Open and Resilient Leadership
Adapted from ‘Leadership Stories Through The Years, Issue 02’ by Police Psychological Services Division, Manpower Department
ASP Seah when he was OC Patrol at Traffic Police
A career in the Singapore Police Force (SPF) was quite the unexpected path for a young Mr Seah Thian Pau. His father wanted him to be a teacher, and he studied zoology and botany in university in hopes of pursuing veterinary after graduation. He candidly revealed that he joined the Force as a fresh graduate in 1978 without expecting himself to stay for so long, but was eventually drawn by the exciting and diverse opportunities he received in the SPF. Little did he realise that his training in zoology and botany would give him an edge in the transformation of the Police K-9 Unit several years later. Mr Seah continued to serve in the Force for another 31 years before retiring as Commanding Officer (CO) Police K-9 Unit (K-9) in 2008.
Mr Seah wore many hats during his time in the Force, with his longest posting being 11 years as CO K-9. Some other notable positions he has held include Deployment Officer (presently known as Head Operations) at Tanglin Police Division during the Hotel New World collapse, Officer-in-Charge (OC) Patrol at Traffic Police, and one of the hostage negotiators in the SQ117 incident. Being posted to different units in the Force provided Mr Seah with a variety of lessons in police leadership and in this article, we share with you three main leadership lessons.
The Art of Negotiation
“I remember it was the night of 26 March 1991. I was unwinding for the day and watching some programmes on the television when suddenly, Radio Division called and alerted me of a Singapore Airlines flight being hijacked. Like many others who received the news, I too thought it was an exercise as these things were very much unheard of around here, but as fate would have it, it was the real deal. I was on hostage negotiation duty that month, so my teammates and I quickly made our way down, not fully comprehending what was awaiting us then. The operations prolonged into the night and the next morning as we tried our best to work towards a resolution with the hijackers aboard flight SQ117.”
Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP) Seah and his negotiation team treaded cautiously over dicey territory as a hundred over lives were at stake, and the hijackers’ patience was quickly wearing thin. It was many taxing hours of strategising as a team and maintaining composure in a high-pressure situation. Being the main point of contact with the hijackers meant that they were tasked with finding out more about the hijackers and what their demands were.
As a trained negotiator, ASP Seah exercised strong personal mastery while staying calm under pressure and worked well with his team to ensure that the crisis negotiation operations were carried out smoothly. They facilitated the successful resolution of the crisis by communicating effectively with the hijackers and negotiating with them to relocate the plane for refuelling, all of which helped to buy time before the final takedown. Thankfully, all passengers and crew on board the SQ117 flight were rescued to safety. Incidents like the SQ117 hijack is one of the many testaments to how we can triumph over tough situations by exercising personal mastery and maintaining composure in the face of pressure.
ASP Seah on a study visit to the Royal New Zealand Police College’s Dog Training Centre at Wellington, New Zealand in 1998
Keeping Up with the Times
“Being posted as CO K-9 was a blessing in disguise as the things I had studied in university were useful in guiding my decisions. I knew from experience what was needed, such as the best kind of kennels for our dogs and the different types of feed. It is not every day that one has the honour of helping to transform a Police K-9 Unit, but as I always believe, times are changing and so have operating environments. It is vital that we constantly upgrade ourselves and our services.”
During his time in the Police K-9 Unit, ASP Seah, who was later promoted to Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) Seah in 1999, took the opportunity to learn from the best police canine units around the world, and found ways to incorporate these best practices back home. After several visits, he noticed how memorable the term “K-9 Unit” sounded and proposed for an official renaming of the unit from Police Dog Unit (PDU) to the Police K-9 Unit that we know today!
DSP Seah personally testing the dogs in Budel, Holland in 2000
Under the leadership of DSP Seah, many enhancements were made to keep up with the times and raise the prestige of the K-9 Unit. For example, after the tragic Bali bomb blast in 2002, he was tasked by then Deputy Commissioner of Police, Mr Goh Liang Kwang, to train a team of explosive detection dogs. Without hesitation, he quickly sourced for suitable dog breeds from around the world and looked into the relevant training for the officers.
After obtaining approval, DSP Seah rolled out the training plan to send officers in batches to the Surrey Dog Training School (UK) for the Explosive Detector Dog Programme over two years. He also extended the training to form a team of tracking and cadaver dogs, which further enhanced the operational capabilities of the Police K-9 Unit. DSP Seah’s 11 years in the K-9 Unit had certainly been a fruitful one, and the impact of these changes have persisted till today.
DSP Seah on an attachment to Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) at San Diego, United States of America in 2002
With more than a decade at the helm of the Police K-9 Unit, DSP Seah’s leadership has shown us that indeed, good things can come from being open to changes and embracing creativity in our work. As the saying goes, change is the only constant! By seeking out opportunities and learning from best practices around the world, DSP Seah added value to work processes and systems in the K-9 Unit. His enthusiasm towards changes that came his way also inspired his men to believe in his cause and support him in all these endeavours. DSP Seah’s openness and hands-on approach was undoubtedly a catalyst that facilitated the transformation of PDU to the Police K-9 Unit that we see today.
Be Humble, Be Fair
Mr Seah’s policing stories shed light on the many manifestations of effective police leadership behaviour at different levels. His third and final lesson in police leadership was something he practised as a leader but only truly fully understood after leaving the Force.
Deputy Director of Police Psychological Services Division and team with Mr Seah, at his office at NUS Campus Security
“Leadership is simple – treat people like human beings. In order to gain respect, you must give respect. Policing enriches you with different experiences and encounters with different people, but in the end, work is still work. Once you leave the Force, you are no longer a police officer but just a human being. While people may respect you now because of the rank you wear on your uniform, the true show of your character is how others regard you when you are without your uniform. You will cross paths again someday, so always be humble and fair, both as a leader and a person.”
Having retired in 2008, Mr Seah traded in his navy-blue garb for civilian wear when he joined the National University of Singapore as the Director of Campus Security. Despite being in a new operating terrain, Mr Seah fondly reminisced his policing days and acknowledged how his experiences in the Force have greatly influenced his current work process and his approaches toward managing his team. He strongly believes that joining the SPF “makes for an extraordinary career” and wishes the organisation a happy 200 years of policing.
SINGAPORE POLICE FORCE
19 January 2021 @ 5:00 PM