Singapore Prisons' elite tactical team demonstrate firepower

The Straits Times gets access to see the Singapore Prisons Emergency Action Response Force during training, including a prisoner evacuation live exercise.
 Before the Spear Force team gains entry into a mock workshop, a member of team tosses a flash bang, or what's known as a stun grenade, to disorientate the rioting inmates inside a mock workshop.
Before the Spear Force team gains entry into a mock workshop, a member of team tosses a flash bang, or what's known as a stun grenade, to disorientate the rioting inmates inside a mock workshop.ST PHOTO: ZAIHAN MOHAMED YUSOF
Senior Chief Warder 2 Zainal Haron, 53, in full tactical gear and balaclava, listens in to prison ground commanders when the Spear Force is activated to evacuate inmates during a mock fire.
Senior Chief Warder 2 Zainal Haron, 53, in full tactical gear and balaclava, listens in to prison ground commanders when the Spear Force is activated to evacuate inmates during a mock fire. ST PHOTO: ZAIHAN MOHAMED YUSOF
The Remington 870 Modular Combat Shotgun can be used to fire less lethal "super sock" shells in a prison riot situation. The "super sock" is like a small bean bag that packs a punch and can bring a man down from as far as 10m. Anybody hit by a "super
The Remington 870 Modular Combat Shotgun can be used to fire less lethal "super sock" shells in a prison riot situation. The "super sock" is like a small bean bag that packs a punch and can bring a man down from as far as 10m. Anybody hit by a "super sock" will be bruised.ST PHOTO: ZAIHAN MOHAMED YUSOF
The 50 inmates are evacuated to a safer part of the prison unaffected by the "fire". Forming a security cordon are armed officers from the Spear Force, who work alongside the Crisis Support Team from Admiralty West Prison.
The 50 inmates are evacuated to a safer part of the prison unaffected by the "fire". Forming a security cordon are armed officers from the Spear Force, who work alongside the Crisis Support Team from Admiralty West Prison.ST PHOTO: ZAIHAN MOHAMED YUSOF
 In a move that's known as a "show of force", Spear Force officers make their presence known by walking along the corridors of a prison block in Admiralty West Prison. This is ensure that inmates comply with instructions.
In a move that's known as a "show of force", Spear Force officers make their presence known by walking along the corridors of a prison block in Admiralty West Prison. This is ensure that inmates comply with instructions. ST PHOTO: ZAIHAN MOHAMED YUSOF

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

This was the scenario that played out on Nov 13 as the Spear Force demonstrated its capabilities to The Straits Times.

Nine fully-armed officers in masks stormed out of a black van that day and after a briefing, team leader Senior Chief Warder 2 (SCW2) Zainal Haron, 53, told his men their mission: to 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 Special 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 for 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 when things go wrong.


En route to another prison block at the Admiralty West Prison. Inmates are evacuated to a safer part of the prison following a mock fire. The move in an orderly fashion with the Spear Force officers forming a tight cordon. ST PHOTO: ZAIHAN MOHAMED YUSOF 

 

SCW2 Zainal, who declined to reveal the number of times the unit has been activated, said: "They (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) bruised is normal."

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


Before the Spear Force Officers evacuate 50 inmates from Admiralty West Prison to another block, Senior Chief Warder 2 Zainal Haron, who is team leader, briefs his men about the layout, evacuees and the security that's needed. SCW2 Zainal is one of the longest serving officers from the Spear Force having more than 26 years' experience. ST PHOTO: ZAIHAN MOHAMED YUSOF 

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

Chief Warder 1 (CW1) 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.


This is will be the last image that rioting inmates who do not comply with instructions see before they are shot with less lethal weapons like the FN303 launchers carried by the Spear Force officers above. ST PHOTO: ZAIHAN MOHAMED YUSOF 

ST was given the opportunity to fire the shotgun at the unit's firing range, located within Singapore Prison Complex. At 10m, the shell, which discharges a small bean bag or "super sock", tore a hole in the cardboard target.

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

A gung-ho, trigger-happy recruit is not needed by the unit, said its Commanding Officer, Assistant Commissioner (AC) Ong Aik San.

AC Ong, 50, said: "We look for people who are team players. During the selection tryouts, (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.


Mission accomplished. Spear Force officers relax in the back of their black van after completing a successful prisoner evacuation during a mock fire. ST PHOTO: ZAIHAN MOHAMED YUSOF 

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 (Spear Force officers) are able to overcome the odds."


Correction note: An earlier version of this story referred to the Special Action Prisons Unit as the Singapore Action Prisons Unit.