A look into the lives of 4 female S'pore police officers

A look into the lives of 4 female S'pore police officers
PHOTO: The Straits Times

The number of female officers in the Singapore Police Force (SPF) has increased over the last decade. Currently, women make up about 18 per cent of the estimated 8,800 uniformed officers in the police force, up from 14 per cent in 2003.

The first batch of female officers were recruited in 1949 to form the Women Special Constabulary. Over the years, they have taken up more roles and responsibilities.

In 1990, female Volunteer Special Constabulary officers - referring to part-time officers - were recruited and posted to the Traffic Police department.

In 2007, a Special Women's Task Team comprising 23 female officers was formed and placed under the control of the Special Operations Command, a specialist unit.

To encourage more women to join the force, the SPF participates in various career fairs. It also organises self-defence and leadership courses for female students from tertiary institutions. Lim Yi Han and Ng Huiwen profile four female officers, past and present.

Retired officer recalls hectic SIA hijacking in 1991

It was nearly 10pm on March 26, 1991, when Madam Evelyn Wong received a call informing her that a Singapore Airlines plane - SQ117- had been hijacked.

Now 71, Madam Wong, a retired Senior Staff Sergeant, said: "I thought they were joking and I scolded the guy who called me. "I said, don't play a fool. How can this be possible?"

When she reached the airport, many officers were already gathered at the police station.

"The spotlights were all on, with the "ang chia" (Hokkien for the red anti-riot vehicle) present," she recalled.

Madam Wong went to the operations room, where she oversaw the receipt and exchange of messages between different police units.

"You got no time to think, the hijackers were saying things like, you better (accede to our) requests or we will shoot a passenger every five minutes.

"I was really nervous, as it was very chaotic and hectic," she said.

The veteran officer, who retired in 1994, cited the incident as one of her most memorable cases.

She took on many roles during her 31-year career with the force, including a stint as personal security officer to the principal of Chung Hwa Girls' High School, now known as Zhonghua Secondary School, from 1965 to 1966.

Chinese students were protesting against the Government then, and had thought the principal was working with the authorities to abolish the Chinese education system.

The principal needed a bodyguard as she was at risk of being attacked by the students.

Madam Wong, a trained marksman, was also at the front office of the Paya Lebar Police Station during the 1969 race riots.

Those who were injured had turned up at the station to seek help and protection.

The mother of two joined the police force in 1963 after she saw an advertisement. She passed her interview, and trained for nine months at the former Police Academy in Mount Pleasant Road.

Instructors were very strict in those days. "If your buttons were not shiny, you would be scolded.

"When I think back, that was good because it instilled discipline.

"But(back then), I thought it was too harsh. I cried many times during training," she said. "And you would get scolded for crying."

Madam Wong was first posted to Paya Lebar Police Station, and later served in other divisions including the Police Academy and Airport Police.

After retiring in 1994, she joined the Trade Development Board, now known as International Enterprise Singapore, for nine years as an enforcement officer.

She also worked as a Customs officer, and at the Department of Statistics, among others.

Her advice for young officers?

"They must be passionate.

"The force will train you to be a multi-tasker and the exposure you get is really different.

"You won't get this kind of experience elsewhere."

'Fulfilling job that trains you to be patient person'

About two months into her job, Sergeant Cassandra Lee was alerted to a suicide case.

The 23-year-old police officer from Nanyang Neighbourhood Police Centre (NPC) was patrolling when she was told to head down to a dormitory where a worker had hanged himself.

She said: "I was a bit anxious, and prepared for the worst... I had to help carry the body down."

That image was seared in her mind for several days, as it was the first time she had dealt with a body.

"I couldn't get that image out of my head," she said.

A police officer is also a jack of all trades, added Sgt Lee, as she shared a domestic dispute case that she handled about half a year ago.

She said: "The parents and their daughter were fighting with each other and my colleagues and I had to separate them... For an hour, I tried to counsel them. They eventually cooled down and reconciled.

"It could have been worse... sometimes people call the police to prevent quarrels from escalating."

Sgt Lee, who graduated from Nanyang Polytechnic with a diploma in Multimedia and Infocomm Technology, wanted to join the police force as she likes interacting with others.

She signed up in November 2013, and went for a six-month training stint before being posted to Nanyang NPC.

"I want to make a difference in others' lives... I have thought of doing social work but I felt policing is more interesting," she said.

"My brother served his national service as a police officer and he shared with me stories."

She added: "This is a fulfilling job... In some cases, people share their problems and we will try our best to help. It trains you to be a patient person."

Doing something extra in special task team

A typical day for investigation officer Rohana Ramlan, 39, involves combing through stacks of paper work to trace the culprits behind various commercial crimes.

But if the police need to respond to public order incidents, she could be one of six or seven female police officers deployed to the front line, as part of the elite Special Women's Task Team (SWTT).

She was handpicked to join its pioneer batch of 23 female officers in 2007, when the Singapore Police Force (SPF) introduced a women-only task force to deal with public disobedience or disorder situations involving women, children and the elderly.

Now into her 20th year with the police, Ms Rohana's full-time role is with the Commercial Crime Squad. Like her, SWTT officers hold various regular appointments in the force.

"I wanted to do something extra besides just my role as a police officer. So I gave it a try, went for the interview and I got selected. For me, it's just like a co-curricular activity," said Ms Rohana.

Trained to handle passive resistance incidents such as non-violent protests, SWTT officers are commonly deployed for major national events such as the New Year countdown celebrations and the South-east Asia Games.

"Once we're activated, we'll have to be on standby till the deployment ends. Sometimes, this can last up to 12 hours," she added.

And while long hours on the job sometimes leave the mother of twin boys, aged five, with little time for her family, she stressed that time management is key.

Said Ms Rohana, who is married to a fellow police officer: "I will focus on finishing my work during the weekdays.

"Sometimes I get rostered to work on weekends, but if my husband and I are both off, it's a must for us to spend time with our children."

Ms Rohana believes that she has come a long way since she joined the force at 19.

She said: "Back then, I was timid, girly and loved to stay at home. My parents were shocked and worried when they found out I wanted to join the force, but I told them to just trust me and my decision.

"It's a challenging job and you face different things every day, but that's what I enjoy about it."

Beauty queen who always wanted to serve

Months before she was crowned Miss World Singapore in September last year, Ms Dalreena Poonam Gill Ganesan had already opted to don a blue uniform.

The 21-year-old signed up online to join the Singapore Police Force (SPF) early last year - a career choice influenced by her father, a retired army regular, and her friends in the Home Team.

"I always wanted to be in one of the forces. As I grew older, I narrowed my choice to the police," she said. "I felt it was the right path for me since I enjoy challenges. I was also inspired by what my friends shared about their experiences."

The 1.72m tall beauty queen, who is an only child, went on to compete in the Miss World finals in London in December last year before starting her police training in April.

As part of her six-month training, she completed a short attachment with the Jurong West Neighbourhood Police Centre (NPC).

She responded to her first case on Oct 12, when a fire broke out at a gas manufacturing firm along Tanjong Kling Road that left one dead and seven injured.

She was initially tasked to cordon off the area and direct people out of the premises.

But later, as the only female police officer on the scene, she stepped in to help retrieve the body parts of the female victim in the firm's laboratory.

"I knew she had just come back from maternity leave and had a young daughter. I had to put my emotions away," she said. "I didn't feel scared by the incident, but I felt really sad for what happened to her.

"So far, this experience has taught me the most. I learnt how to manage my emotions and also how to manage the scene."

There were just 16 trainees in her squad, and she recalled how they forged close ties and supported one another. One training task involved navigating around a pitch-dark building to gather evidence.

She has since started work as a police officer at Queenstown NPC, after graduating last month.

"People expect more when they know I was Miss Singapore, but I take it positively and tell them it's very different. You can learn only hands on as a police officer."

limyihan@sph.com.sg

nghuiwen@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on Dec 28, 2015.
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