Grandfather's stories of being beat cop in 1960s inspire Home Team scholarship recipient

Scholarship recipient Jared Koh (left) was inspired to join the police force because of his grandfather Tan Hang Meng (right), who is a former policeman.
Scholarship recipient Jared Koh (left) was inspired to join the police force because of his grandfather Tan Hang Meng (right), who is a former policeman.ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

SINGAPORE - Mr Jared Koh grew up listening to his grandfather's police yarns, including his time as a beat cop in Singapore's founding years.

A particularly memorable one is how Mr Tan Hang Meng, 78, his maternal grandfather, was tasked to enforce the curfew during the 1964 racial riots.

Chinese and Malay protesters had clashed against the backdrop of Konfrontasi, when Indonesia sent saboteurs to carry out attacks to oppose the formation of Malaysia, which then included Singapore. Tensions were also rising between Singapore and Malaysia that eventually led to separation in 1965.

"I understood how violent the clashes were from my history lessons in school... and the thing that struck me most was that he wasn't scared of enforcing the curfew. He said, 'Do your job properly and people will respect you,'" said Mr Koh, 20, of his grandfather.

These "grandfather stories" so inspired him that he decided to join the Singapore Police Force. Mr Koh is one of 14 people who were awarded Home Team scholarships in a virtual ceremony on Thursday (Aug 20).

Mr Koh received the Singapore Government Scholarship (Home Team) and will serve his bond in the force. He said his decision to be a policeman also stemmed from his own experience in the Boys' Brigade and Red Cross Youth uniformed groups, and was further cemented when he was posted to the police for his national service.

The NS probationary inspector is currently with the Police Coast Guard.

Like his grandfather, he has had to deal with unruly residents while on a short attachment with a Neighbourhood Police Centre, said Mr Koh, recalling an incident where he had to help manage a drunk man who was creating a ruckus.

But unlike his grandfather, he had modern technology like smartphones and police cameras to help him in policing work. In Mr Tan's time, officers only had radios in their police car, and they often had to look for payphones to call their headquarters, said Mr Koh.

"But the main gist of (policing) is always the same: The police are there to keep Singapore safe and secure... and make sure that Singaporeans can live harmoniously with one another. This aspect of police work will never change," he added.

Mr Tan said he did not plan for Mr Koh - who is his eldest grandson - to join the force, and would have supported him in any vocation he chose.


"Now the police force is very advanced. We feel very proud of him for being a police officer and for getting the scholarship," said the retiree, adding that Mr Koh is the first to obtain one in the family.

Mr Tan joined the force in 1963, and retired as a staff sergeant at a Neighbourhood Police Post in 1992.

Mr Koh, a former Victoria Junior College student, plans to study law in the United Kingdom.

Other scholarship recipients in this year's batch include Mr Li Kangli, 22 , who did a stint with the Ministry of Home Affair's digital and forensics team during his NS. He received the Home Team Local Study Award for the science and technology track, and will be pursuing computer science at the National University of Singapore. He will serve his bond in the Home Team Science and Technology Agency.

This year's Singapore Police Force Scholarship, one of the most prestigious scholarships awarded by the Public Service Commission, went to Ms Sundaram Mohan Shakthi, 19, and Mr Sim Zheng Hao, 21.

Mr Sim Zheng Hao is one of two recipients of the Singapore Police Force Scholarship. PHOTO: SINGAPORE POLICE FORCE

Mr Sim, who will be studying liberal arts in New York University, said he hopes to build on the police's community partnerships as he believes that it is important for the force to have flexibility and empathy in dealing with the public.

He added: "What I have learnt this year, with Covid-19 and events all around the world... is the importance of flexibility and empathy when listening to people on the ground.

"We need to maintain a strong level of trust between the police and citizens and that is something I hope I'll be able to contribute to."