Over 70 and fighting crime

Retired nurse Nancy Low, 72, with (from right) Mr Ong Beng Siong and Mr Rawi Tuki, greeting shop owner Ong Song Huat while on patrol in Jurong West. She joins other volunteers who patrol the neighbourhood between two and three times a week to keep a lookout for crimes like bicycle thieves and unlicensed money lending. The feisty senior citizen says that her passion is to help protect others, particularly fellow senior citizens vulnerable to crime.

SINGAPORE - She's 72.

While one would expect a senior citizen to stay home watching television dramas or playing mahjong, Madam Nancy Low is resolutely breaking this stereotype.

The retired nurse is donning a yellow reflective vest, and patrolling the streets of Jurong West as one of the neighbourhood's new crime fighters.

Along with other volunteers, she will pit herself against bicycle thieves and unlicensed money lenders - the most common offenders in the neighbourhood, according to the police.

She's the oldest in a group of 20 volunteers who are part of the Citizens on Patrol Hotwheels initiative.

The volunteers plan to patrol between two and three times a week, from 7pm to 10pm on foot and from 11pm to 5am on bicycles.

A joint effort by the Jurong West Neighbourhood Police Centre and the area's grassroots committee, it was officially launched by Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam yesterday, who called it a "very important initiative" and praised the spirit of partnership between residents and the police.

This is the first time that the police are teaming up with volunteers to conduct bicycle patrols. Madam Low laughed off concerns that she may be too old for the job. She asked with aplomb: "I don't look like my age, do I?

"I want to bring peace and safety to my community. I also enjoy meeting other residents and keeping active helps to prevent me from getting dementia." Indeed, the spunky woman is doing this despite

her husband's objections: "My husband thinks that this is a waste of time and would rather I stay at home. But I explained to him that my passion is to help others, especially other senior citizens who are vulnerable to crime."

She feels that instead of being an impediment, her age is actually an asset as she walks around the neighbourhood - as other senior citizens would feel more comfortable and connect with her better.

She would have loved to be on a cycling patrol of the area, but she suffered a fall from a bicycle 13 years ago. Objections from her doctor have prevented her from riding a bike again.

A police spokesman said the volunteers will be accompanied by regular cops on the beat, but eventually the volunteers will patrol more independently.

The citizen patrols act as "additional eyes and ears", she added.

A Jurong West resident, businessman Rawi Tuki, 55, came up with the idea for the citizen patrols. He is now coordinating the programme.

He said the group's role is to assist the police in their crime-prevention efforts, and not to replace them. "If we were to witness a crime taking place or any suspicious characters, we would observe them from a distance, take note... and call the police."

"Our intention here is to bring back the kampung spirit, where we watch out for one another."

When quizzed on why his volunteers are aged 45 and up, he admits that younger residents may have more demands on their time.

"It's very hard to get them as many are very focused on their careers," he said.

When The New Paper on Sunday randomly polled 20 Jurong West residents, most welcomed the patrols.

Store-owner Ong Song Huat, 64, was appreciative of their efforts. He said: "They would definitely help improve safety in the area. I don't think age is an issue especially since they are volunteers."

Mr Lucas Huang, 27, said the advantage of having residents on duty is that they would be familiar with the surroundings.

A few residents were concerned about the safety of the volunteers, but these concerns were assuaged by the thought that policemen would be accompanying them on patrols initially.

While Madam Low acknowledged that safety was a concern, she was confident she and her fellow volunteers were up to the task.

The patriotic citizen said: "Through our group, we are bringing people together for the sake of our community.

"This way, we can work towards becoming united citizens for a united Singapore."