The police force in Singapore has come a long way since Francis James Bernard led his first troop of officers, comprising one sergeant, 12 constables and a jail warden, to keep order and peace in the once sleepy fishing village.
The modest military troop, which was first established in 1819, has since grown by over a thousand fold in the last two centuries, and today boasts over 15,000 uniformed officers.
Getting here is a long journey, after years of struggles by the heroes in blue who braved the perils of a turbulent period of social unrests, racial riots and armed robberies in the 50’s and 60’s.
As a tribute to these unsung heroes, the $1.2 million Police Heritage Centre (PHC) – spanning over an area of 660 square meters – was set up in 2002 to serve as a custodian of the Singapore Police Force’s (SPF) legacy, and as an education conduit to pass this extraordinary slice of history from one generation to the next.
Piecing history together
An instrumental figure in setting up the centre, Ms Kittybond Koo, Deputy Director of Heritage Development Unit at the Ministry of Home Affairs said: “It took [us] twenty months of planning and conceptualization and subsequently three months to build the centre”, recounting her experience 14 years back when the team were tasked with meeting tight deadlines for establishing the multifarious showcase of interactive story panels and captivating exhibits.
She worked with a team of three including Mr Tan Puay Kern, former Director of Special Duties & Public Affairs Department at SPF; Ms Teo Hwee Kuan, former Manager of PHC; and Ms Anna Wee, Assistant Research & Planning Officer with the Commercial Affairs Department at SPF, during the conception, planning and development phases of the project.
Police staff including Police National Service (PNS) full-time officers from various units was, too, roped in to help construct the digital and audio materials to recreate the past and present days of policing in Singapore.
Building the centre came with many challenges for the team, one of which was to retrieve and restore artifacts from multiple sources such as the now defunct Black Museum located within the premises of the Old Police Academy, and the National Archives of Singapore.
They also had to dig through piles of books and publications about Singapore’s history as well as audio-visual history recollections of officers to piece the historical records.
“Imagine two centuries of research, how we painstakingly pulled it out”, Ms Koo said jokingly.
|One of the most valuable artifacts in the Police Heritage Centre, the Samurai sword was donated by retired Superintendent Niaz Mohamed Shah, who received the prized possession from the British as a recognition of the bravery he displayed during the Second War World. PHOTO: Thomas Tan|
Yet, she took pride in how hard they worked.
“Among over fifty government galleries in Singapore, the PHC has established itself as one of the best,” Ms Koo noted, her voice soaked with gratification.
"I am proud of the team and all SPF officers, past and present who made the PHC possible," she added.
A tour down memory lane
The four galleries that surround the PHC tell the key events of the SPF‘s history, juxtaposed with the social, economic and political growth of Singapore from 1819 into the new millennium.
The Commemorative Gallery takes visitors through the achievements of the first three Asian Commissioners of Police, John Le Cain, Cheam Kim Seang and Tan Teck Khim, and pays tribute to the noble officers who died in the line of duty, and those whose memorable acts of gallantry went beyond and above the call of duty.
|Artifacts that belonged to the first three Asian Commissioners of Police (CP) [From left to right] Original passport copy of CP Walter John Clunies Le Cain (1963 - 1967), Mementos from the Police Force upon the retirement of CP Cheam Kim Seang (1967 - 1971), CP Tan Teck Khim's (1971 - 1979) highly decorated uniform adorned with medals and ribbons. PHOTO: Thomas Tan|
Situated outside the doors of the main gallery is the Command Gallery, which highlights the key milestones of Singapore’s Police Commissioners including the legacies of Thomas Dunman and Harold Fairburn who played influential roles in shaping the history of the force, interspersed with road signs such as Dunlop Road and Maxwell Road named after former Commissioners Colonel Samuel Dunlop and Sir William Edward Maxwell.
As I maneuvered my way through the chronicles of the SPF in the main gallery, I was taken on a journey through time – a journey into the war-torn Singapore plagued with waves of disastrous events such as the 5th Light Infantry Mutiny and the Maria Hertogh riots, which later led to the rise of the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) and the Police Tactical Unit (PTU) popularly known for its distinctive ‘Ang Chia’.
In the center of the gallery space is the mimic of a riot scene which displays a mock up of a riot squad geared with anti-riot paraphernalia – bringing the stories of the Hock Lee Bus riots and the 1964 racial riots to life.
|A mock up display of the Riot Squad formed in 1952 - later commissioned as the Reserved Unit in 1953 which is eventually today's Police Tactical Unit. Riot officers were decked out in uniforms and held a rattan wicker shield. PHOTO: Thomas Tan|
Among the 1,000 artefacts in the gallery’s collections are dozens of riot gears, security firearms – both used by the armed forces and recovered in crimes – as well as seized weapons of the secret societies in the early days of Singapore.
|A display of the Kukri knife, a signature weapon issued to the Gurkha Contingent in Singapore. The two smaller blades are used for sharpening and maintaining the Kukri. PHOTO: Thomas Tan|
Of particular interest is a small partitioned enclosure which showcases the landmark cases of secret societies involving kidnappers Loh Ngut Fong and Morgan Teo Khee Lai who were both fatally shot by policemen in the 1960s as well as the dark past of Pulau Senang – an experimental prison facility that gone terribly wrong.
|A secret society's altar where initiation rituals were performed. New gang members would prick their fingers and drop their blood into the blow and members would then be required to drink the blood from the bowl to seal the vow. PHOTO: Thomas Tan|
Celebrating a significant milestone
The centre currently draws an average of 9,000 visitors a year from government servants and foreign delegates, and to a smaller extent, members of the public and tourists.
It reached a significant milestone on 25 September when it hits the unprecedented landmark figure of 100,000 in visitor count.
Mr Shawkat Mostafa, from Bangladesh, was officially greeted by the team who runs the Police Heritage Centre, for being the 100,000th guest since the centre opened its doors twelve years ago.
Metta Yang, head of Heritage and Social Responsibility Branch in the Public Affairs Department at SPF, expressed delight in achieving the six-figure record.
“It is a huge milestone for us. Given that we are not a museum which is open to walk-in customers, attracting our 100,000th visitor in twelve years is something to be proud of,” she said.
As part of the PHC outreach efforts to allow deeper understanding of the SPF and its integral role in the effective governance of Singapore, the centre organises free guided tours for pre-booked groups for institutions and private groups.
Low Kee How, a family services officer at the Ministry of Social and Family Development, was one of the visitors who had a chance to participate in the tour. “I think this is a place that more people should be aware of and should come and take a look.”
“It is refreshing to see that the police force has put up something like that for us”, he said.
The Police Heritage Centre opens from 10am to 5pm from Tuesdays to Thursdays and 10am to 1pm every Saturday. It is closed on Mondays and Sundays. Groups interested to view the centre can write in to book an appointment for a guided tour at least five working days in advance. Each tour group should comprise five or more guests. A complete tour of the centre lasts about 1 hour and 30 minutes.