CID's first female chief Florence Chua helps families find closure

The Criminal Investigation Department's new director Florence Chua says she wants the department's officers to make use of technology to streamline investigation processes and predict the likelihood of crime in certain areas, to allow officers to wor
The Criminal Investigation Department's new director Florence Chua says she wants the department's officers to make use of technology to streamline investigation processes and predict the likelihood of crime in certain areas, to allow officers to work more efficiently and effectively.ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG

29-year cop has tackled cases like the Sheng Siong kidnapping and Serangoon slashing

Ask the Criminal Investigation Department's (CID) new director Florence Chua what keeps her going and her answer is clear: Helping families find closure.

"The satisfaction of bringing closure to the family and victims, and keeping perpetrators off the street, these are the moments (that mean the most)," she said.

The 52-year-old in June became the first woman to be appointed CID's chief and deputy commissioner of police for investigations and intelligence.

Speaking to the media last week in her first interview about three months after assuming the roles, Ms Chua said that the most memorable and challenging part of her nearly three decades of experience as a police officer was when she was part of the 2004 Asian tsunami disaster contact tracing unit.

During the December 2004 disaster, more than 1,000 Singaporeans who were in the affected region were reported missing, and part of Ms Chua's job was to contact the families of those who had died.

She remembered having to break the news of a man's death to his wife and two young boys.

DRIVING FORCE

The satisfaction of bringing closure to the family and victims, and keeping perpetrators off the street, these are the moments (that mean the most).

MS FLORENCE CHUA, the first woman to be appointed the Criminal Investigation Department's chief and deputy commissioner of police for investigations and intelligence, on what keeps her going.

"It was sad. But at the end of the day, at least they had closure. At least their loved one's body was found and they could do the rites."

While she does not remember what was said, the expression of relief and gratitude from the woman has stuck with her ever since.

In her new role as CID director, Ms Chua said she wants the department's officers to make use of technology to streamline investigation processes and predict the likelihood of crime in certain areas.

This will allow officers to work more efficiently and effectively, she said.

Another initiative Ms Chua will be driving is steering the CID towards more victim-centric investigation policies, such as a multi-disciplinary approach towards handling child sexual abuse victims, where interviews by police, doctors and child protection officers will be done simultaneously so victims need not repeatedly recount the traumatic experience.

Ms Chua said these efforts were among the transformational technology and plans the force was rolling out, and these initiatives were kick-started by her predecessor, now Deputy Commissioner of Police (Operations) Tan Chye Hee.

Ms Chua said plans for the department will continue along the same vein. "I don't see the need to consciously do things differently unless there is a need to. I'm just making sure (the plans) go through and, of course, along the way, things may change and we may tweak them."

Under Ms Chua's watch, the CID tackled cases such as the Serangoon slashing incident, where seven were arrested in June, and also conducted investigations into last month's SingHealth data hacking.

The seasoned officer with 29 years of experience under her belt joined the force in 1989 soon after graduating from university.

"I was generally a very active person so I didn't want a desk-bound job. Also, I wanted a job that challenged me daily and made a difference," said the former captain of the national women's hockey team who at one time thought of becoming a physical education teacher.

She was quick to quash the notion that being a woman in the police force has its perceived challenges and differences.

"I didn't really feel the difference. I don't think there are a lot of obstacles to being a female officer."

When she first joined the force, there were not many female officers in the investigation unit, but today, one can see them in almost every kind of post, said Ms Chua.

She also highlighted other female top guns in the force, such as retired assistant commissioner Ng Guat Ting and former commander of Jurong Police Division Zuraidah Abdullah.

"We already have women who have been breaking the glass ceiling. I would say as long as you think you can do it, regardless of gender, go for it."

There may be times when being a woman might have its advantages, such as when it comes to handling sensitive situations that require greater empathy, said Ms Chua.

 
 

But expectations and requirements from all officers in terms of ethics and resilience are the same, she added.

Starting out as an investigation officer and serving stints at CID's anti-vice squad and Secret Society Branch, Ms Chua also held key appointments as director of investigations at the Casino Regulatory Authority and commander of Jurong Police Division.

She was involved in solving major cases, such as the 2014 case where two men kidnapped Madam Ng Lye Poh, the mother of Sheng Siong supermarket's boss Lim Hock Chee, and demanded a $20 million ransom.

In Ms Chua's previous role as director of the Police Intelligence Department, she led operations to dismantle one of the largest illegal betting syndicates in Singapore.

That was also the first case to be prosecuted under the Organised Crime Act in 2017.

She took up hockey in secondary school and said the team sport taught her to outwit and outplay her opponents.

"It's the same thing when you deal with an investigation or a criminal syndicate - you have to think about the different strategies and tactics to use," said Ms Chua, who has played hockey in five SEA Games and three Asian Games.

While 29 years have gone by in a flash for Ms Chua, there is one case that has lingered in her mind since the early days of her career.

It was a rape case involving a five-year-old girl. The alleged rapists were two men whom her mother had left her in the care of.

But the mother and daughter were not locals and left Singapore before the men could be taken to task.

"Sometimes, unfortunately, these things happen and we are not able to see the case through," said Ms Chua, who laments that it could have turned out differently if officers back then had been adequately trained to interview young victims.

"But the way we deal with sexual crime victims today, we have a lot more training and science to it," said Ms Chua.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 11, 2018, with the headline 'CID's first female chief helps families find closure'. Print Edition | Subscribe