An early attachment with the Singapore Police Force (SPF) opened Superintendent of Police (SUPT) Gregory Tan’s eyes to the personal fulfilment of wearing the uniform. At 31, he heads a branch at SPF’s Police Intelligence Department (PID) and guides his team in being vigilant against tomorrow’s threats.

Work at SPF is always exciting, and our officers – the investigators, intelligence officers and frontline officers – all have a part to play. The work is demanding and unglamorous: there are long hours, tough decisions to make and all kinds of emergencies. On major operations, we often deal with matters of life and death.

I started out in Investigations at the Tanglin Police Division; learnt the ropes as a staff of SPF’s Manpower Department; headed the Marine Parade Neighbourhood Police Centre as Commanding Officer; and was involved in policymaking with the Ministry of Home Affairs. As officers, we’re directly involved in the joys and pain of the public. In the more operational roles at SPF, we confront the real world, and are put directly in people’s lives. The connection is immediate and it’s very gratifying when we can help them.

During my time as a Commanding Officer, we were responsible for the Joo Chiat area. Residents were unhappy that their homes were just a five-foot-lane away from the night-life. So we had to work very closely with residents, grassroots volunteers and businesses to find a solution.

This is what I’ve learnt from my mentors at SPF: decisions must be rooted in reality and be people-centred. Once, we had to mediate an argument between a landlord and his tenants. The middleman in this deal had disappeared with the rent and the landlord wanted his place back immediately. At midnight, he brought a group of men to harass the tenants.

I got the call and arrived on the scene. There was no basis for the landlord to demand that the tenants leave. In fact, they were also victims and had no one else to turn to. We stood our ground. It took a few hours, but in the end, we helped the tenants broker a deal: they could stay for two more weeks.

As officers, we also get to influence Singapore in the long-term. This happens most clearly in policymaking. Security and law-and-order policies are always about trade-offs. These trade-offs include balancing the competing needs and interests of different groups in our society, as well as individual interests against communal and national interests. As we celebrate SG50, I hope that our national and collective identity will continue to grow. That way, we can strike the best balance between ensuring the safety and security of Singaporeans while creating an environment for us to pursue our aspirations.

“Never surprised” – that’s our motto at PID. We try to anticipate upcoming threats and are always thinking about how we can overcome them. Criminal activity is constantly evolving and recent trends involve technologically- based crimes and online cheating. So we’re always looking to the future and asking, “What’s next?”

In 2006, when I was considering what I wanted to do as a career, I had the chance via attachments with SPF to learn what police work was really about. Seeing police officers put in long hours to serve the community, without regard for recognition – that was the most powerful and persuasive argument for me. This sense of duty aligns with what I want to do with my life, and that’s why I serve.