He's more a buddy than a cop
Community Policing Unit works with schools to help keep young people out of trouble
Every time Nina (not her real name), 14, ran away from home, Staff Sergeant Mohd Hafeez Mohd, 33, would get a call from her worried parents.
She was also playing truant, mixing with bad company and would lie to her parents.
It seemed no one could reach out to her.
Until she met Staff Sgt Hafeez, who helped her change her ways, finish secondary school and repair her broken relationship with her parents.
More young people aged seven to 19 have been arrested for various crimes, according to police statistics over the past three years.
Their crimes include shop theft, wilful trespassing and other kinds of theft such as stealing unattended mobile phones and wallets.
Worryingly, in the past two months, there were also at least nine cases of young people involved in loan-shark harassment activities, with some setting fires to victims' homes.
Keeping them out of trouble is one of the concerns of the police.
Staff Sgt Hafeez knew he had a challenge on his hands when he met Nina and her family through Bukit Merah East Community Policing Unit's (CPU) school outreach programme, known as the Youth Engagement Programme (YEP).
The YEP reaches out to at-risk young people through school talks, after-school activities and events such as football leagues.
Staff Sgt Hafeez, a father of four boys, told The New Paper: "Her parents and school counsellors were unable to engage her.
"Sometimes, I would get a call (that she had run away from home) during the weekends and I would have to help."
Staff Sgt Hafeez would get Nina's parents to file a police report. He and a female colleague would also look for the runaway girl, who was usually at her friend's place.
They became mentors to the girl and acted as the link between the teen and her parents.
He said: "The girl opened up to us and would tell us things that she wouldn't share with her parents, like problems with her family and her lack of interest in her studies."
That was two years ago.
Staff Sgt Hafeez said that Nina has since changed her ways and completed her secondary school studies.
He added that in such instances, the police, schools and parents can work together to better engage at-risk young people and deter them from crime.
Staff Sgt Hafeez and his team work with six schools near the Bukit Merah East Neighbourhood Police Centre in the YEP.
The schools help identify at-risk young people and get them to attend after-school activities such as football competitions and weekly dance or music lessons in partnership with the police.
Staff Sgt Hafeez said: "With youth these days, you have to take a softer approach with them and get the first step right so they will open up to you."
His passion for young people started when he joined the CPU four years ago.
During neighbourhood patrols, he saw many young people loitering around and others with complicated family backgrounds.
He said: "I felt that I could do something about it. I also put myself in their parents' shoes and I'm sure they want the best for their kids."
One of the schools that works closely with Staff Sgt Hafeez is Outram Secondary School, near Havelock Road.
Its discipline mistress, Miss Zaiton Mohamed Punither Basa, 28, said it has organised the YEP since 2012 and there are about 30 students in the programme today.
Miss Zaiton said that the teachers are trained to look for tell-tale signs of a young person at risk before they recommend that the students take part in the activities.
These signs include low self-esteem, lack of motivation, bad conduct at school and keeping bad company.
Miss Zaiton said: "They're usually quite receptive when we tell them about the programmes.
"We get them to stay in school and engage in such programmes so they're not loitering outside with bad company."
She said that parents have also responded positively to the programme.
Her colleague, Mr Ajamal Khan, 36, who was the previous discipline master, said that since YEP's inception, the number of police cases involving the school's students has fallen drastically although he did not reveal any numbers.
He said: "This partnership with the police has really helped. The police are not here as punishers but as our partners in this to help deter students from crime."
Staff Sgt Hafeez said: "Some youth (who are at-risk or involved in crime) come from broken families or have complicated backgrounds and this is not by choice.
"But you need to let them know that after making these mistakes, their lives are not over."
With youth these days, you have to take a softer approach with them and get the first step right so they will open up to you.
- Staff Sergeant Mohd Hafeez Mohd
'Youth need to be constructively engaged'
She was just 14 and working in a fast-food joint after dropping out of school.
But she ended up at the police station when a moment of folly led her to steal money from the restaurant.
The girl, now 15, was given a second chance when she was referred to the Guidance Programme (GP) under the Ministry Of Social And Family Development.
It is a six-month counselling and rehabilitative programme targeted at first-time juvenile offenders of petty offences and is organised at various centres across Singapore.
Instead of being prosecuted, the young person is given a second chance and let off with a stern warning if they complete the programme.
The girl, who declined to be named, underwent the programme at the Singapore Children's Society (SCS).
She told The New Paper: "The programme taught me to avoid doing stupid things that have an impact on my future. I want to study and get a certificate so I can have a better future for myself and my family."
The girl completed her secondary school studies privately and is applying to a tertiary institute, said Dr Carol Balhetchet, SCS' senior director for youth services.
She said the GP varies according to the young person's work or school schedules and a curfew is usually imposed. Counsellors and social workers make home and school visits and do group and individual counselling.
"There's always that handful who might reoffend, but they are the ones who, from the beginning, are not really 'into' the programme," said the clinical psychologist.
"For most of them, the shock of being caught by the police or having their parents come to get them from the police station is enough to start the rehabilitative programme."
Dr Balhetchet said the trend of more youth commiting crime is worrying and she attributed the increase to youth who are bored.
"Youth need to be constructively engaged," she said. "You need to reach out to them with activities they want to be part of, not just activities their parents want them to do."
She added that what was especially worrying was more young people getting arrested for molest and unlicensed money lending cases.
"Youth are constantly experimenting and pushing boundaries, but they need to know how to properly engage others, especially members of the opposite sex," she said.
She said that more young people might become involved in loan-shark harassment activities because it is seen as an all-in-one way to earn money and find companionship.
Dr Balhetchet suggested that youngsters be taught and nurtured through experiential work, instead of merely being given advice and encouragement.
Dr Lim Boon Leng, a psychiatrist in private practice, said that young people are by nature impulsive and more rebellious, but it is important not to judge their actions as they have not matured.
"They have yet to understand there are consequences to their actions, so we need to teach and educate."
Dr Lim said that although there are laws and young people have to make restitution for the crimes they have committed, they must know it is not the end of the road.
Crime statistics for those aged seven to 19
TOP 3 OFFENCES IN 2013
Shop theft: 791
Other thefts*: 267
Total arrested: 3,031
TOP 3 OFFENCES IN 2014
Shop theft: 803
Other thefts*: 232
Total arrested: 3,120
TOP 3 OFFENCES IN 2015
Shop theft: 838
Wilful trespass: 196
Other thefts*: 184
Total arrested: 3,121
*Other thefts refer to thefts not including theft of bicycles, theft from motor vehicles and theft from persons.
YOUTH ARRESTED FOR OUTRAGE OF MODESTY
SOURCE: SINGAPORE POLICE FORCE