For many of us, gangs and secret societies don’t fit into our vision of modern Singapore.
Like bell-bottoms and disco, they seem more relevant in the 1960s and 1970s than they do today.
But the recent arrests of 2 policemen for gang-related activities show that these groups are well and alive in Singapore.
On Thursday (31 May), Mr Umar Hassan admitted to being a member of a secret society, as well as the head of a motorcycle gang.
What complicates matters is that Mr Hassan was also a senior staff sergeant at the Ang Mo Kio Police Division.
According to media reports, Mr Hassan, 38, set up a motorcycle group with three others in 2001. He joined the secret society in 2007.
It isn’t clear when he became a police officer.
Mr Hassan was arrested in 2016 when a video of him chanting gang slogans at a wedding surfaced. He has since been suspended from service.
Another case involved Mr Muhd Firdaus Abdullah, who had been serving his national service with the police force.
Mr Firdaus got into trouble for harbouring a fellow gang member, who had allegedly committed a murder.
On Wednesday (30 May), Mr Firdaus was jailed for 6 years and 2 months, with 5 strokes of the cane.
Mr Hassan will be sentenced later this month.
You might be reading this and be wondering why gangs are such a big deal – after all, they might just be a group of tight-knit friends.
But gangs are far from a group of girl pals to do Cosmo quizzes with.
In the 1960s and 1970s, they wrecked havoc in Singapore, breaking out in fights with rival gangs and engaging in a number of illegal activities.
These ranged from money laundering to unlicensed moneylending.
Gangs were often found in illegal vice dens around Sam Leong Road (today, gangs of hipsters swarm the locale).
They also disturbed regular, hardworking Singaporeans.
For instance, one police officer recounts the fate of a laksa hawker near Tanjong Pagar.
A gang constantly extorted money from the hawker, who had trouble paying them.
Once, when he really could not afford to pay the gang, its members threw a handful of sand in his laksa pot. This symbolised how they could ruin his livelihood and scared the bejeezus out of him.
The police officer recalls,
The hawker was weeping when he gave us his statement… he was so afraid of losing his livelihood.
Despite their hard work, the authorities have never really been able to wipe out all gangs and secret societies.
A quick search of “Gang attacks in Singapore” pulls up at least 3 results in recent years.
But of course, many of these may just have been self-styled gang attacks.
There are still some youths who think that “369” – a notorious gang here – is cool, and may just chant its slogans when fighting, without being actual members.
But them wanting to be in a gang is worrying enough, isn’t it?
And what makes the cases of Mr Hassan and Mr Firdaus so discomforting is that they were both with the police force, supposedly committed to serve us.
In light of this, SPF has pledged to tighten its hiring processes. In a statement on Friday (1 Jun), the agency said,
Notwithstanding these measures, we recognise that we may not always detect the adverse background of all the applicants…The SPF has also reviewed our screening processes to minimise the possibility of similar cases from falling through the gaps again in future.
We just hope that it works.
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