SINGAPORE - Mr Robin Chia belongs to a growing group of schoolteachers that do more than just teach.
Besides giving lessons, the 56-year-old, who has been teaching for 34 years, also conducts patrols and checks on students in his school. If his students run afoul of the law, he can even arrest them.
Sounds no different from a policeman? That is because Mr Chia actually is one.
As an honorary Volunteer Special Constabulary (VSC) officer, he is vested with full police powers, privileges and immunities to deal with student-related matters that occur within the school premises, its immediate vicinity and other venues where school activities are held, said a police spokesman.
The bad news for troublemakers in schools is that there are more of these "teacher-cops" like Mr Chia.
When the scheme was launched in 1997, mainly to battle youth crime, only 11 teachers from five secondary schools signed up. Today, there are 293 teacher-cops in over 140 secondary schools and Institute of Technical Education (ITE) campuses.
These officers have to go through 10 days of non-residential basic training at the Home Team Academy, where they learn about the law and acquire self-defence skills. They are also taught how to identify the troubled teens in school.
The scheme seems to be working.
Police statistics showed that youth crimes have been on a downward trend since 2009. In the first nine months of this year, there were 2,072 cases of shop theft and other theft-related offences involving young people aged seven to 19. In the same period last year, there were 2,591 such cases. Last year, the cases dropped to 3,359, from 4,271 in 2009.
Bukit Panjang Government High School teacher Lim Jun Sheng said the scheme has given him knowledge of the law, which he passes on to his students to discourage them from breaking it.
As a VSC officer, he works closely with regular officers from the nearby Neighbourhood Police Centres to keep students from getting into trouble during the June and December school holidays, when they are more prone to committing offences.
"It is more effective when students hear it from their teachers, whom they see every day, than from the police authority," said Mr Lim. His colleague at the school, Madam Zizi Elliza, who is the head of discipline, agrees.
She said teacher-cops like Mr Lim would also don their blue police uniforms during the school's open house to reassure parents that their children are safe in school.
The 32-year-old, who has been teaching for eight years, said that she would be taking part in the scheme next year and is looking forward to joining the ranks of the 29 female VSC officers who are also teachers.
Mr Chia, who joined the VSC scheme in 2010, has dealt with a variety of cases, including vandalism, theft and fighting.
Like an undercover cop, he walks around campus to conduct random checks on students. When he spots any suspected secret society members, he would alert the Secret Society Branch of the Criminal Investigation Department.
Like regular police officers, VSC officers carry police warrant cards and have the power of arrest.
Very few of the teacher-cops The Sunday Times spoke to, however, said that they have had to use the authority granted to them by the police.
Mr Chia, who teaches at ITE College Central, recalled one occasion when a group of students threatened to beat up a teacher in a toilet.
"The teacher was my colleague and also a VSC officer," said Mr Chia, who is also the discipline master of the school. "He was ambushed, but the students backed off when he flashed his police warrant card. The presence of police authority in school does help to stop some troublemakers."
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