SINGAPORE - An incident early in Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat's police career stayed with him and shaped his views on the importance of Singapore's approach to community policing.
He had to attend to a case where an old woman living alone had died in a rented cubicle in Chinatown, but no one knew for several days until the stench was unbearable.
He then uncovered cash and gold jewellery that the woman saved up, and tried to trace the next of kin to return these valuables. Several relatives turned up to make the claim, but none could say what they had done with or for the woman.
"It taught me that when members of a society are isolated, and if relationships were not built over time, we would run into long-term problems. And when people do not care for people around them, the police would have a hard time trying to maintain law and order," said DPM Heng.
He recounted the case in Parliament on Tuesday (Aug 3) as he expressed his support for a motion to commemorate the Singapore Police Force.
DPM Heng, who joined the force in 1980 and served for 17 years, said he was very excited to be involved in the efforts to implement Singapore's change in policing strategy to a community policing system, where neighbourhood police posts (NPPs) were set up all over the island.
NPP officers conducted house visits, checked on the well-being of citizens, gave them crime prevention advice and encouraged neighbours to form neighbourhood watch groups, said DPM Heng.
He added: "Special efforts were made to nurture the community spirit. In the kampungs, people knew each other well. But when they relocated to HDB flats, they needed time to get to know one another, and to adjust to a new way of life.
"It was critical to build that community spirit among neighbours, to look out for one another, to look out for criminals on the prowl."
This softer approach to policing, where the officers worked with the community to deal with potential criminals, was the right choice, said DPM Heng.
He was one of several former police officers in the House and other MPs who spoke in support of the motion to commemorate the Singapore Police Force on Tuesday.
Chairman of the Workers' Party Sylvia Lim (Aljunied GRC), who was a law enforcement officer in the 1990s, said that while it is natural to focus on the police as the pre-eminent law enforcement agency, the work of other agencies in keeping Singapore safe, such as the Central Narcotics Bureau, should be acknowledged.
While wishing officers of the SPF well, she added: "We should not think we have arrived, but strive for even higher standards."
Mr Patrick Tay (Pioneer) recalled the four years he spent with the Special Tactics and Rescue (Star) unit, which comes under SPF's Special Operations Command, and said that he had the honour to work with and train with officers in almost all the specialist units within the SPF.
He thanked the Star unit, which handles high-risk and highly armed criminals and criminal hostage situations, as well as the K9 unit, which provides specialised capabilities for tracking, detection and support to prevent and detect crime.
Mr Melvin Yong (Radin Mas) said that he first joined the SPF in 1995 and "served 20 wonderful years before retiring".
"Police work is challenging, not simply because the job of keeping Singapore safe and secure never ends, but also because most of the work that our police officers do daily goes unseen, often unknown, and unrecognised," he said.
Mr Yong said that the values SPF ingrained in him, of courage, loyalty, integrity and fairness - continue to guide him.
"As the saying goes, once a police officer, always a police officer. It has truly been an honour to have worked alongside so many dedicated policemen and policewomen," he said.
In his speech, DPM Heng said that a key element in the recounting of the police's journey over the last 200 years by Mr Christopher De Souza (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC), who moved for the motion, is the need to constantly adapt and innovate.
He noted the setting up of the Home Team Science and Technology Agency, which will invest in building new capabilities especially in the digital area, and efforts to build the front-line capabilities of officers to tackle new and complex crimes, including those in cyberspace.
He said: "Above all, it is critical that we continue to invest in our officers - the values that underpin their work, integrity, fairness, discipline, dedication, and as crimes become more cross-border, and sophisticated."