Riot ready

A member of the Spear Force team tossing a flash bang - or what's known as a stun grenade - into a mock workshop to disorientate rioting inmates before the rest of the team enters.
A member of the Spear Force team tossing a flash bang - or what's known as a stun grenade - into a mock workshop to disorientate rioting inmates before the rest of the team enters.ST PHOTOS: ZAIHAN MOHAMED YUSOF
Left: Inmates are evacuated to a safer part of the prison following a mock fire. They move in an orderly fashion with Spear Force officers forming a tight cordon around them. Below: Team leader Zainal Haron briefing team members before the evacuation
Inmates are evacuated to a safer part of the prison following a mock fire. They move in an orderly fashion with Spear Force officers forming a tight cordon around them.
A member of the Spear Force team tossing a flash bang - or what's known as a stun grenade - into a mock workshop to disorientate rioting inmates before the rest of the team enters.
Team leader Zainal Haron briefing team members before the evacuation. SCW2 Zainal is one of the longest-serving officers on the Spear Force.ST PHOTOS: ZAIHAN MOHAMED YUSOF

Prisons emergency response force, which turns 40 on Dec 1, is called on for host of tasks

A Singapore Prisons Emergency Action Response (Spear) Force team in full tactical gear is activated to deal with a "fire" at Admiralty West Prison and the ensuing mayhem, which includes three inmates who disobeyed instructions.

Nine officers - fully armed and masked - swing swiftly into action.

This was the scenario played out on Monday as the Spear Force demonstrated its capabilities to The Straits Times.

The team leader, Senior Chief Warder 2 Zainal Haron, 53, briefed the men on their mission: Provide security and form a tight cordon during the evacuation of 50 inmates to a safer prison block.

Less lethal force may be used if an inmate struggles or tries to escape, said the 26-year veteran.

The Spear Force, which traces its roots to the Singapore Action Prisons Unit formed in 1977, will mark its 40th anniversary on Dec 1.

Today's Spear Force officers are armed with modern technology and weaponry to deal with a range of operations, from quelling prison riots to evacuating inmates and escorting high-risk inmates to court.

Their formidable appearance is designed to quickly gain inmates' respect and compliance.

Singapore Prisons Emergency Action Response (Spear) Force officers showed off their skills yesterday during a training exercise. Officers fanned out from their black van, before forming up at a staging area to deal with a "fire" at Admiralty West Pri
Elite force at the tip of the Spear: Singapore Prisons Emergency Action Response (Spear) Force officers showed off their skills yesterday during a training exercise. Officers fanned out from their black van, before forming up at a staging area to deal with a "fire" at Admiralty West Prison. The formidable force is activated whenever things get out of control in prison institutions. The officers' new uniform is fireproof, and they each also don a bullet-and stab-proof vest, as inmates can improvise weapons out of sharpened plastics, pens and keys. The Spear Force, which traces its roots to the Singapore Action Prisons Unit formed in 1977, will mark its 40th anniversary on Dec 1. ST PHOTO: ZAIHAN MOHAMED YUSOF

SCW2 Zainal, who declined to reveal the number of times the unit has been activated, said: "They (the inmates) will struggle. Sometimes they're big, over 100kg. It would require a few (officers) to subdue an inmate, not one. We train hard, but (getting) bruises is normal."

The officers' new uniform is fire-proof and they each also don a bulletproof and stabproof vest which is equipped with a communications set, gas mask, handcuffs, pepper spray and stun grenades.

DANGEROUS WORK

They (the inmates) will struggle. Sometimes they're big, over 100kg. It would require a few (officers) to subdue an inmate, not one. We train hard, but (getting) bruises is normal.

SENIOR CHIEF WARDER 2 ZAINAL HARON

Body protection is vital as inmates can improvise and make weapons out of sharpened plastics, pens as well as keys.

Chief Warder 1 Jeremy, 31, one of the youngest in the team with six years of experience, counts the Remington 870 Modular Combat Shotgun as his favourite weapon. The armaments and acquisition specialist, who declined to give his full name, said the shotgun can fire less lethal "super sock" shells up to 50m.

The officers' FN303P sidearm does the same with pellets but has a shorter range of about 20m.

A gungho, trigger-happy recruit is not needed in the unit, said its commanding officer, Assistant Commissioner Ong Aik San.

AC Ong, 50, said: "We look for people who are team players. During the selection try-outs, (we look at) who's helping the other fellow."

Team work is essential when dealing with rioting inmates. The Spear Force's stack of eight officers moves in concert swiftly, each man covering a sector. Hand signals are relayed instead of verbal orders, to gain tactical advantage.

To date, no Spear Force officer has been stabbed or overpowered in any real-life operation.

Added AC Ong: "It hasn't happened yet. Should it happen, we want to make sure they are able to overcome the odds."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 18, 2017, with the headline 'Riot ready'. Print Edition | Subscribe