SINGAPORE: The first light of dawn had just begun to streak across the inky skies when the intercom blared to life, punctuating the silence in the car.
A garbled voice growled from the device and everyone sat up in their seat. For the journalists in the vehicle, it was the first indication of the developing operation that was about to get underway.
In the early hours of Wednesday (Oct 10), we were on a raid with the Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) that was part of an islandwide, four-day blitz to crack down on suspected drug offenders.
But unlike previous raids we had followed, this embed was different: For the first time, we were shadowing members of the CNB’s elite strike team, the Special Task Force (STF) unit.
Having observed some of their gruelling training weeks earlier, Channel NewsAsia was on our way to witness the culmination of their preparation for the impending covert operation.
This is how the morning played out.
5.30am: We assemble at the CNB’s request, and get the lowdown on the operation. We learn that we will be joining the STF unit for a raid in the western part of Singapore later that morning. Officers explain that there is no telling how long the operation will go on for, revealing they have worked cases that have lasted more than 17 hours. They add that they will be covert while on the ground and “in stealth mode” until it is time to act.
6.25am: We bundle up into a car and set off to the location, listening to random snatches of conversation over the intercom on the way. Watching the rest of the city wake up around us, I think about how the suspects have no inkling as to how their lives are about to change.
6.45am: We find ourselves in the vicinity of the Teck Whye estate and as we cruise around the neighbourhood, I look around in an attempt to spot STF personnel on the ground, but they stay true to their word of being in stealth mode. Chatter on the squawk box continues to pipe in and out every few minutes with updates from the STF team.
6.55am: To avoid drawing attention to ourselves and looking out of place, our vehicle of journalists and officers heads over to a carpark on the next street to wait for the call to action. The intercom begins to buzz more frequently as we wait around in anticipation.
7.17am: We receive the green light to rendezvous with the other officers and we arrive at the carpark at the same time as other STF personnel. Dressed in plainclothes, they each lug large, nondescript bags of paraphernalia. No one exchanges a word as we make for the lift landing and take the elevator up.
7.24am: We file out of the elevator a few levels above and head to the stairwell that services a particular section of units. Speaking in low voices, STF personnel swiftly don their gear as we watch. In a matter of minutes, none of them are recognisable in their balaclavas and matching vests. The squad wields a battering ram, a shield and what appears to be an industrial-strength grinder.
7.26am: Seconds after the STF members grabbed their gear, I almost miss an officer’s slight head nod to the rest of the team before they begin sprinting down two flights of stairs in trice. Caught off guard by the officers’ sudden charge, the rest of us stumble on the steps trying to take two steps at a time to keep up.
With another flight of stairs to go, my ears suddenly prick at two distinct sounds occurring almost simultaneously. I hear the sound of a gate or a door being thrown open, and then a loud smack on the pavement below.
I instinctively flinch at the sounds, wondering what has just happened. I continue down the remaining steps and reach the landing just in time to catch the last of the string of officers charging into the flat.
Next door, a neighbour peers cautiously from behind her gate at the commotion and whole lot of us outside.
7:29am: We watch as a male suspect is arrested inside the unit and placed in handcuffs. As CNB officers lead him down to the void deck, we discover the source of the loud sound we had heard: A package of some kind of substance strewn all over a grass patch directly beneath the suspect’s unit.
We learn that prior to his arrest, the suspect had attempted to discard a package of what officers said was heroin out of his unit’s window.
7.35am: The substance – which appear to resemble small cubes of belacan (shrimp paste)– is painstakingly picked out of the grass by officers, who later bag their findings. Later, the suspect is brought back up to his flat for a thorough search of his premises.
Several days after the islandwide operations end, it is revealed in a news release that almost 1.3kg of heroin was retrieved from the grass patch.
From within the 63-year-old Singaporean suspect’s unit, a further 876g of heroin, 29g of ‘Ice’ and cash amounting to more than S$87,000 were also recovered.
In total, the estimated worth of everything seized from the suspected drug trafficker’s flat stood at S$154,000.
As we leave the scene, I consider how all that planning and coordination - which must have stretched over days and perhaps weeks - had culminated in 10-second blitz of action as the officers moved lightning fast to get their man and secure the scene.