Get cosy with the Home Team

Sergeant Rachel Toh used to skip classes and even dropped out of school.
Sergeant Rachel Toh used to skip classes and even dropped out of school.ST PHOTO: LAU FOOK KONG

Step into the shoes of various Home Team officers, including a forensic investigator and paramedic, at the largest public exhibition of the Home Team's capabilities this weekend. The biennial Home Team Festival offers the public an intimate look. Ng Huiwen speaks to three officers.

Ex-school dropout helps youth at risk

As a junior college student, Sergeant Rachel Toh found herself bored and frustrated with her studies. She was rebellious, often skipped classes and even exams, and eventually dropped out of school. But her parents encouraged her to return to her studies.

She earned a diploma in accountancy in 2010 and joined the Singapore Police Force in December that year. Now, at 27, Sgt Toh is a community policing officer at the Woodlands West Neighbourhood Police Centre, where she hopes to use her experiences to guide youth at risk to the right path.

"I can empathise with their feelings because I've been through it myself. Sometimes, youth who commit crimes may be going through a low point in their lives," she said.

  • Festival highlights

  • The biennial Home Team Festival will run from Friday to Sunday at the Singapore Expo. Admission is free.

    Highlights include Home Team operational demonstrations, K-9 shows and a Central Narcotics Bureau drug search room, where visitors can experiment with fingerprint dusting and learn how ultraviolet light is used to search for evidence.

    Visitors can pick up life-saving skills too.

    They can also see emergency response vehicles used by the Singapore Civil Defence Force up close.

"Looking back on that period and how I had disappointed my parents then is what drives me to be more successful now."

It took some coaxing and a teaching stint at a special needs school after her graduation from a polytechnic before she joined the police force.

"I wanted a job that was meaningful and physically active but I wasn't sure (about my job options). My dad saw what I wanted in life and encouraged me to give policing a try," she said.

Community policing officers patrol the heartland daily, at times on their signature bicycles.

Dressed in a white polo T-shirt and navy blue bermudas, Sgt Toh approaches residents and business owners to find out their concerns. Officers who specialise in youth crime, such as Sgt Toh, also meet young offenders and follow up on their cases closely.

Inspired to do even more, she decided to pursue a three-year degree in criminology and security studies under a Ministry of Home Affairs scholarship last year.

"The fact that my efforts and potential have been recognised makes me happy. I feel blessed to be given a second chance."

Veteran drug-buster now rehabs addicts

Deputy superintendent Muruganandam joined the Central Narcotics Bureau in 1981. PHOTO: MATTHIAS HO FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

Over the past 34 years, veteran Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) officer Muruganandam Arumugam has conducted numerous drug raids.

He remembers the shock of confronting a violent knife-wielding drug abuser during one raid when he was a young officer in the 1980s. It was in the kitchen of a two-room Housing Board flat; fortunately, he regained his composure and gathered the abuser's family members behind him and his team.

"Our priority is always to ensure the safety of everyone present," said the 55-year-old, who remembers that he then spent close to 30 minutes reassuring the man, who was a cannabis abuser.

"I told him that he would be treated fairly if he came with us. I also asked him to think about his young children and their future," he said.

The deputy superintendent, who joined the CNB in 1981 after completing his A levels, is now a senior officer in charge of the Drug Rehabilitation Centre (DRC) and supervisory unit. He recalls being touched by a statement written by one drug abuser who lacked family support.

"He was previously in a boys' home and when he came out, he said he had no one to turn to.

"He took drugs to escape his problems," said DSP Muruganandam, who is married with two daughters, aged 22 and 17.

Family support was what kept him going, especially when he had to pull long hours in the major investigations branch from 1998 to 2001. Once, he returned home with a missing tooth and 10 stitches on his face and lips after arresting a drug trafficker. "My wife cried so badly when she saw me," he said with a laugh.

These days, he oversees the admission of drug abusers to the DRC. "Treatment and rehab are important aspects of the process. It addresses the drug abuse problem directly and also the underlying issues the person may have with his family and society," he added.

Gender is no issue for civil defence instructor

Senior SCDF instructor and firefighter Rennysa Ithnin in a protection suit against hazardous materials at a training facility. ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

Firefighter Rennysa Ithnin does more than dash into burning buildings to put out flames.

Two years ago, she rescued two young children, aged two and five, who were trapped in a locked car in a multi-storey carpark after their father left the keys inside.

"The father and his boys were all crying when we arrived. I could hear the boys shouting for help," recalled the 37-year-old.

At the time, her mind flashed to her two young daughters at home, but she had to act quickly.

She smashed the car window and carried the children out, careful not to hurt them in the process.

"No parent would want to be separated from their children. It was sad to see the father in tears. Later, he was very grateful."

Rising through the ranks, she became a senior instructor at the Civil Defence Academy last year and now has at least 30 trainees under her at a time. This is a far cry from her days as a slightly overweight and shy teenager, fond of staying indoors in front of the TV.

After completing her diploma in mechatronics, she decided to join the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) just over 12 years ago.

Before she began her six-month training in 2002, she rarely exercised. But, as the only female trainee in her batch, she received plenty of support from the male trainees, who went on runs with her every weekday evening.

In three months, she was able to pass her Individual Physical Proficiency Test and, in 2006, was picked for a specialist course in hazardous materials. These specialists are trained to detect and contain hazardous chemicals and toxins.

Although the number of female firefighters remains small, standing at about 40 now, she has never once felt that her gender was a disadvantage. "As long as you have the endurance and perseverance, you can make it. We are no different from male firefighters."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 11, 2015, with the headline 'Ex-school dropout helps youth at risk'. Print Edition | Subscribe