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Home / People / Volunteers / Keeping an eye on loansharks  
Published: 27 Dec 2010 04:52PM (Singapore)
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Keeping an eye on loansharks
Neighbourhood watch groups see crime prevention results. Join Home Team News as they find out what residents are doing to fight crime in their community.
By Tan Yi Wen
Neighbourhood watch group Toh Guan Patriots spread crime prevention messages to the foreign worker community at Toh Guan Road East. PHOTO: Tan Yi Wen

Along a quiet footpath in the Toh Guan estate one night, three foreign workers were drinking beer and breaking the bottles when volunteer on patrol Kuzhippattil Unni approached them to tell them not to litter.

That got the group agitated and the situation was tense but the 38-year-old supervisor of a marine company diffused the situation when he addressed them as "Anna" (pronounced “Ah-Nah”), a respectful Tamil term for elder brother and explained the consequence of littering.

The foreign workers cleaned up the mess.

Mr Unni who recalled the incident is a Toh Guan Patriot, a patrol group of foreign workers and residents formed in November 2008 to help tackle crime in the Toh Guan Road East area.

Such patrols are seeing results especially in anti-loanshark efforts.

Keeping the loan sharks at bay
For Nee Soon East Neighbourhood Watch Group, eight of the 35 unlicensed money lending-related arrests had the help of timely information from the group. Their efforts were featured in crime prevention programme Crime Watch's April episode.

Yet another group in Jurong East saw a few arrests made with the help of its members.

These two groups are part of the eight anti-loanshark related groups nominated and awarded for their efforts at the annual National Community Safety and Security Programme (CSSP) Awards.

At a ceremony on July 23 at HomeTeamNS @ Bukit Batok, Senior Minister of State for Law and Home Affairs Ho Peng Kee said he was heartened by the partnership between people and police.

“The key really is a very involved, engaged, committed and passionate citizenry out there who know the local situation, who work with the uniformed personnel on the ground and together devise practical solutions,” said Associate Professor Ho.

The number of reported loanshark and harassment cases rose from 11,879 cases in 2008 to 18,645 cases in 2009.

With anti-loanshark watch groups playing their part, there may well be more community patrol successes.

Award winner Unlicensed Money Lender Harassment Intervention Squad is yet another group that has seen results.

Since its launch in August 2009, the Buona Vista Constituency has seen a decrease in the number of reported loanshark harassment cases from an average of 15 cases per month from May to Jul 2009, to an average of 8 cases per month from Aug to Dec 2009.

Squad volunteer Susan Lim said that one tactic they used to tackle loanshark harassment is to conduct patrols at different timings to make their rounds less predictable for the unlicensed money lenders’ runners.

Other methods used by watch groups are the installation of closed-circuit television cameras and motion detectors outside homes hit by runners.

Sembawang Town Council Frontiers honoured for their CSSP efforts during the 2010 National Community Safety and Security Programme (CSSP) Awards, with Guest-of-Honour Senior Minister of State for Law and Home Affairs Ho Peng Kee (fifth from right). PHOTO: Tan Yi Wen

Bringing a community together
The Community Safety and Security Programme started in 1999.

It helped to build a support network for people to look out for the safety and security of their community.

That network brought together a variety of community members from all walks of life.

This can be seen in the list of this year's award winners.

Winner Geylang Serai Community Emergency and Engagement Committee galvanised the various religious organisations, clan associations and foreign worker dormitories in their area to work together in emergency exercises.

While another winning group, Sembawang Town Council Frontiers banded Town Council cleaners, workers and their supervisors together.
They were trained in basic crime prevention and fire prevention skills.
Mr. Kuzhippattil Unni, one of the Toh Guan Patriots.

One group member spotted a rubbish bin fire and helped put it out.
“They act as an extra pair of eyes and ears for the Police and the SCDF so that in times of emergency they are able to contact the relevant authorities,” said Sembawang Town Council property manager Low Ah Poon.

For CSSP winner Toh Guan Patriots, the group brings together residents and foreign workers from the Toh Guan Dormitory and Centurion Westlife Dormitory to patrol the area with the help of Clementi Neighbourhood Police Centre.

Group member Mr Unni had been with the group since it started about two years ago and he says the ability to communicate with other foreign workers helped them be more receptive to crime prevention and safety messages.

Mr. Unni, who speaks five languages, felt that volunteering with the watch group was rewarding.

“It’s a form of social work for me as we can help our colleagues and all of our brothers," he said.

Mr Unni believes that workers would benefit from heeding Singapore's laws as jail time and a fine would simply mean a huge loss of income to the workers' families back home.
More photos of the Toh Guan Patriots on Patrol:
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