Police's fearsome 'Black Panther'

The army had "Tiger Hong", the sergeant major who earned legendary status as a strict disciplinarian. The police force had the "Panther" in Mr Sri Kanthan Chelliah.

The retired station inspector served in the police force from 1971 to 2004 and oversaw the training of recruits for much of that time.

Not only did he help turn young enlistees into capable police officers, but Mr Sri Kanthan, 67, also met a woman at the Old Police Academy (OPA) pool who would later become his wife.

Among those who came under his wings: Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli, and Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon.

The OPA was like Mr Sri Kanthan's second home. "Everything was green, there were a lot of trees, and it was like the countryside," he said. "It was very cool when you woke up at 5am... one of the best places for training."

The swimming pool was where he met his wife in 1976. She was a Port of Singapore Authority police force trainee, and during one swim lesson he had to rescue her.

They married in 1978. She died in 2014, leaving him with two daughters.

Mr Sri Kanthan, known as "Black Panther" among the trainees due to his fierce nature, was a trainee at the OPA too for six months in 1971.

He recalled being punished for an infringement and was made to carry a 10kg rifle, which he called the "elephant gun", above his head in the hot sun while the instructor made him do jumps and "run up the hill, kiss the tree and come back".

He said it was important to cultivate the right attitude in policemen. They would have to work with the public and not just enforce the law.

Mr Masagos, who was an officer cadet under Mr Sri Kanthan in 1982, said: "We had to put our best forward in everything we did - even when we marched from point to point; he would not tolerate slackness and laziness.

"He was always doing the physical exercises and runs with us all the way that we had no excuse to be lax or to give up."

Mr Masagos said his most memorable moment was when his squad graduated as officers and Mr Sri Kanthan saluted them when the ceremony was over.

Deputy Assistant Commissioner (NS) Chua Song Heng, 53, who was in the same batch as Mr Masagos, said of Mr Sri Kanthan: "He was very fatherly and would explain that we must think about what we do and set an example for others.

"When you mention Sri Kanthan, everyone knows who he is."

Lin Yangchen

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 23, 2017, with the headline 'Police's fearsome 'Black Panther''. Print Edition | Subscribe