Staying alert at the frontline

Staying alert at the frontline

What you need

Entry requirements for an ICA Specialist:

Singapore citizen

At least five O-level passes or a National Institute of Technical Education Certificate (Nitec)

Physically fit

Normal colour vision

Career prospects:

Newly appointed officers undergo an eight-week Basic Officer Course at the Home Team Academy, which will include:

Document examination and forgery detection

People, goods and vehicle screening

Profiling techniques

Law and legislation

Firearms training

Control and restraint techniques

Attachment at Checkpoints, Enforcement Command and Services Centres

An eight-day residential Home Team Basic Course Upon appointment, officers may initially be deployed to the Woodlands Checkpoint, Tuas Checkpoint, Singapore Cruise Centre or other checkpoints.

Far from stamping passports, Sergeant Liew Jinrui, 28, faces big challenges serving at the forefront of Singapore's security.

He is a Primary Screening Officer (PSO) with the Immigration & Checkpoints Authority of Singapore (ICA), and is stationed at the Tuas Checkpoint.

As an ICA Specialist, Sgt Liew is responsible for the immigration clearance of personnel and cargo.

Sgt Liew, who joined ICA in Oct 2009, said: "Most people think that being a PSO is boring, but it requires constant vigilance because the potential threats coming into Singapore are very real.

"You have to be self-motivated and versatile, able to take the initiative, and make snap judgments if needed."

Last November, Sgt Liew was carrying out image analysis, which involves screening vehicles with X-rays to look for potential contraband, when he noticed an anomaly in a lorry's spare tyre mounted on its undercarriage.

Sgt Liew quickly decided to have the vehicle stopped.

He said: "The driver had been flagged for suspicious behaviour during his previous trips through the Tuas Checkpoint but there was always insufficient evidence to detain him.

"This time, though, I noticed that there was definitely something wrong with the spare tyre, so I questioned the driver while my colleague inspected the lorry."

Sgt Liew's instincts were right.

A stash of undeclared chewing tobacco was found hidden inside the lorry's spare tyre.

While Sgt Liew can't reveal more details about the case, he said: "It was my first time stopping a motorist for a vehicular search, and I always thought that someone with something to hide would be very nervous or have red eyes, which is not uncommon from what I've heard.

"But the lorry driver was totally calm and collected throughout the search. He only let slip his emotions once the game was up.

"Along with the sense of accomplishment that I felt, it reinforced the point that constant vigilance is paramount."

The "never-ending race" to keep one step ahead of the smugglers suits Sgt Liew perfectly.

He started out as an engineering assistant after graduating in 2009 from Singapore Polytechnic with a Diploma in Electrical & Electronic Engineering.

He dislikes desk-bound jobs, so Sgt Liew appreciates the real-world exposure that ICA affords him.

He said: "Meeting people from all parts of the world is exciting, because you learn about foreigners' mannerisms on the job.

"Their English may not be up to par, which is why you have to figure out how to communicate with them in other ways. My job has also made me a more confident person when with friends and family, because it's so much easier than talking to people who might barely understand English."

Being an ICA Specialist is also not without its perks.

As a diploma holder, Sgt Liew draws a monthly salary of about S$2,200. He also received a signing-on bonus of S$8,000 in return for a two-year bond with ICA.

He stands to receive two further retention payouts if he completes a third and fifth year respectively with ICA, with each payout ranging from S$6,000 to S$10,000.

But Sgt Liew's No. 1 motivation is being able to contribute to the safety of Singapore.

He said: "When you put on the ICA uniform it gives you that natural focus that keeps you going, even into the wee hours.

"Working odd hours may not be for everyone, but working a shift system does have its benefits. Most places are crowded on weekends, and I prefer being able to have my days off during the week, when the places are not so crowded."

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