Crack troops always at the ready

Troopers from the anti-riot Police Tactical Unit running through a wall of fire created by petrol bombs during fire confidence training. While a minimum level of physical fitness is required, the SOC has a "comprehensive training regime" to help officers meet the requirements, says AC Anthony Ng, the unit's chief.

Flipping a 100kg tyre and bearing 40kg of water for two minutes are just two of the numerous gruelling exercises that troopers in the Special Operations Command (SOC) must go through.

But while the job of a trooper is demanding, the SOC - more commonly known as the anti-riot police - wants to debunk the notion that only those who are physically fit will be able to join its ranks.

Assistant Commissioner of Police Anthony Ng, 47, who leads the elite police unit, said the SOC looks out for applicants with a positive attitude, resilience, a willingness to learn and determination.

Giving his first media interview since he took on the role in 2011, AC Ng noted: "One major challenge that we have is the perception that only those who are physically fit will be able to join SOC."

While a minimum level of fitness is required, he said the SOC has a "comprehensive training regime" to help officers meet the requirements.

The SOC was thrown into the spotlight after the Dec 8 Little India riot. The worst public disorder incident in four decades, the riot left 54 officers and other first responders injured and raised questions about the adequacy of the police response.

After a Committee of Inquiry on the riot, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean told Parliament in July that the SOC will get 300 more officers to strengthen its ability to deal with large-scale public order incidents.

Formed as a single riot squad in 1952 after the Maria Hertogh riot, the SOC now comprises three primary units - the Police Tactical Unit (PTU), the Police K-9 Unit, and the Special Tactics and Rescue Unit.

The anti-riot PTU currently has eight troops of 35 men each.

AC Ng, who joined the police in 1992 and served as deputy director of operations from 2008 to 2011, said his top priority is to recruit enough officers over the next three years to respond faster to incidents.

The 300 more officers will double the SOC's current strength of deployable front-line troopers.

They will also be better armed to deal with a wider range of situations and crowd size. Both troop size and the number of troops for round-the-clock standby duty will be increased too.

Having more troopers on the ground will mean higher visibility, which deters crime.

AC Ng added that the changes will help the SOC perform its duties more effectively and efficiently while maintaining a high standard of safety for officers and the public.

And in the midst of the expansion and enhancement efforts, AC Ng stressed the SOC will continue to be operationally ready at all times.

When asked about the Dec 8 riot, AC Ng said: "I had no doubt that we were up to the task that night."

He said his initial concern was ensuring that the situation did not spread to other parts of Singapore.

"The morale of my officers was also a concern as my key officers and I knew that there will be protracted operations, post-incident," he said.

Casting an eye on the future, he said: "Placing importance on constant training and benchmarking ourselves with others with expertise in this policing field will put us in good stead, moving forward."

TOUGH, REALISTIC TRAINING

Sergeant Syamraj Rajendran Unnithan was unsure if he could make the cut when he volunteered to be a trooper in the Special Operations Command (SOC).

"Everybody looked up to the SOC. So I wanted to find out what that something was," said the 23-year-old who joined the police force about two years ago.

He was selected for the elite Police Tactical Unit (PTU) under the SOC in December last year and, as with all new officers, went through an eight-week basic training course that included fitness, weapons and public order training.

He said: "During the training, I really couldn't get up the next morning because my body was aching so badly. The training is so structured that it targets all your muscles, so your whole body is in pain."

But the exacting regime whipped him into shape. Troopers have to continue their vigorous training to stay fit even after completing the basic course.

Besides CrossFit, where they do exercises such as flipping 100kg tyres, they also do fast marches in public order gear weighing about 16kg.

Their training also focuses on equipping them with the instincts to deal with daunting real-life scenarios.

For example, they run through fire in their gear with and without shields, and go through simulation exercises to learn how to neutralise armed gunmen.

While being a PTU trooper is undoubtedly tough, the men have it better now compared with the past, said Senior Station Inspector Jamil Nawin, 55.

The 35-year veteran of the SOC said: "Last time, we didn't have all these fire-retardant suits to protect us."

When asked how he keeps fit despite being the oldest man in the PTU, he said it is all about having the self-discipline and taking time to train on his own.

"At the end of the day, I also have to go for fitness tests. If I fail, I cannot be deployed."


This article was first published on October 19, 2014.
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