|ASP Stephen Koh instills fear and awe
in the hearts of criminals and officers. Police Life Writer Nisar
Keshvani engages in a nail-biting interview and brings you a personal
account of the legend.
Walking into ASP Stephen Koh's office in the Police Academy is like
flipping a page in history.
When I was enlisted, he was reputed to be the most feared man in the
entire Force. If we encountered him on his normal rounds feeding his
beloved cats and fishes, some would greet him but carefully keep our
distance while others would simply stand speechless in awe.
As I entered his office, the first thing that struck me was a personally
autographed photograph of former President Wee Kim Wee. Handwritten
on it was a note by President Wee that read: "Insp Stephen Koh,
I wish you continuing success."
No ordinary officer
ASP Koh is no ordinary officer, and the numerous certificates
and commendations highlighting his bravery on his office walls say
As a newcomer to the Force, I had only heard tales of the man. Many
told me he was greatly feared by criminals in the '80s and that
he was one of the toughest men in the Police Tactical Team (PTT),
now known as STAR. Stories had it that he never baulked at confronting
criminals in armed combat and that he even patrolled the grounds
in the middle of the night in full battle gear.
ASP Koh laughs it all off. "It's true I am a perfectionist
and demand the best from my men but I am just an ordinary person,
and I don't know where all those stories come from," he says.
"Yes, I did face situations in which some officers would have
gone weak in the knees. If I said I was not afraid then, I would
be a liar. But I guess it's the training that steels your nerves,"
He recalls how, during a hostage situation in a bus, two gunmen
seized two ladies and shot the bus driver. ASP Koh had three seconds
to make his decision and from a distance of 40 - 50 feet, he immobilised
the gunman. The bullet hit the windscreen, split into two and struck
the gunman in the arm and the core of the bullet injured his chest.
"I guess luck was not on his side," ASP Koh said wryly.
ASP Koh joined the Force as a constable on April 16, 1962 and served
at Geylang Police Station. He later moved on to the Police Coast
Guard and then to his legendary stint with the PTT. During the early
days, the Police Tactical Team was a motley crew of officers from
the 8 troops in SOC, a band of volunteers who served even on their
off days for a monthly allowance of $50. "My success was due
to these volunteers. We were like family and I gave them fatherly
advice when I could," said ASP Koh.
Leading by example
Presently he is OC Operations and Fitness at the Academy.
A staunch believer in the philosophy of leading by example, ASP
Koh has always encouraged esprit de corps among his officers.
"I believe a policeman's life is very precious. If anyone has
to die it should be me. A commander's responsibility is to ensure
that every person is accounted for and no unnecessary risk is taken,"
says ASP Koh.
A softer side
As the interview unfolded, I discovered a softer side to ASP Koh.
He dotes on his children and grandchildren and dedicates much time
His other two loves are singing and fishing. And he also has a special
love for animals. The Police Academy's precious cats, fishes and
aviary birds are maintained by him and he takes special care of
the pond outside the PA Mess.
I remember trainers warning us as we cleaned the pond that if any
one of the fishes died, our fate would lie in the hands of ASP Koh.
When I told ASP Koh of this, he laughed.
Making toughness a tradition
But ASP Koh really is a tough character. Says Course Manager
SSgt Eric Phoon, his former colleague at PTT: "Even though
we were not professionals in those days, he would practise new rapelling
techniques on his own. I remember once after we came back from a
Commando course, we showed him and he did it without a second thought.
He has suffered numerous injuries in his time, and recently went
for an operation."
The toughness seems to run in the family for ASP Koh. One of his
two sons is a Major with the SAF Commandos Unit. The other left
the Red Berets after his NS.
When asked if his children were proud of him and if their friends
knew about his illustrious career, he said: "Of course, they
are proud, just as I am proud of them and I believe their friends
have heard of me because I have worked with some of their colleagues
too. Our paths cross, but I guess that is part of life."
Well, with men like them around, ASP Koh's legacy will definitely
ASP (Retd) Stephen Koh – Brief Biography
ASP Koh joined the Force as a constable on April 16, 1962 and served at Geylang Police Station. He later moved on to the Police Coast Guard and then to his legendary stint with the PTT. He retired as OC Fitness and Training, Police Academy and then from 2005 was attached to AETOS where he was trainer. He was last interviewed on video for the documentary – My Police Academy: 1929 – 2005. He passed away on 27 February 2010, at the age of 66.
Click here to read his obituary: 'ASP (Retd) Stephen Koh – Goodbye to an SPF Legend ...'
|My Police Academy: 1929 - 2005 (12 mins)
By Effandi Mohamed, Ho Ser Ching and Nisar Keshvani
During its 76-year history, the Police Academy has seen thousands of officers pass through its gates. The times, uniforms, skills, training and people have changed but the Police Academy at Thomson Road, as a training ground remained the same.
"My Police Academy: 1929 – 2005" is a 12-minute video tribute. The montage sequences are peppered with legendary police officers like DAC Ang Hak Seng, DAC Loy Chye Meng, ASP (Retd) Stephen Koh, ASP (Retd) C V Gabriel, INSP (NS) Dominic Chan Jin Hou, INSP (NS) Lawrence Yap, INSP (NS) Tan Siang Meng, SI George Pillay, SSSgt (Retd) Rengasamy Muthuveran, SSSgt (Retd) Madavy Nair, T/Sgt's Desmond Liang Chew Wei Bin, Choy Wei Hao, Fadhli Fadzli, and TS/Cpl Jayaganesh.
From shooting, fitness, classroom to the morning parade call, it captures the everyday life of a trainee. Police officers reminisce trainee life in the 60s, describe changes in training philosophy, and recount romance and friendship in the Academy's rustic environment.
Click here for more information on My Police Academy: 1929 - 2005 (12 mins)
Read the story, 'To my Academy - 76 glorious years', and visit the accompanying photo gallery.