At 98, he is Singapore's oldest surviving retired cop

Above: Mr Yusof Mohammad served in the police force from 1946 to 1968. Left: Mr Yusof has kept photographs of himself in his younger days as a police officer, as well as insignia bearing the letters "SSP" (Straits Settlements Police) and "PNS" (Polis
Mr Yusof Mohammad served in the police force from 1946 to 1968. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

When Mr Yusof Mohammad became a police officer in the 1940s, he did, in fact, wear shorts as that was the official uniform.

The 98-year-old is Singapore's oldest surviving retired police officer, and is living proof of the old saying "when police wore shorts" - a popular adage to reflect on how times have changed.

He decided to join the force after witnessing the carnage and chaos of World War II while working as a hospital porter.

"It was very scary because many people were sent to the hospital during the war. Some lost their hands and legs. So when we carried them, we really pitied them... I decided to join the police after that," he said, adding that he wanted to keep the country safe.

Mr Yusof spoke to the media earlier this week, in an interview organised by the police to mark the Singapore Police Force's 200th anniversary.

The celebration starts with a run that kicks off today.

Police officers will collectively run 200km in 24 hours, passing by 30 significant sites, including past and present police establishments such as the first police station, which was located near the site of today's Asian Civilisations Museum.

Some of the sites, including the Old Police Academy in Upper Thomson, are familiar to Mr Yusof, who served in the force from 1946 to 1968.

As a patrol officer posted to the Queenstown Police Station, he would keep watch over the area by cycling or walking for eight hours a day, to maintain the peace.

"I felt proud when I was wearing the uniform," he said in Malay.


Mr Yusof has kept photographs of himself in his younger days as a police officer, as well as insignia bearing the letters "SSP" (Straits Settlements Police) and "PNS" (Polis Negara Singapura). 

Mr Yusof still keeps his police insignia bearing the letters "SSP", which stands for Straits Settlements Police, the name of the police force then.

He said policing in Singapore was tougher in the past, with more disorder in the streets.

For example, when the Maria Hertogh riots broke out in 1950, many people were "angry with the police" and would assault them, he recounted.

"Sometimes, they would throw bottles, and it would hit the heads of our officers," said Mr Yusof, who was on standby with fellow officers during the riots.

"My friend even got shot in his leg," he added.

The riots broke out on Dec 11, 1950, after a court ordered that Maria Hertogh, who had been raised by Muslims during World War II, should be returned to her Catholic biological parents. She was aged 13 then.

Mr Yusof's life was not any easier when he was posted to the Marine Police later in his career.

He encountered many pirates at sea. "When we saw them, we would have to fire our pistols in the air to warn them off," he said.

He retired from the force at the age of 48 but continued in the same line of work, taking on the job of a security officer at a mall. He has since retired for good.

 

The father of seven believes that police officers today are better at reaching out to and engaging residents.

While times have changed and Singapore today is in much better shape, Mr Yusof believes the core mission of the police remains the same: to protect lives.

He said that officers now have better weapons and uniforms.

"But our responsibility as police officers is always the same," he added.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 10, 2020, with the headline 'At 98, he is Singapore's oldest surviving retired cop'. Print Edition | Subscribe