By Denise Luo
(Photo: Public Affairs Department)
Citing his officers as his source of motivation, Commissioner of Police (CP) Hoong Wee Teck is one who leads by example and has no qualms about making personal sacrifices or being in the thick of the action with his men.
As a leader, CP Hoong believes in seeking continuous improvement to strengthen the capabilities of the Singapore Police Force (SPF) and enhance the well-being of his officers. Building on the successes of his predecessors, he has put in place a renewed focus on transforming the Force to be future-ready. With a myriad of new capabilities in analytics and autonomous technologies that are rolled out progressively, CP Hoong ensures that the police force remains relevant and effective in an unpredictable and challenging security environment.
Throughout our conversation, CP Hoong projects a commanding presence but it is in no way intimidating. CP Hoong is a man of refreshing candour. Rarely profiled, we are glad to sit down with Commissioner for an honest, get-to-know-him chat.
You grew up in the early years of post-independence Singapore. How would you describe your impression of policing during those years?
I grew up witnessing a side of Singapore that was a far cry from what it is today – a city-state known for its safety and security standards. Back in the 60s and 70s, Singapore was plagued by lawlessness. Secret society activities and crimes were rampant. Kidnapping and extortion cases were frequently reported in the papers.
The approach to policing then was largely based on reactive strategies with minimal community involvement in tackling crime. The Police were mostly alienated from the community. The community feared the Police more than they respected us. This is a stark contrast from the strong police-community partnership that we now share.
What inspired you to join the Force?
The lack of social order in post-independence Singapore made me wonder if our society could be a safer and better place to live in. I was very much curious about policing as a teen and eventually joined the National Police Cadet Corps in school. It was there that I understood more about the law and the uniformed culture, and that made me more interested in police work.
As a rookie cop, what were some of the challenges that you faced?
Back in those days, we did not have strong logistical support. The older officers might recall how challenging it was to even ask for basic office supplies. I still remember that I had to bring my used pen to the store, to prove that the pen had run out of ink before I could exchange it for a new one.
We were provided with bulky typewriters that weighed almost four kilogrammes, which were also common-pool items. Many of us resorted to buying our personal portable typewriter to facilitate taking of statements at the scene of the incident. Unlike today, we also did not have the comfort of working in an air-conditioned environment. We mostly started out working in old run-down buildings that were cramped and stuffy. The police vehicles that we drove were also non air-conditioned.
In addition, manpower was very tight and we did not have dedicated officers performing specific functional areas like today. Then, there were no specialist teams like the Property and Violent Offences Squad (PVOS) or Special Victim Unit (SVU). As investigators, we were expected to handle all types of investigation cases. On top of that, we were frequently rotated to attend Residents’ Committee meetings and deployed for routine security deployments like soccer matches. It was also not uncommon for us to take a 24-hour duty tour every three days.
Training methods were also not as sophisticated as today. By leveraging technology, trainees are now able to get a more realistic experience of what to expect in the real world. Back then, on-the-job training and learning from mentors were some of the best ways to learn and get up to speed. I am grateful to have had experienced mentors who were helpful in showing me the ropes.
You have spent a fair bit of your career doing investigation and intelligence work. Were there any cases that stood out and what were some of your key learning points?
It is very hard to single out one or two most memorable cases. I have spent more than half of my career in investigation and intelligence departments. Because of these specialised postings, I have been able to see through a number of major cases, such as kidnappings, goldsmith robberies, firearm offences and even a plane crash incident.
Each of these cases has its own learning points, and helps sharpen my operational instincts and broaden my perspectives on policing. There are standard procedures and directives to guide investigation approaches but in reality, there are no standard guidelines on how to solve a crime. Each case is unique, and it is important and useful to think out of the box as you are dealing with people who have different psyches and motivations. Also, you must have the courage and be prepared to make judgment calls and decisions according to the situation.
Fighting crime is a team effort. Support from your teammates and synergies between units are crucial to solving a case.
Any words of advice for young officers in the Force?
You must first get the basics right. It is important to get strong grounding in your foundation postings. The experiences that you gain are essential building blocks that will help you progress in your career. Even as CP now, I tap into my past experiences and lessons learnt more than 30 years ago to help me in my decision-making and daily work.
Police work is also very diverse in nature. You may not always get your preferred posting but you should accept the job assigned to you with an open mind and a keen attitude. You will gain valuable experiences with each posting, so do learn as much as you can.
Importantly, one must uphold strong values and professional conduct early in your career. Your reputation starts from the day you join the Force, and others are watching you as you progress in your career. You cannot impose on others standards which you cannot live up to. So, walk the talk, be consistent.
I reckon that as Commissioner, you would need to keep your ears close to the ground. How do you go about doing so?
I maintain open and diverse communication channels. The SPF is a huge organisation, and you cannot assume that just by visiting one or two Neighbourhood Police Centres (NPCs), you will understand all other NPCs. Each NPC, Land Division, and department has its unique challenges and profile of officers. This is why I make regular ground visits and engage officers in dialogue sessions. I also make it a point to try out the equipment that the officers are using to better assess what works and what does not. In my engagement with officers, I believe in being open and candid so that officers will share genuine feedback.
How do you motivate your people?
We need people who have a passion for police work, who look beyond salary and are willing to make personal sacrifices to help others. When you have such officers on board, look after their welfare and their psychological well-being, and support officers with enhancements to the service schemes and better career development opportunities. As leaders, we also need to listen to officers’ feedback, be open and flexible. It speaks volumes when officers’ suggestions are implemented.
You are more than 5 years into your appointment as Commissioner since January 2015, when you commented that you would work towards realising the vision of Singapore becoming the “safest city in the world” and you planned to “leverage technology and innovation to bring the SPF’s crime-fighting capabilities to a new level.” What are the standout developments that you are most proud of?
One of the developments includes raising frontline policing tactical capabilities to deal with terrorism. With the establishment of the Emergency Response Teams, In-situ Reaction Teams and Rapid Deployment Troops, the SPF is now better equipped to handle security incidents. I am also glad that we have constantly been pushing technological boundaries to improve our operational processes and capabilities. For instance, the Police Operations Command Centre today is not only capable of taking ‘999’ calls and deploying resources, it also serves as the nerve centre for sense-making, analytics, and command and control that enables enhanced incident response.
As an organisation that values people development, we have also enhanced the career and development schemes of our officers. The unification of police rank structure and the implementation of the expert career track allow more room for progression, helping officers to better achieve their aspirations.
In spite of these developments, we must remember that change is the only constant. The SPF must continue to evolve and adapt to the demands from the world and society. Stay flexible and nimble.
What should the next generation of officers do to ensure the continued success of the Force?
First, we must ensure that the Police continue to have the ability to uphold the rule of law and protect the people. As crime continues to evolve, we have to always stay ahead and remain effective so as to maintain law and order. No one can be above the law, and there must be trust from the public that anyone who breaks the law will be dealt with firmly, but fairly.
Second, the active involvement of the community is essential in our policing strategy; we cannot be overly transactional in our interactions with the public, and must continue to solicit public support in the work we do.
Third, we must always recruit people who are passionate about police work. Nurture and train them to realise their potential as our officers form the backbone of the Force.
As the nature of policing is 24/7, I can imagine that your job would be highly stressful. How do you manage the intensity of your work?
Stress is an inevitable part of work. What matters is that you believe in what you are doing and continue to be passionate about your job. You will then naturally find meaning behind the sacrifices you make in your work.
All these years, I feel honoured to be part of this organisation, one in which we are a Force for the Nation. When I come to work every day, I can feel the strong esprit de corps and our officers’ commitment in realising the mission and vision of the Force. That gives me motivation, and drives me to do even better each day.
That said, at times, you need to learn to prioritise and give up certain things. Some things may not always be as important or as urgent as you think they are. Take control of the situation; if that means striking out a task or two for the day, do so and you will realise that you have gained better control of your work.
Outside of work, I enjoy playing badminton. It has been my favourite sport since young and I would opt to play a game of badminton over every other sport. This is how fixated I can get when it comes to my personal life, but at work, I am always open and receptive to new ideas!
What is the one thing that you would like to achieve before you call time on your stint?
We have a highly competitive police scheme of service, but I hope officers would continue to see further enhancements to the scheme. In particular, it would be good if we can raise the retirement age for police officers to better support officers who wish to continue working longer.
2020 marks the SPF’s bicentenary. Any wishes for the Force as it progresses past SPF200?
Our existence is to serve our people and the nation. I wish for the Singapore Police Force to maintain its stature as one of the finest police organisations in the world and to continue to be a Force for the Nation.
SINGAPORE POLICE FORCE
12 February 2020 @ 10:59 AM