Singapore Police Force marks 200th anniversary with heritage trail

Visitors can walk to the Kreta Ayer Neighbourhood Police Post to see a permanent exhibition on the trail and the evolution of the area around it.
Visitors can walk to the Kreta Ayer Neighbourhood Police Post to see a permanent exhibition on the trail and the evolution of the area around it.PHOTO: SINGAPORE POLICE FORCE

SINGAPORE - The first office for Singapore's pioneer policemen was an attap house near the Singapore River.

Simple as it was in its construction, the house was already a step up for the 12 men in the force formed in 1820, as they previously had to report for work at the residence of the officer in charge, who was the son-in-law of William Farquhar, Singapore's first Resident.

Today, the 15,000-strong force report for work at many multi-storey complexes located around the island, including the sprawling Police Cantonment Complex in New Bridge Road.

The first police office has long been demolished, but the public can now walk to the site where it once stood as part of a heritage trail the Singapore Police Force launched on Thursday (Nov 26) to mark its 200th anniversary this year.

The trail covers nine sites central to the force's operations in the past two centuries, in Chinatown and the Central Business District.

The start of the trail is indicated by a physical marker in front of the Asian Civilisations Museum, which is near the site of the first police office. Visitors can walk to the Kreta Ayer Neighbourhood Police Post, one of the sites, to see a permanent exhibition on the trail and the evolution of the area around it.

Another site of interest is the former Traffic Police headquarters in Maxwell Road, home to the Traffic Police for 69 years from 1930. It has been refurbished and is now the Maxwell Chambers Suites, which houses legal institutions and firms.

Other sites include the Lower Barracks in Pearl's Hill, which used to house the police's Sikh Contingent in 1934 until it was disbanded in 1946.

It then served as the police headquarters and housed their radio division and Criminal Investigation Department from 1946, until the last division moved out in 2001. The Lower Barracks building is conserved, and is now a commercial building.

A guide for this heritage trail is available here


Perfect guide for bunker turned museum

 GIN TAY
Mr George Matthews in the bunker that housed part of the police radio division, where he was based in the 1970s. ST PHOTO: GIN TAY

Mr George Matthews, 70, is the perfect docent for a police bunker turned museum in Pearl's Hill.

He has the history of the place at his fingertips, having worked in it and lived nearby in the police quarters for most of his life.

The bomb-proof bunker sits alongside the Upper Barracks, which is one of the attractions on the Police Heritage Trail, and was the nerve centre for police operations.

Called the Combined Operations Room, it also housed part of the police's radio division, where Mr Matthews was based in the 1970s as a constable.

Operators of the 999 hotline would relay information to Mr Matthews and his colleagues, who would then head out in patrol cars to assess the situation and report what they saw as the first responders on the scene.

Mr Matthews said he has responded to all sorts of incidents - from suicide attempts and armed robberies to housebreaking in progress.

"We were the eyes and the ears of the police force," said Mr Matthews, adding that there was never a dull moment.

One memorable incident involved a gang fight in Mandai Road.

The gangsters had scattered before the police arrived but did not have time to remove a dead body, and Mr Matthews had to report this to headquarters.

Another incident occurred when he responded to a case of attempted suicide in Chin Swee Road.

He took the initiative to yank a woman off a ledge as she might have jumped in the time taken for him to report the matter to headquarters and wait for instructions.

The retired inspector, who left the force in 1995, has been regaling visitors to the bunker with anecdotes such as these, adding flavour to their tours.

"Visitors are shocked that such a place existed," said Mr Matthews. "This place, for 60 years, has been providing safety and security for Singapore."


He put his soft skills to good use at police post

Mr Tan Kok Wah, whose last rank was senior staff sergeant and who retired this year at the age of 62, fondly remembers the years he spent at the Kreta Ayer Neighbourhood Police Post - from 1995 to 2001. It is one of nine sites on the new Police Herit
Mr Tan Kok Wah, whose last rank was senior staff sergeant and who retired this year at the age of 62, fondly remembers the years he spent at the Kreta Ayer Neighbourhood Police Post - from 1995 to 2001. It is one of nine sites on the new Police Heritage Trail. ST PHOTO: GIN TAY

When Mr Tan Kok Wah decided on a career switch to become a policeman at the age of 25, some people tried to change his mind.

"They told me, Mr Tan, your character is so soft, how can you be a policeman?" he said.

But the former sales supervisor at a department store put his soft skills and affable nature to good use, especially during his stint at the Kreta Ayer Neighbourhood Police Post (NPP).

Mr Tan, who retired this year at 62, fondly remembered the years he spent at the NPP, from 1995 to 2001.

It is the only two-storey police post in Singapore, and one of nine sites on the newly launched Police Heritage Trail. It was also arguably one of the busiest NPPs, as it served a wide variety of "customers", recalled Mr Tan.

During the day, businessmen from the Central Business District would pop over to file reports on crimes in the office. In the evening, however, officers would attend to disputes or manage rowdy crowds at the nightlife establishments in Circular Road, said Mr Tan, whose last rank was senior staff sergeant.

The officers would also patrol residential estates in Chinatown and attend to residents' complaints or reports, he added.

It was here that Mr Tan shone as a neighbourhood policeman, patrolling the area often and checking in on residents. The good rapport he built with the residents made it easier for him to keep the peace and fight crime, as people would approach him and accept his advice.

"I think the NPP system allowed the police to have a more personal touch when policing," said Mr Tan.