According to those gangsters in the underworld, there are three types of police officers – scholar officers, NS officers and the professional rank and file officers. You have to understand Hokkien to appreciate their colourful descriptive phrases. They call senior police officers as “Tua Kow” or “Big Dog!”
1) “Ta Che Tua Kow” or Scholar Officers. It’s common knowledge that if you join the civil service, the bigger the paper qualification the better your prospects. They are usually graduates or scholars who join as Senior Officers with the starting rank of Inspector or ASP. By virtue of their paper qualification, they are given the rank.
2) “Choi Peng Tua Kow” or NS officers. They are basically senior police officers serving National Service. Most of them come from OCS (Officer Cadets Sch) in the army. They are here to serve 2.5 yrs of their NS liability and they shall ROD or ORD for their university education.
3) “Tan Jiak Tua Kow” or the real professional rank and file senior officers. Usually these officers are in their late 30s or early 40s having spent quite some time honing their police skills. They are tested and have proven their mettle to earn that coveted senior rank. It didn’t come on a silver platter. For lack of paper qualification, they compensated with tons of invaluable ground experiences and police acumen.
I would like to add that there is another group of police officers known as VSC or Voluntary Special Constabulary. It used to be a healthy mix of the various types of police officers in the force. They compliment each other in carrying out their different roles and functions.
I was part of the regular group of professional police officers. Though I was not a senior officer, they used to address me as “Tua Kow”. To them, any plainclothes police officer is either a “Tua Kow” or “Ang Pai” (Detective)
What I’m trying to explain here is that rank is neutral and has no discrimination. Whoever – one of the three or four groups of police officers elaborated earlier, wears that rank, respect must be accorded and compliments must be paid accordingly. Rank has it’s privileges. To illustrate, the law says that an ASP (NS or reservist or whatever) could just walk into any premises and conduct a search (with his subordinates) if he suspects criminal activity without the need to apply from the court for a search warrant. He is a “walking warrant!” so to speak.
For example, if I were to meet a uniform VSC or NS officer with an ASP insignia or “crab” in Hokkien cuz it looks like one, I would have to pay him compliment by saluting him if I were in uniform and would have to address him as “Sir!” when talking to him.
I may not like him or do not think highly of him in terms of real police experience by virtue of his relatively young age, NS or voluntary status etc. but I still need to adhere to protocol by giving him the due honor and respect. Amongst those “lau chiau”, they only respect the rank he is holding and not that person. We pay respect to the rank on his shoulders. This discipline was drilled into our heads by our dedicated field instructors since the first day we started our police career and undergone 6 month live-in Basic Training at Police Academy.
I still remember vividly sometime in the year 1984, our veteran ASP Yeo PT overseeing hundreds of uniform police officers comprising regulars, reservists and volunteers at the carpark of Toa Payoh Police Station in preparation for the GE had to pay compliment to a reservist DSP in uniform.
ASP Yeo PT had to shout a command at those police officers gathered at the carpark to attention. He then marched over to that reservist DSP to pay his compliment by saluting him and asking for his permission to carry on the briefing. After his briefing, ASP Yeo had to ask that DSP if he got anything to add? When the DSP shook his head, ASP Yeo formally sought his permission dismiss the assembled officers at the carpark. A career officer showing deference to the DSP rank of the reservist commissioned officer.
Now I’m not belittling those VSC or NS officers here. In fact they are a great manpower resource especially in times of crowd control during National Day, GE or any special major events etc. Unlike those regulars, they lack real ground experience. Sometimes those regulars have to answer for their actions even though they hold higher ranks.
But usually those NS or VSC officers respect the regulars by seeking their opinion before making any decision such as whether to make an arrest on their patrols. It works both ways. Mutual respect in the key to a better working environment. When those senior NS or VSC officers issue “wrong” or “inappropriate” instructions, we would bring them aside out of public view or other officers’ to advise them accordingly. Usually they listen to us. We tell them it’s a non seizable offence. We don’t want to end up with a case of wrongful arrest etc. They usually follow our advise and act accordingly.
Remember the case about that young American canned for vandalism and the huge outcry it created? I recall ESM Goh in his National Day Rally speech comparing the two different reactions from the parents of that American and incidentally a Hong Konger who abetted in the same offence. The parent of that Hongkie was working as a director in the drama section in TCS (Mediacorp).
The parent of that Hong Kong teenager accepted the verdict and sentence without much fuss or publicity. They felt ashamed of their son’s action. In fact, the parent thought of going back to Hong Kong and resigning from his job. ESM Goh wrote him a letter asking him to stay telling him it’s no fault of his. Whereas, the family of the American teenager convicted of the vandalism offence went on an offensive publicity overdrive. Two different reactions to the same scenario (vandalism) where ESM described in colourful Hokkien as “没家教” (Bo Ka Si), “没大没小” or “No big no small”!
In Malay, it is called “kurang ajar!” which literally means less or little teaching.
I was asked to comment on that JC student’s use of expletives on the DPM. You may disagree or criticize the government. There is nothing wrong in an intelligent and appropriate criticism of public figures or government policy. You may not like him. But to use expletives on a prominent public figure reflects on you, your upbringing, your school etc. That basically sums up my opinion on that JC student.
The points he was trying to say or criticize against the government are lost by his use of expletives. There are bloggers speculating about “conspiracy theory” etc that the student was “forced” to repent and apologize etc. Whatever it is, I’m not going to add to those speculation. I just wish to offer my personal opinion whether it’s alright to use vulgar expletives on our leaders?
Some may say that it’s nothing. It’s so common to use those expletives amongst ourselves. I do agree with that. My uneducated father used to shout Teochew expletives akin to saying ‘good morning’ or ‘good day’ whenever he met his friends. Even till today, we use it amongst ourselves.
But there is a difference between private use amongst friends and in a formal settings towards public figures you don’t know personally. When we talk or comment in the public space, we need to be mindful of our conduct and manners. Decorum and respect for each other should be the norm even though we strongly disagree.
Maybe, I was trained in the uniform organization where discipline is of utmost importance. For without strict discipline, there can be no efficiency in the organization. Maybe if that 17 years old student were to serve his NS later, he would improve and learn to respect the rank irrespective of his liking of that person holding the rank.
Likewise, I may not support this political party. But that doesn’t mean I’m not loyal to this country. If this country is run by this government formed by the political party I do not support, I still have to respect the laws and take instructions from the leaders. I still have to pay compliment to the DPM if I’m wearing the police uniform and greet him. That is what we call protocol where every civilized democratic country adheres to.
I’m surprised that the JC student coming from an established learning institution fails to understand this basic line of protocol. He has since removed his blog and humbly apologised. Could it be due to the “counselling” given to him or otherwise? Let us not speculate further. Let us hope that others will learn from this dramatic episode.
“The opinions expressed here are my own and do not reflect the official policies, practices or opinions of SMRT or any organisation with which I may be affiliated”.