advisor and HEO Police HQ Mr Tan Chye Toon as Treasurer. "As Mr Goh approached me in the first place for this project, I was naturally chosen for the post of co-ordinator," revealed Daniel proudly. W/Insp Lucy O Sun was appointed "Inspector Police Life" and tasked to assist Daniel.

Fond memories
"I am certain each of us has fond memories of working on the magazine. There was once a few of us were working in the magazine late one night and I blurted out saying, "What am I doing here? Its past midnight, its my birthday and I should be with my family!" recalled Basskaran Nair, Managing Director of Gavin Anderson & Company.

"Yes! Yes! And I said that's a good joke and in fact it was my birthday. You laughed and we both showed each other our identity cards and realised neither one of us was lying," laughed Daniel.

Siva also shared an experience of his own;

"You think that was bad. Daniel locked me up in a room for an entire night and forced me to come up with a story."

"Hey! What was I to do. You always said that you were not in the mood to write. I had to get the story out of you somehow. And I think that piece you came up with was one of your best," said Daniel.
     
11 August 1976
The first issue of Police Life was bi-monthly and was launched on 11 August 1976. Produced by a huge editorial staff comprising of an editor, two associate editors, three sub-editors and nine reporters, the 20-page black-and-white publication with a colour cover carried 25 articles and 40 photographs.

Its mix of contents set a precedent that has been followed till today - it covered divisional events, manpower and personnel issues, sports, births and deaths, items of historical interest, NS, crime prevention, overseas postings, community projects, health matters and even NPCC events.

"Police Life is back on the scene after an absence of nearly three years. This time we are back to stay," its founders declared proudly and prophetically in its first editorial.



The first issue of Police Life was bi-monthly and was launched on 11 August 1976. Produced by a huge editorial staff comprising of an editor, two associate editors, three sub-editors and nine reporters, the 20-page black-and-white publication with a colour cover carried 25 articles and 40 photographs.

 
Winning Awards
"Though I have had many memorable experiences with Police Life, I am certain that everybody who has worked on Police Life would, like me, have felt proud when the magazine won the National Productivity Board award for best in-house newsletter not just once but five times in a row from 1987 and 1991. This achievement was all the more remarkable considering that PLM competed with organizations with far better resources," said Mr Goh.

As Siva revealed, Police Life's outstanding achievement has always been its energetic and resourceful staff members, who have produced miracles even though they did not have resources other agencies enjoyed.

Success begets success
By the end of the gathering, all our questions needed no answers. For one thing was certain, the pride and dedication these men had in Police Life was clear.

So strong was their dedication that till today, all of them still keep tabs on the magazine. "I look forward to my issue of Police Life every month," revealed Basskaran, "in fact I noticed that there was a period when the issues were rather late, that is, till last year." "I noticed that too," added Boh Tiong, "but it soon started to arriving promptly and with more juicy articles too, I guess the magazine was going through a phase of upgrading."

Furthermore, Basskaran and Boh Tiong still serve on the Police Life Committee. "I still try to help out as often as I can, after all, we started it." "I agree," added Boh Tiong. "I am still interested in the workings of Police Life till today."

Perhaps Mr Goh's words aptly sum up Police Life's future:

"I retired as Commissioner feeling that Police Life had succeeded in achieving its objectives. As far back as 1976, we had been convinced that modernising in-house capabilities for information dissemination would make us a more effective organisation.

That belief has become even more apparent today, and the appearance of Police Life on the World Wide Web reflects the Force's continuing concern with enhancing its mass communication capabilities. Today Police Life Monthly and Annual play complementary roles and I understand Police Life Weekly was recently launched. I look forward to reading of even greater developments in the coming years."

Concluding thoughts
As the conversation between the pioneer team and us unfolded, we discovered a strange phenomenon. These people, who have succeeded in life, still have a very personal attachment to the magazine. It is indeed strange that these people, who are icons in the public relations, journalistic and business circles, would still want to be associated with Police Life.

A sign of impending greatness on the part of Police Life? Or are they just too reluctant to let go of their links with perhaps the very first publication they worked on? Whatever it is, we know one thing for sure, the dedication these men had in Police Life was crystal clear. This dedication has kept Police Life going for the past 21 years and this dedication will continue to make Police Life a special magazine that truly belongs to all officers of the Singapore Police Force.
     

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