'Mummy' helps clean streets of illegal drugs
To her 2½-year-old daughter, she's mummy.
To the drug syndicates selling their wares on our streets, she's their worst nightmare.
The wide smile she has when she plays silly games with her child disappears when she receives "the call".
At work, she dons a bullet-proof vest, slash-proof sleeves and gloves, and tails drug traffickers on a motorcycle. She knows that these criminals will do almost anything not to get caught as they can face the death penalty.
Staff Sergeant (SSG) Tini, 34, is part of an elite team with the Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) known as the Special Task Force (STF).
CNB, Singapore's drug enforcement agency, is part of the Ministry of Home Affairs (also known as the Home Team).
Her name, just like the rest of her teammates featured in this report, has been changed to protect her identity.
Formed in 1997, the STF conducts covert and high-risk operations, which often lead to the crushing of drug syndicates. While the number of personnel in STF remains a highly-guarded secret, their work has not gone unnoticed.
A story published in the Home Team News in 2013 revealed that around 25 syndicates are busted annually for the last five years. In most cases, the STF "would have been involved", the team's senior officer-in-charge, Jason, said.
STF officers are the "tip of the spear" or the "strike team". This means they can expect drama whenever they confront traffickers in a variety of scenarios like home raids, vehicle interceptions or even chasing a fleeing suspect who has decided to scale down the side of a HDB flat.
They are trained to blend in with the environment, often dressing like members of the public.
But do not let their looks fool you as they are always armed. (See story on right.)
When things go according to the officers' plans, the arrests happen smoothly.
SSG Tini, who has spent 12 years in CNB with the last six years as a member of STF, described a recent arrest on a public road.
She said: "He (the trafficker) didn't know that we were in front and behind him... When the first (STF) car reversed to box him in, he thought it was an accident."
But there have been instances when the use of force was necessary in making arrests.
In 2012, STF officers used glass breakers - a sharp-edged tool on their extendable batons - to break the windows of a vehicle with two suspected traffickers inside.
After arresting the men, the officers found heroin in the front passenger seat area.
While many netizens have praised the STF's work, some have asked if too much force is used during some street arrests.
But SSG Johnny, an STF officer, said he is not too bothered by the criticism.
SSG Johnny said: "I won't harp on negative comments because I understand that most of them (the STF's critics) would not know what it takes to achieve what we want to do."
In her heart, SSG Tini knows her job is important because it helps to keep drugs out of the hands of abusers, especially the young.
"My interest and commitment to keep Singapore drug-free made me apply for the STF, as I feel I can contribute to the team with my readiness and dynamic thinking," she said.
But it still pains her whenever she has to go on long operations, especially when her daughter wonders why mummy can't spend time with her.
She said: "My daughter's growing up and it's a little difficult because she tends to ask where I am going. She's at an age where she starts to question."
Activities that most families take for granted, like festivities, birthday celebrations or just spending time with loved ones are viewed with nervous enthusiasm for SSG Tini.
Once activated, she would have to drop whatever she is doing with her family.
Then there is the danger that comes with the job.
The suspects are willing to do anything, including fighting back by pushing and kicking STF officers, to escape.
STF officers need know what drug syndicates are up to and the window of opportunity to arrest the masterminds is usually small.
For SSG Johnny, who is married and has three children, not returning home at the end of a day is normal.
"The longest stretch? Two or three days," he said. "Of course, I occasionally inform the family that everything's okay. It's like that every time."
But he takes comfort in knowing that after a successful operation, he gets to spend quality time with his family for the next few days.
SSG Johnny also prefers to keep things vague so as not to worry his family.
He said: "I don't usually tell her (his wife) a lot about my work. So there's no issue of (her finding out about my) being at the 'tip of the spear' thing. She just knows that I'm a regular CNB officer."
Both officers admit that their supportive spouses shoulder extra responsibilities in their absence.
Added SSG Tini: "They (her family) understand we will be taking care of ourselves (while on operations)... And with the skills that we have, so far it has been alright."
DRUG SITUATION BY THE NUMBERS
$4.7m The value of drugs seized from January to June this year. This is 50 per cent less than the value of drugs seized in the same period last year.
$20.5m The value of drugs seized by CNB in 2013.
1,524 The total number of drug abusers arrested in the first half of this year, which is about a 20 per cent drop from the same period last year.
Striking hard & fast
TOOLS: STF officers use equipment like hydraulic cutting tools and portable door rams. - PHOTO: ZAIHAN MOHD YUSOF
Thirty seconds flat.
That's the time Special Task Force (STF) officers are expected to take to make a forced entry into a flat.
The quicker they breach a drug syndicate's hideout, the better the chances of arresting the suspects red-handed and without incident.
Prior to executing the arrests, the covert operators make their assessments of the target.
Jason, a senior officer-in-charge of the STF, said: "They (STF officers) will spy on the unit itself to learn what kinds of doors and gates (are used by the suspects)."
The strike team will then select the most suitable tools for the job. These include heavy-duty cutting tools, portable door rams and hydraulic spreaders. A hydraulic door opener can break a standard HDB flat door in less than seven seconds.
A normal scenario involves one STF officer cutting the lock on a gate while the other gets ready to ram open the door.
Added Jason, 39: "That's why we emphasise forced entry training, to ensure that (the officers) can break in fast enough before the evidence is disposed."
While success is measured by the amount of drugs confiscated, sometimes the weapons found in these hideouts can be alarming.
Luckily, most traffickers have been caught by surprise.
SSG Tinidescribed previous operations: "As we went in, they had no chance to take out the weapons. During searches, we have recovered stun guns, samurai swords, knives, knuckle dusters, batons and even a Rottweiler."
But the officers are prepared for trouble. For raids on homes, each officer's 6kg load of personal equipment consists of a stab- and bullet-proof vest, slash-proof gloves and sleeves, a pair of handcuffs, goggles and an extendable baton with a sharp tip for breaking windows. They also each carry a 9mm pistol with a 13-round magazine.
At the end of the day, safety is paramount.
Jason said: "For successful operations, we look at the arrest of the key players, the (drug) seizures. And I will always tell them (the officers) that these are not the main factors. Their personal safety and that of the public and even the accused persons (are equally important). No one should be injured."
What it takes to be in STF
Any Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) officer can apply to join the Special Task Force.
However, there is a selection phase to identify team players who are physically and mentally fitter.
Candidates must get at least a Silver award - the minimum requirement - for their Individual Physical Proficiency Test and must be marksmen in handling their sidearms.
Selected candidates go through on-the-job training, which includes shooting, driving, surveillance techniques, methods of entry and unarmed and close-quarter combat, among other skills required for their new role.