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Sources: The Library of Congress Country Studies; CIA World Factbook
    << Back to Singapore National Security


    Victory parade and demonstration, September 1945
    Courtesy National Archives


    Collecting water during Civil Defence Force exercises
    Courtesy Singapore Ministry of Communications and Information


    A neighborhood police post
    Courtesy Singapore Ministry of Communications and Information


    Figure 16. Organization of the Police Force, 1989


    Figure 17. Organization of the Civil Defence Force, 1989

    Source: Based on information from Singapore, Civil Defence Force, Civil Defence in Singapore, 1939-1984, Singapore, 1985, 98.

    Between 1819 and 1867, the British East India Company worked closely with citizens' councils that represented the European, Chinese, Malay, and Indian communities to maintain law and order in Singapore. The British civil service comprised a small and overworked staff that often tried unsuccessfully to enforce British laws in the Straits Settlements. The resident councillor for Singapore was responsible for adjudicating most criminal and civil cases. More serious cases were referred to the governor of the Straits Settlements in Penang, or, on rare occasions, to the governor general in India. Chinese secret societies flourished, and violent crime was a fact of life. Thomas Dunman, Singapore's first superintendent of police, was a young British merchant who was respected by leaders of the European community and supported by influential Malays and Indians, who felt powerless to prevent Chinese gangs from roving into their districts, assaulting people, and robbing homes and businesses. In 1843 Dunman recruited a small group of itinerant workers and single-handedly trained and organized them into an effective police force. By 1856 gang robberies no longer were a major problem, but the secret societies continued to control lucrative gambling, drug, and prostitution operations.

    From 1867 to 1942, the Straits Settlements had unified law enforcement and criminal justice systems. However, colonial authorities in Singapore continued to respect religious and cultural customs in the Chinese and Malay communities as long as local practices were peaceful and residents respected British authority. In 1868 Governor Sir Harry Ord established a circuit court, and its jurisdiction over criminal and civil matters gradually expanded in Singapore during the period up to World War II. Leaders of the Chinese community appreciated the cooperative nature of British government officials and helped to promote respect for the law. By the 1880s, government efforts to reduce the criminal elements of the Chinese secret societies had succeeded in making the city a safer place to live. Europeans and Indians dominated the police force. Colonial authorities rarely hired Chinese for police work for fear the secret societies would infiltrate the force. After World War I, an increase in political violence was attributed to the growth of communist influence within the Chinese community. In 1919 a special branch was established in the police force to combat the communist-inspired anticolonial activities, which were increasing in Chinese schools and businesses. In 1931 a special branch operation resulted in the arrest and deportation of leaders of the newly formed Communist Party of Malaya (CPM). By the end of the decade, however, communist influence and political subversion were once again a problem for law enforcement officials.

    During the period that Singapore was a crown colony, militia groups trained by the British army occasionally assisted the police force in maintaining civil order and promoted citizen involvement in protecting the city from foreign invasion. Even before Singapore became a crown colony, concerned citizens in the European community had formed a citizens' militia. In 1854 about sixty European expatriates established the Volunteer Rifle Corps to protect citizens from violent riots. Although most riots occurred because of factional fighting between Chinese secret societies, some disturbances also disrupted the commercial activities of the city. By 1910 there were 700 volunteers in six organizations that were collectively called the Singapore Volunteer Corps. Europeans comprised four groups, including two infantry companies, one artillery company and one engineer company. The Chinese and Malay communities each contributed one company. In February 1915, the Volunteer Corps was mobilized to help restore order following a rebellion by Singapore's Indian troops (see Crown Colony, 1867- 1918 , ch. 1). Approximately 800 Funjabi Muslim soldiers, who comprised most of the British garrison in Singapore at that time, were deceived by German prisoners of war into believing that they were about to be redeployed to the front lines in Europe. The Punjabi Muslims killed their officers and went on a rampage through the city before dispersing in small groups to the northern section of the island. For a two-week period, the Sinapore Volunteer Corps, along with the police and the crews from British, French, Japanese, and Russian warships, rounded up the Punjabi Muslims and protected the city while the colonial government restored order. In 1922 the Straits Settlements Volunteer Force was established, and the British army became more active in training the volunteers. Mobilized on December 1, 1941, six days before the Japanese Malayan campaign began, Singapore's volunteers manned bunkers and artillery positions along the south coast to defend the city from an invasion from the sea that never came.

    In response to communal riots in December 1950, the British reorganized the Singapore Police Force and established links between the police and the British army that effectively prevented subsequent civil disturbances from getting out of hand. The 1950 riots occurred when Malay policemen, who comprised 90 percent of the police force, failed to control a demonstration outside Singapore's Supreme Court. The demonstration occurred following a decision by the court to return to her natural parents a Dutch Eurasian girl who had been raised in a Malay foster home during the Japanese occupation. Incensed by the court's decision, large groups of Malays randomly attacked Europeans and Eurasians killing 18 and wounding 173. The British army had to be called in to restore order.

    The British reorganization of the police force included the hiring of large numbers of Europeans, Chinese, and Indians to improve the ethnic balance; the establishment of riot control teams; and the modernization of police command and communication channels. The riot control teams belonged to a new organization known as the Police Reserve Unit. Members of the unit had to be politically reliable and had to pass a rigorous training course. The first riot control teams were deployed in December 1952. In May 1955, these units were effective in containing communist-inspired rioters during a transportation workers' strike, although four people were killed and thirty-one injured over a three-day period.

    In July 1956 the Singapore government under Chief Minister Lim Yew Hock's government prepared an internal security plan that simplified arrangements for cooperation between the police and the British army during serious civil disturbances. The new plan provided for a joint command post to be set up as quickly as possible after the police recognized the possibility of a riot. The Police Reserve Unit was to assume responsibility for riot control operations within clearly defined sectors while army units were deployed to control the movement of civilians in the immediate area. The plan was tested and proved effective during communistinspired riots in October 1956, when five army battalions supported the police and five helicopters were used for aerial surveillance of the demonstrators. Police and army cooperation succeeded in breaking up large groups of rioters into smaller groups and preventing the spread of the violence to neighboring communities. Police and army restraint kept deaths and injuries to a minimum and improved the confidence of the public in the government's capability in handling incidents of domestic violence. The British role was a stabilizing factor that facilitated the demise of the CPM in Singapore and a smooth transition of power to the People's Action Party (PAP).

    Data as of December 1989

    NOTE: The information regarding Singapore on this page is re-published from The Library of Congress Country Studies and the CIA World Factbook. No claims are made regarding the accuracy of Singapore PUBLIC ORDER AND INTERNAL SECURITY information contained here. All suggestions for corrections of any errors about Singapore PUBLIC ORDER AND INTERNAL SECURITY should be addressed to the Library of Congress and the CIA.

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Revised 10-Nov-04
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