Police Crisis Negotiation Unit: Keeping calm when crisis is on
Police Crisis Negotiation Unit sees 23 cases in first four months of 2016
The 42-year-old man had locked himself in a room, armed with a knife, and had threatened to jump out of his ninth-storey flat.
A life was at stake and police negotiators were sent in to get him to safety.
For almost five hours, tensions were high as the stand-off showed no signs of ending.
It was only at 7.30pm that the man was carried out of the flat by Singapore Civil Defence Force officers.
But the day could well have ended in tragedy had it not been for the police Crisis Negotiation Unit (CNU).
Its officers are trained to handle cases involving hostages, barricaded subjects, civil disobedience and suicide attempts.
This incident in April was one of 23 that happened in the first four months of this year.
This is already almost as many as the number of incidents for the whole of last year, said CNU deputy team leader Marilyn Tan.
ON THEIR TOES
In a rare interview, Superintendent Tan told The New Paper that CNU officers have to stay on their toes as every negotiation situation is different.
Not only are they on standby around the clock, they never know what to expect, she said.
"Each situation is dynamic and complicated by the actual terrain. There is no standardised solution or approach to negotiation," she said.
She and her team also have to ensure the safety of the subject, as well as themselves.
Doing so requires the team to assess every detail on the ground, and plan and work together to execute the best negotiation tactic.
They then decide if storming the unit is necessary.
In April 2014, TNP reported that the CNU had more than 80 police officers and psychologists.
Supt Tan said it was not easy getting into the CNU.
Officers must have served a minimum number of years and accumulated experience in police work before they are eligible to apply.
They are then put through written tests, psychological screenings and simulation exercises, among other tests, to determine their suitability for the job.
Even after getting into the CNU, officers are put through simulated exercises every year to keep abreast of the latest negotiation tactics.
For Supt Tan, the job is tough but each successful case means a lot to her and her team.
"These outcomes are beyond words or measure, but every life saved brings an innate closure for the team," she said.
Cases handled by CNU
MARCH 31, 2016
An elderly woman was trapped in her Block 508, Ang Mo Kio Avenue 8 bedroom with her chopper-wielding son for 13 hours.
The Crisis Negotiation Unit (CNU) was called in, along with the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF).
The drama ended after the police were able to force their way into the flat at about 10am on April 1 and arrest the 48-year-old man, who was led out shirtless and with blood trailing down his leg.
JAN 19, 2016
A woman perched on the laundry rack of a sixth-storey unit in Block 364, Bukit Batok Street 31, for three hours at about 7.30am.
Police negotiators from the CNU rushed in to intervene.
Officers from the SCDF Disaster Assistance and Rescue Team (Dart) rappelled down to push her towards the kitchen window of the flat, while others pulled her off the rack from inside the flat.
JAN 8, 2014
A man who caused a commotion in his third-storey unit in Pasir Ris sparked a four-hour stand-off with the police at about 7.15am.
According to residents, the 54-year-old man was shouting from the window of a block in Pasir Ris Street 72.
When police arrived, he refused to let them in.
He surrendered only after hours of negotiation with the CNU.
He was arrested for drug-related offences.
Samaritans of Singapore (SOS)
1800-221-4444 (24 hours)
Singapore Association for Mental Health
1800-283-7019 (Monday to Friday)
Touch Counselling & Social Support
6709-8400 (Monday to Friday, 9am to 6pm)
Care Corner Counselling Centre (Mandarin)
1800-3535-800 (Daily except public holidays, 10am to 10pm)
Mental Health Helpline
6389-2222 (24 hours)
HOW CNU BEGAN
It took a tense situation to create the Singapore police negotiation team.
On Jan 31, 1974, four men armed with submachine guns and explosives tried to blow up the Shell oil refinery on Pulau Bukom Besar.
The men - two from the Japanese Red Army and two from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine - hijacked the ferry boat Laju at the Bukom jetty and held five crew members hostage.
After negotiations with ad hoc members of the authorities, the group surrendered its arms, released the hostages in exchange for 13 government "guarantors" and boarded a specially-arranged Japan Airlines plane to Kuwait on Feb 8.
The guarantors were led by ex-president S R Nathan, who was then the director of Security and Intelligence Division at the Ministry of Defence.
They flew back to Singapore the following day.
The Singapore Police Force Negotiation Team was then formed to deal with such situations.
It was renamed the Crisis Negotiation Unit (CNU) in 2002 and now comes under the Special Operations Command.
Comprising uniformed officers and psychologists, the CNU responds to incidents round the clock.