SINGAPORE: One and only one case in Florence Chua’s near-three decade police career fills her with regret - and it happened in her second year on the job. “It was a rape of a five-year-old girl by two perpetrators whom the mother had handed the girl over to, to help look after,” Ms Chua, now 52, recalled. “Before we could complete the prosecution, the mother - who was not local - decided to bring the girl back home and in the end, the two chaps weren’t convicted.
“I still think, could I have done it better?”
Today, as Singapore’s first-ever female chief of the premier Criminal Investigation Department (CID), it is episodes like these which continue to remind her why she does what she does.
“It keeps me going every day … the satisfaction of bringing closure to families; victims and keeping perpetrators off the street,” said Ms Chua, who is also the first female deputy commissioner - second in rank only to the police commissioner himself. “It’s like when you read about cases and think, this ‘fellow needs to be taken out’. Those are the moments.”
Yet she very nearly did not become a policewoman at all: In her early 20s, while still captain of Singapore’s national hockey team, she thought of working as a physical education teacher. Her dream job was “something not desk-bound, something to challenge me on a daily basis and something I could make a difference in”; she eventually applied to join the police in 1989.
Ms Chua’s journey has since traversed the investigation and intelligence departments to anti-vice and secret society branches to a stint with the home affairs ministry where she helped set up the Casino Regulatory Authority.
She also kept her place in the national hockey squad for 10 more years, lining up alongside luminaries like Melanie Martens to famously strike gold at the 1993 Southeast Asian Games held on home soil.
The sport, she said, imbued in her a long-lasting foundation of discipline, teamwork, resilience (think committing to training sessions after 24 hour work-days) as well as a mind constantly plotting different strategies and tactics to outwit opponents.
An example of the latter? “I was in a back lane full of transvestites when somebody shouted ‘police’ and the fellow next to me wanted to run,” said Ms Chua. “He fell right in front of me - because I was stepping on his sari.”
“GENDER SHOULD NOT MATTER”
When the dreaded yet inevitable gender questions were directed at her, Ms Chua - the eldest of four sisters - acquitted herself comfortably.
“You know people keep saying ‘first female’ this, ‘first female’ that … but I’m not the first in a lot of areas. For example, I was not the first female commander. And I wasn’t the first female in the SSB (secret society branch).
“Before me, we already had females who’d been breaking the glass ceiling.”
Cancel that - when it comes to Singapore’s police force, “there’s really no glass ceiling”, Ms Chua declared.
“Yes, when I first joined, there weren’t many female officers in investigation. But now you see female officers in almost every job and post, even leading our Emergency Response Teams to respond to terrorist incidents. In the early days, you won’t imagine this being done but today this is quite common.”
Pressed to share her everyday experiences, she said: “I don’t think there are a lot of obstacles to being a female officer. It’s easier for us to be a bit more empathetic ... certain situations and crimes, we will be able to handle more sensitively.
“But in terms of expectations, requirements … it’s all the same. All of us do IPPT (Individual Physical Proficiency Test); shooting; when we go through courses we are expected to do the same thing; if a ladder is in front all of us are expected to climb it.”
The only plausible difference lies in IPPT scoring standards, Ms Chua added.
“Gender should not matter ... It’s not whether you are male or female, but whether you have the capability; ability to do the job,” she summed up.
To reach her current post as CID director is to reach what Ms Chua herself described as the “apex” of a career in investigation; if not all the force. It is a testament to her ability - already borne out in a sprawling résumé of cases she either led or participated in.
Highlights include the businessman kidnapped - and rescued - on the eve of his wedding in 2001; tracking down both dead and surviving Singaporeans after the 2004 tsunami; the 2013 cyber attacks initiated by the “Messiah” hacker; the Little India riots the same year; and the 2014 “Sheng Siong kidnapping”.
“I’M NOT JUST SITTING BEHIND A DESK”
Her track record of high-profile cases has been amplified in just the last three months, starting with a baptism of fire in the Trump-Kim summit announced on June 1 - the same day she assumed the CID leadership.
Little wonder she described her biggest challenge so far as “trying to find enough time”. Not that Ms Chua is complaining: In a way, the job still ticks the criteria boxes she once had as an action-seeking young woman.
“Director of CID doesn’t mean I don’t go on the ground, I still do. I’m able to still run operations, so I’m not just sitting behind a desk and looking at policies,” she laughed.
She has even retained the structured rigour of a competitive athlete, by waking up at 6am five times a week to hit the gym before heading to work - something she hasn’t stopped looking forward to daily.
Reflecting on her journey, Ms Chua said: “I’ve to sit down and count before I realise it’s been 29 years. Things moved pretty fast; time just passed … When I joined, I didn’t even think where I’d be when I retire.
“There were times when things didn’t really go very well and I thought about leaving. But do you just pack up and leave, or stay on and deal with it and make it a better place for others?” she mused.
“At the end of the day .. this is a job that I really like to do and it’s also a job that gives meaning. Every day I come in and I see officers willing to put in long hours, not complaining, and the only reason they do it? They want to see justice done."