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Early 1820 - Our Origins

Policing in Singapore can trace its origins to soon after Sir Stamford Raffles established a trading post in Singapore. Recognising the need for law and order in the booming immigrant town, Major-General William Farquhar, the first British Resident of colonial Singapore, established the police department in 1820. He appointed his son-in-law, Francis James Bernard as the Police Assistant leading a 12-man team including a writer, jailor, jemadar (sergeant), and eight peada (constables) to enforce law and order in the fledgling settlement. The first police office was built near the Singapore River in December 1820.

 

1826 - 1871 - Policing a Flourishing Town

In 1826, Singapore became incorporated into the Straits Settlements. The police force in Singapore came under the command of the Resident Councillor John Prince. Singapore, with its largely poverty-stricken immigrant population and pirate ships threatening maritime trade faced high crime rates in its early years. The development of the legal institutions could not keep pace with the growing population. Many crimes went unreported. Further exacerbating the problem was the lack of proper supervision in the police force and poor morale among the rank-and-file officers.

Thomas-Dunman 
Thomas Dunman, the first Commissioner of Police. Source: Donald Davies, "More Old Singapore", 1956

Following an urgent public meeting in February 1843 to discuss measures to fight rampant crime, Mr Thomas Dunman was assigned the twin portfolio of Deputy Magistrate and Deputy Superintendent of Police. Working tirelessly to improve the Force, he raised the calibre of policemen by stressing on discipline amongst officers. By 1846, he had established rules and regulations for officers to adhere to, drew patrol sector boundaries and introduced a standard uniform for use. He also fought for better working conditions and wages, shorter hours and a pension scheme. When the Police Act of 1856 came into operation on 1 January 1857, Dunman became the first full-time Commissioner of Police. He served with distinction until 1871.

During this period, the police force also introduced its first specialist units to combat specific crimes. In 1866, a small Detective Department was set up to investigate secret societies. In the same year, a floating police station was built, marking the establishment of a Marine Police to combat piracy and protect Singapore’s vulnerable shipping routes.

Detective-Branch-1906 
Detective Department in 1906. Source: SPF

 

1872 - 1942 - The Straits Settlements Police Force

Shortly after the Straits Settlements became a crown colony in 1867, the police underwent a re-organisation with the enactment of the Police Force Ordinance (1871) in 1872. This gave rise to the Straits Settlements Police Force when one Inspector-General of Police, headquartered in Singapore, took charge of all the police forces in the Straits Settlements.

Early-Khaki-Uniform-1890-Second-World-War 
Early khaki uniform worn from 1890 to before Second World War. Source: SPF

The Straits Settlements Police Force faced many challenges in this new era. With the growth of trade due to events like the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869, Singapore grew rapidly. As the port flourished, large numbers of Chinese coolies flocked to Singapore looking for work. The new waves of mostly poor and uneducated male migrant workers brought along law and order problems. Prostitution, gambling, drug abuse, secret societies activities and riots were widespread.  Secret societies in particular, proved to be a major source of crime resulting in incessant rioting, thuggery and abuse of new immigrants. To combat this, the Chinese Protectorate was established in 1877 and new laws were passed to control secret societies. Following the 1879 Commission of Inquiry into the state of the police force, a new Sikh Police Contingent (SPC) was formed in the local police force in 1881. The SPC was deployed to form the nucleus of an elite armed police and, together with measures to reign in the influence of secret societies, proved an immediate success in maintaining law and order.

Sikh-Policemen 
Sikh Policemen. Source: Gretchen Liu, "Singapore: A Pictorial History", 2007

The turn of the century saw an ever increasing population and the police had to expand to cope with increasing crime, particularly internal security threats linked to overseas events in China, India, and Japan. The police responded with an expansion of policing and investigative capabilities, instituted proper training with the establishment of the Police Training School in 1929, as well as improved working conditions with new police stations. The Straits Settlements Police’s actions against communists and secret societies helped make Singapore safer and more prosperous but bred some resentment among the sympathetic Chinese who saw the police as a tool of the colonial government.

 

1942 - 1945 - World War II

On 15 February 1942, Singapore fell to the Japanese and remained in occupation until their surrender in September 1945. This occupation dealt a heavy blow to the police force as many of its leaders, including Inspector-General A. H. Dickinson, were interned and it came under the control of the Japanese. 

 

1946 - 1959 - Restoring Order

The British Military Administration took charge of Singapore until 1 April 1946 when the Straits Settlements was dissolved and Singapore became a crown colony. Under this new administration, the police in Singapore was renamed the Singapore Police Force (SPF) in 1945 and headed by Colonel R. E. Foulger. The police faced a state of mayhem as secret societies flourished with a vengeance, even extending their influence into politics and government circles, after being clamped down by the Japanese. Meanwhile, communists were instigating strikes to sabotage the British government by undermining confidence in public order in their bid for political dominance. This led to the declaration of a 12-year long Emergency in Malaya in 1948, and a series of protests by unions and Chinese schools in the 1950s till the 1960s. To augment the police staff strength depleted by the Occupation, the Volunteer Special Constabulary, Gurkha Contingent, and Riot Squad established in 1946, 1949, and 1952 respectively provided assistance during the 1950s’ riots. The first Women Police Unit within the Special Constabulary was formed in 1949. A breakthrough for the post-war police was the launch of the emergency hotline ‘999’ in 1948, following the success in salvaging radio equipment left by the Japanese thereby creating the Radio Division. This enabled the police to respond faster to the scene and drastically reduced crimes like armed robberies.

Colonel-Foulger-addressing-members-Straits-Settlements-Police-Force-1945 
Colonel Foulger addressing members of the Straits Settlements Police Force in 1945. Source: SPF

First-Batch-Female-Graduates-1949 
First batches of female graduates from the Police Training School in 1949. Source: SPF

Former-Combined-Operations-room-999-calls-received 
The Former Combined Operations room where ‘999’ calls were received, circa 1950s. Source: SPF

 

1959 - 1965 - Birth of a New Nation

Singapore attained self-governance in 1959. In 1963, Singapore merged with Malaysia. The young nation faced many threats to its security, and had to work to build up its defences, institutions and people in order to safeguard its future. Factions against the merger stirred up racial and communal violence, with the worst riots occurring in July and September 1964. Singapore was also subject to spate of bombings carried out by Indonesian saboteurs during the Indonesian Confrontation against Malaysia between 1963 and 1966. The Vigilante Corps was formed in May 1964 amidst the precarious situation. Over 10,000 people from all walks of life registered to help the police in street patrols against saboteurs.

1965 - 1970 - Policing in a Post-independent Singapore

On 9 August 1965, Singapore separated from Malaysia and became an independent republic. In 1968, the Police crest adopted the name ‘Polis Repablik Singapura’, or Republic of Singapore Police. In charge of its own defence, the police took on a bigger role in securing the nation. Within five years of independence, recruitment numbers expanded, Police National Service was introduced in 1967, the Force was inducted into the Interpol, and the Police Training School was elevated to Police Academy. The Force was also reorganised in 1969 which saw the grey flannel shirt and khaki shorts replaced with blue uniforms consistent with international policing colour. By 1970, Singapore was heralding a period of peace and prosperity. Crime rates fell, secret societies were kept under control because of the passing of the Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act in 1955, and rapid economic growth rendered communist ideals irrelevant.

Police-Radio-Division-Eu-Tong-Sen-Road 
Police Radio Division at Eu Tong Sen Street in 1973. Source: SPF

First-Batch-PNS-1975
Officers from the first batch of Police National Service (Full-Time) pose for a photo in 1975. Source: SPF

 

1970s - Charting New Waters

Singapore had defied the odds and its economy had taken off. Improved living standards, combined with tough and effective law enforcement – with the enactment of the Arm Offences Act and Misuse of Drugs Act in 1973 – led to a decline in crime. In 1976, the crime rate was not only the lowest in two decades, but also the lowest in the world for a city of comparable size. In a survey of the public’s opinion conducted in 1979, the indications seemed to point to the SPF as being efficient and enjoying a good public image though tending to be aloof and official. Steps were taken to make the police to be more involved with the community it was serving, and create a reliable and friendly image to win the confidence and trust by the public on whom it depended for information and cooperation.

 

1980s - Fighting Crime Together

By the 1980s, the booming economy had transformed the country and this was reflected in the new urbanised landscape. By then, three-quarters of the population were living in Housing and Development Board (HDB) flats. Initiatives like the National Crime Prevention Council and Neighbourhood Watch Scheme (NWS) were launched to actively involve the public in crime prevention. These initiatives paved the way in fostering civic-mindedness and social responsibility in creating safer neighbourhoods that were instrumental for SPF’s future community projects. On 1 June 1983, the Force launched the Neighbourhood Police Post (NPP) system, as a manifestation of its transition to a proactive, community-based approach towards the practice of policing. Accompanying this was a transformation in the image of the police officer from being a feared enforcer of the law, to being a trusted member of the community. In 1997, the policing model was further developed into the Neighbourhood Police Centre (NPC) system which was designed to be a one-stop policing centre for the community. This system was widely successful and crime rates had dropped from 1,642 per 100,000 population to 613 per 100,000 in 2001.

Toa-Payoh-NPP-1980s 
Toa Payoh NPP in the 1980s. Source: SPF

Close-Police-public-partnership-symbolised-by-the-NPP-and-NPC-logo 
Close Police-public partnership symbolised by the NPP and NPC logo. Source: SPF

 

2000s - Policing in the New Millennium

The 11 September 2001 attacks in New York and Washington DC and the subsequent war on terrorism changed the entire operating landscape and forced the SPF to rethink the way the Force operated. New capabilities such as bomb blast management, counter assault measures and other counter-terrorist measures were developed to deal with the new security environment. More recently, SPF geared up its counter terrorism operational capabilities with the introduction of Emergency Response Teams (ERTs) and In-Situ Reaction Teams (IRTs) to handle incidents quicker. The SPF continues to engage the community through SGSecure to sensitise, train and mobilise our community to prevent and deal with a terror attack. 

ERT
ERT Officers on ground deployment. Source: SPF

In tandem with evolving demographics, technological advancements, rising affluence and education, as well as to stay ahead of changing operating environment, the NPC system was further enhanced in 2012 to the current Community Policing System (COPS). SPF also made full use of modern technology to better manage change. Technology adoption is being strengthened with more video-analytics enabled police cameras installed at public areas and equipping frontline officers with the necessary equipment for better sense-making to fight crimes.

 

A Force for the Nation

In 2018, Singapore was again ranked first in the Gallup Global Law and Order Report 2018, with 94% of our residents feeling safe walking alone in their neighbourhood at night. The strong Police-Community partnership remains an important pillar of successful policing in Singapore.  SPF will continue to partner the community and stakeholders to safeguard the public safety in Singapore, and ensure that Singapore remains one of the safest countries in the world.

Milestones

1820 - 1942

1820

William Farquhar established a 12-man police force led by his son-in law, Francis James Bernard.

1826

Formation of the Straits Settlements (Singapore, Penang, and Malacca). 

1846

First set of rules and regulations for police force passed.

1854

Hokkien-Teochew Riots.

1857

Police Force Act passed.

Thomas Dunman appointed first full-time Commissioner of Police (CP).

1866

Formation of Detective Department, predecessor of the Criminal Investigation Department (CID).

Formation of Marine Police. It was reorganised as the Marine Branch in 1916, Marine Division in 1951, and is known as the Police Coast Guard (PCG) today.

1867

The Straits Settlements became a Crown Colony.

1872

Establishment of Straits Settlements Police Force headed by an Inspector-General of Police (IGP).

1876

Post-office Riots.

1877

Formation of the Chinese Protectorate.

1879

Police Commission reforms.

1881

Formation of Sikh Contingent, which was disbanded in 1946.

Formation of European Contingent, which was disbanded in 1906.

1889

Secret societies outlawed.

1901

Introduction of criminal registration.

1903

Introduction of fingerprint system.

1904

Introduction of Malayan Cadet Service.

1914

Formation of Traffic Office. The Traffic Office was reorganised as the Traffic Branch in 1918 and is known as the Traffic Police today.

1915

Singapore Mutiny.

1916

Reorganisation of Detective Department as Criminal Investigation Department (CID).

1918

Formation of Special Branch (also referred to as Criminal Intelligence Department until 1933).

1925

Formation of the 2nd Straits Settlements Police Band – the first police band in Singapore.

1929

Establishment of Police Depot. It was renamed the Police Training School (PTS) in 1945 and upgraded to the status of a Police Academy in 1969.

1931

Under Inspector-General Harold Fairburn, an extensive building scheme was undertaken between 1931-1934.

1942

Japanese Occupation. 

1945 - 1964

1945

End of Japanese Occupation. The police in Singapore was renamed the Singapore Police Force in 1945 and headed by Colonel R.E. Foulger.

Revival of Volunteer Special Constabulary (VSC).

Formation of Radio Branch.

1946

The Straits Settlements was dissolved and Singapore became a Crown Colony.

1948

Radio Branch expanded into the Radio Division. The Radio Division was renamed the Force Communications Branch in 1977 and its legacy lives on in the Police Technology Department (PTD) which was formed in 2000.

Launch of ‘999’ police emergency hotline.

Start of Malayan Emergency which lasted until 1960.

1949

First recruitment of female police officers.

Formation of Gurkha Contingent.

1950

Maria Hertogh Riots.

Formation of Security Squad. It was expanded into the Security Section in 1953, renamed Security Branch in 1965, and is known as Security Command (SecCom) today.

1951

Formation of Riot Squad. The squad was renamed Reserve Unit in 1952, Police Task Force (PTF) in 1980 and is now known as the Police Tactical Unit (PTU) under the Special Operations Command (SOC).

1954

Dog Squad established.It was renamed the Police Dog Unit in 1955 and is now known as the K-9 Unit within SOC.

1955

Hock Lee Bus Riots.

Introduction of Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act.

1956

Combined Operations Room built for joint exercises between police and military.

Chinese Middle School Riots.

1958

First Police Week held. Recognising the importance of community outreach, Police Week was revived in 1971 as an annual tradition.

1959

On 3 June 1959, Singapore attained self-governance and gained control of its internal affairs, including its police force. In 1971, the government designated 3 June to be Police Day, to re-affirm the fact that the Police is part of our society, responsible to an elected government, and that the maintenance of law and order is a service to the community.

The Singapore Police Force was renamed Polis Negara Singapura.

1963

The Singapore Police became a component the Royal Malaysian Police after Singapore’s merger with the Federation of Malaya.

Operation Cold Store.

Following merger, Indonesia declared a state of Konfrontasi until 1966.

John Le Cain became SPF’s first Asian Commissioner.

1964

Racial riots broke out in July and September that were reportedly the worst in Singapore’s history.

Formation of Vigilante Corps.

1965 - 1982

1965

Singapore gained independence on 9 Aug 1965. The police force was renamed the Polis Repablik Singapura (Republic of Singapore Police) and came under the Ministry of Interior and Defence (MID).

1966

Internal Security Department (ISD) established to replace Special Branch and became an independent department from the police.

1967

Introduction of Police National Service. It included part-time service in the Special Constabulary and Vigilante Corps. Part-time service was phased out in 1981.

1968

Police crest adopts the name ‘Polis Repablik Singapura’, translated as Singapore Police Force.

Singapore admitted to the International Criminal Police Organisation (Interpol).

1969

Polis Repablik Singapura now known as Singapore Police Force.

Blue uniform adopted in line with the international colour of policing.

1969 Communal Riots.

1970

MID split into the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) and the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF). The police came under the purview of MHA.

Establishment of Airport Police Division (APD).

1971

Revival of Police Week in June after a 13-year break. 3 Jun was designated as Police Day.

1972

Lee Soo Ann Review made recommendations to improve working conditions of junior police officers to better attract and retain them.

1973

Criminal Intelligence Unit set up within CID. The unit was upgraded to a division within CID in 1988 and is known as Police Intelligence Department (PID) today.

Introduction of Arms Offences Act.

Introduction of Misuse of Drugs Act.

1974

Laju Incident.

1975

Introduction of full-time Police National Service.

1977

Formation of Crime Prevention Branch.

Establishment of Scene of Crime Unit.

1978

Formation of Police Tactical Team  within Police Reserve Unit. It is known as Special Tactics and Rescue (STAR) today.

1981

Establishment of National Crime Prevention Council (NCPC).

Formation of ASEANAPOL and Singapore became a member.

1983 - 2000

1983

Introduction of Community Policing. Launch of the Neighbourhood Police Post (NPP) system with the opening of Khe Bong NPP in Toa Payoh Division.

1985

Opening of Road Safety Community Park.

1986

Launch of Crimewatch.

1989

First contingent sent abroad to take part in a United Nations peacekeeping mission, the UN Transition Assistance Group in Namibia (UNTAG).

1991

Commissioning of Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS).

By 1991, the Radio Division moved into a fully Computerised Operations Room at Pearl’s Hill Terrace (Upper Barracks). This function eventually moved into New Phoenix Park in 2001 and the Police Operations Command Centre (POCC) in 2014.

1992

Special Operations Command (SOC) was created to combine the Police Task Force (PTF), the Police Tactical Team and the Police Dog Unit under one command.

1993

The Special Tactics and Rescue (STAR) team was formed in SOC to replace the Police Tactical Team.

Marine Division reorganised as Police Coast Guard (PCG).

1996

Intelligence Division in CID upgraded to a full-fledged department known as Police Intelligence Department (PID).

SPF introduced the Learning Organisation framework.

1997

Launch of the Neighbourhood Police Centre (NPC) system with the opening of Queenstown NPC in Clementi Division.

Launch of Home Team concept.

1998

Formation of UN Peacekeeping Force (UNPKF).

1999

SPF received the Singapore Quality Class certification, a testimony to its high standard of organisational excellence.

2000

Establishment of Commercial Affairs Department (CAD).

Security Branch reorganised as Security Command (SecCom)

2001 - Present

2001

In the wake of the September 11 attacks, enhanced security measures were immediately put in place. First mass deployment of Police National Service Key Installations (KINS) troops.

2002

SPF became the first public service organisation to attain Singapore Quality Award (SQA).

2003

Establishment of DNA Database Laboratory.

Police Dog Unit renamed the K-9 Unit.

2004

Counter Improvised Explosive Devices (IED) Unit under Security Command to conduct security sweeps, verify IEDs and render them safe was set up.

2005

PTF renamed the Police Tactical Unit (PTU).

Police MRT Unit (PMU) was set up within SOC.

Relocation of police training from the Police Academy to the Home Team Academy (HTA).

2007

SPF became the first public service organisation to attain Singapore Quality Award with Special Commendation.

2008

CP Khoo Boon Hui elected as the 25th President of Interpol.

Launch of SPF YouTube channel.

2009

PMU upgraded to a full-fledged command known as Public Transport Security Command (TransCom).

Launch of SPF Facebook page.

2010

Singapore gained unanimous support to establish the Interpol Global Complex (IGC) at the 79th INTERPOL General Assembly.

2011

Home Team School of Criminal Investigation established.

2012

Launch of the Community Policing System (COPS), an enhancement of the NPC system.

2015

Introduction of a new visual identity scheme (VIS).

2016

Formation of Emergency Response Teams (ERTs) and Rapid Deployment Teams (RDTs).

Protective Security Command (ProCom) commissioned.

Launch of SGSecure movement.

2017

Introduction of In-Situ Reaction Teams under ProCom.

2018

Launch of new Volunteer Special Constabulary (Community) vocation.

Debut of new uniform with new fabric and replacement of metallic buttons with concealed plastic ones.

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