Monday, September 28, 2015

Random Thoughts: New Theme of the Singapore Police Force


Me and Fiancee at the 2015 SPF Workplan Seminar
I went to the 2015 Singapore Police Force Workplan Seminar a few months back with my fiancee, then girlfriend. We were greeted by several new initiatives including a new load bearing vest that the officers will use, new police vehicle livery, gadgets that will help officers to aid officers while on duty, and most importantly, the new crest of  the Singapore police.


Old group photo of a OCT squad during the 70s

The history and heritage of the Singapore Police Force (SPF) is almost as old as the founding of modern Singapore. After Singapore gained independence from Malaysia, the state started to forge its own identity on the basis of a Malayan identity at that time to united all races.

The former SPF crest, 1965 - 2015
The laurel, an exact adaption and design of the Royal Malaysia Police crest (In which the force was merged when Singapore was a state of Malaysia), is a wreath of padi shelves in sliver, wrapped by a blue ribbon, surrounding the state shield, symbolizing the duty and service in maintaining law, order and keeping the peace of the state. The blue scroll bares the text "POLIS REPABLIK SINGAPURA", in Malay, Singapore's national language, upholding and representing a part of the state's allegiance to our background and heritage as a Malayan country. The older Malay spelling of "Repablik" instead of "Repubik" represents the continued tradition. Even the motto, "Setia dan Bakti" (Malay for "Loyalty and Service") is in the national language.
Colonial police uniforms.
A group photo depicting the uniforms of the 90s.
The major change in color from pale blue and khaki to navy blue in the 1970s is to detach the force away from its colonial relations and roots, signifying an independent force, capable of protecting the country. But the uniform still has direct inheritance and influences from the colonial uniform bringing in a sense of continuity from the past and into the present. These can be seen by the uniform's metallic ornaments, including the metallic buttons, service numbers, metallic ranks and metal belt buckle. After the color change, a whistle chain, name tag and peaked cap, collar crests and long pants are added for smarter turnout and bearing. Today, for the safety and comfort of the officers many of the metallic ornaments have been removed, leaving only the metal buttons and metal belt buckle are from the colonial uniform.

The similarities of Brunei, Malaysia and Singapore police uniforms

Blue is also the unofficial international color that many police organizations are associated with, and is used by many police force worldwide. SPF uses the darkest possible shade of blue to signify purity and authority. Navy blue and sliver are the organizational colors of SPF. The change in uniform color even prompted the Royal Malaysian Police and the Royal Brunei Police Force to follow suit, in a silent attempt to forge a united Malayan identity through the police uniforms, which are considered to be frontliners of a state. This is why the uniforms of these countries look very similar. The current uniform design is also inspired and based by the paramilitary styles of western police forces, in particular, the United States, which in turn was based on London police forces, is adopted by many police forces around the world.

This traditional paramilitary uniform design has a significant physiological influence on the public's perception. Combined with the darkest shade of blue, this uniform signifies authority, power and commands respect. Officers wear the uniform with pride, citizens perceive officers as respectable, responsible individual of higher standard (before the 2013 Little India Riots that is), parents inject fear into their children to get them to behave and wrongdoers are intimidated whenever confronted by a man in blue.

Through this theme, an identity is formed. The force has built a respectable reputation.

Changes into a New Era.

New Police crest. 2015 - Today
Prototype uniform, 2011. Only the cap is implemented force wide
New SPF uniforms on trial. Credits: AMK North NPC
New SPF uniforms on trial with white polo tee. Credits: AMK North NPC
New uniform being shown off at the 2015 SPF workplan seminar
All decked out in white polo tees and bermudas, they look more like beach police on the beat.
As law-enforcement has evolved from being more than a law enforcer to community engagement and forging closer ties with stakeholders, the force has to meet with the demands today's requirements.

Police officers today also tend to place more emphasis on customer service, thus the need to project a softer image is needed. Versus the police officers of the past and present, officers now carry more equipment than their 90s counterparts.

The police in the UK were actually the ones that started the tactical uniforms for police frontliners. These tactical uniforms usually compromises a load bearing vest, which holds body amour, equipment. The purpose of this is to lift some load on the officers hip and distribute it on his body. Long term of baring heavy weight on the hips causes back problems and other discomforts on the officer on ground. Baseball caps are used in place of peaked caps as due to its large odd shape, it may cause discomfort and hassle to the wearer when pursuing a subject or even while on duty.

The Singapore Police Force has thus followed and adopted the tactical uniforms to better support the gear needed today's policing. This include, taser, body-worn camera, on top of the already carried revolver, t-baton and radio set. Perhaps in future, officers will be required to carry more equipment and gear.

The tactical uniform is currently on trial at Ang Mo Kio North NPC for a 6 week period to test the operational effectiveness before rolling it out to all frontline officers.

My Personal Thoughts

SPF PTT uniform. Tactical uniforms are usually reserved for special operation forces. Frontline officers may be adopting it.

To be perfectly honest, I detest the changes being made. I have already lived with the logo, livery uniform every since I was was a little boy. Our police force has grown together with the population and for some, it is a lifelong dream to even be a policeman. These are the things that define our culture.

SPF uniforms of the 90s
The argument I am making is why is the softer approach on image being taken? SPF's reputation has already deteriorated due to the handling of the Little India Riots. Till this day, people are still talking about how the police could have done better instead of running away.

I can understand that the purpose of taking a softer approach is to be closer to the community and foster closer ties and relations but have we gone to far? The current initiatives such as Community Policing Unit (COPS), giving out fuel vouchers and recognizing drivers for demerit free driving and other ground activities are already good enough. I feel that there is no need to overhaul SPF's image and theme, throwing away over 190 years of history and heritage out the window, undoing all of the previous efforts of pioneering officers that helped to build up the force and it's credibility. Police are supposed to uphold an intimidating, authoritative and respectable image in order to be taken seriously.

From tactical uniforms to the return of traditional uniforms

Norfolk Police officer wearing a new uniform boasting a traditional collar and tie, introduced in a bid to boost public respect for bobbies on the beat
Already, some police forces in the United Kingdom and Australia, that ironically influenced the tactical style uniforms are already returning to the traditional paramilitary uniforms.

Although the tactical uniforms have met their objectives of officer comfort, an friendly and approachable image, over the course of time, the reputation of an authoritarian, respectable and intimidating figure of the streets quickly deteriorated. Research has shown that the tactical uniforms is badly received by the public and the equipment equates to officers being soft, basically a "pussy" or "wuss". Some even go to the extent of criticizing and lambasting the officers on the beat.

Picking a sentence of an article, a Norfolk Constabulary, spokeswoman said: 'Independent academic research has identified that the public regard the time-honored image of police officers as more professional, honest and approachable than its black counterpart.' Members of the public complained that the baseball caps on the then-new uniforms were more appropriate to teenage skateboarders than the upholders of the law.

The tradition of British bobbies walking the beat, that the public have grown to identify and associate with police has already been effective and proven. Public is not yet convinced with the new softer image.

In the United States, there is heavy resistance from civilians and officers from many departments themselves to tactical uniforms for frontliners. To them, the tactical uniform presents a “militarization of the police”. Officers should be perceived as community servants. To quote, Chief Scot Haug with Post Falls, Idaho PD says, “We are not the military. We are a police force that works for the community. I see agencies across the country that are allowing officers to wear uniforms that make it really difficult to tell the military from law enforcement. In my opinion, this is a mistake and we’re getting away from what the community expects from its police.”

Interviews with suspects who have assaulted officers indicate that a professional appearance often deters an attack and a sloppy appearance may invite one.

British constable with the "softer" uniform, that quickly became obsolete.
Australia's Victoria Police returned to the NYPD styled uniform. Adding some tactical elements into it.
The state of Victoria, Australia which had the tactical uniform influenced from the British returned to the "NYPD" navy blue to "toughen up" its image. However, they have added tactical elements into the already functional traditional uniform. This included more functional pockets, knee padding on tactical pants and optional vests that officers may choose to wear. This initiative doesn't compromise on image and presentation despite its functionality.


Since the steps and measures have already been undertaken to overhaul the image and clothing, I propose to retain many of the changes that are already done such as vehicle livery, the new police crest and the new vest.

The new undershirt that I hope officers will not use.
The new undershirt will not be used, instead, the current shirt and blouse with the metallic buttons can be worn and police officers are given a choice to wear the vest on top of it. Peaked caps make a return to normal policing duties, such as sentry, patrolling, community engagement activities and house visits to signify authority and respect, while the duty cap is strictly for ad-hoc and major events for officer comfort and less burden to the wearer. The pants however may be upgraded to incorporate tactical elements and style, including cargo pants with pocket flaps, front thigh pockets, and thicker material at the knee area for knee protection. SPF may also want to research on material that is comfortable for officers but not compromising on image.

This has worked well for some police forces in United States as some departments opt for a mix of traditional and tactical uniforms depending on the assignment. “The agency where I am employed dictates which uniforms we wear and when.” Lt. Chris Cole with Storm Lake (Iowa) PD says. “For normal day-to-day functions, we wear the traditional style police uniforms because they give us a professional appearance and signal authority. If I was working a special project (i.e., warrant sweeps, probation/parole checks, etc.), I would wear a tactical-style uniform because they’re more durable and have multiple pockets to store extra gear.”
Old and new crest can be used in tandem with each other.
The old crest, is to be retained and exclusive to the uniforms while the newer logo can be used outside of the uniform, such as police installations, letterheads, awards ect. The old crest, used in tandem with the newer crest signify the transition and approachable image while retaining the crest on the officers uniform signifies the continued tradition of policing and dedication of individual officers serving on the ground. This practice of using new logos but yet maintaining the older one is not new. NASA uses it's meatball logo for almost all practices, but the retired "worm" logo still applies in less formal applications.


A meme showing what police uniforms have evolved to, with little acceptance.
Whether tactical, traditional or a combination of the two, the uniform choice says a lot about our state police force. It should suit the conditions of officers on ground that will most likely face in their work rather than implementing blindly. Even if they can’t choose what to wear, individual officers should have control over how to present themselves in a professional manner. As always, to project discipline, the uniform has to be kept clean and pressed, boots shined and polished, and the traditional uniforms provides the outlet to do so.
Current SPF Number 3 uniform.
Versus this.....
There are many considerations and steps to preserve over 100 years of heritage and history rather than overlooking and undoing the efforts of the forefathers of the Singapore Police Force. Careful thought and planning needs to be enforced before anything new or major is added or change. A simple change to a police crest will certainly affect the image and reputation that the force has already built as a whole. The force still can use its fancy gadgets, implement new ways of crime fighting and community engagement. But I sincerely urge the force to continue maintaining its tradition, theme and image for the respect and dignity of our men in blue.

External Links:
The psychological influence of the police uniform
Singapore Police Force Facebook
Victorian police ditch 'untidy' uniforms
British Police trials return to collar and tie uniform as it considers ditching paramilitary style zip-up polo shirts
Victoria Police reveal new dark uniforms in push for tougher look
Tactical vs traditional

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