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Despite being targets of armed robberies, some moneylenders confident in police and security measures

Despite being targets of armed robberies, some moneylenders confident in police and security measures

Handwritten notes from the suspect used in the robbery at a commercial unit along Bukit Batok Street 31 on Jul 8, 2021, and cash recovered after his arrest the next day. (Photo: Jeremy Long)

SINGAPORE: Despite recent armed robberies at moneylenders, some businesses said they are not too concerned as they have security measures in place and are confident in the police’s abilities to solve crime. 

Moneylenders are seen as targets due to the amount of cash they handle and the lack of security features at their outlets, a security expert told CNA.

Earlier this month, a man was arrested for suspected armed robbery at a Bukit Batok moneylender. He allegedly fled with about S$22,000 in cash and was arrested 11 hours later in Geylang.

READ: Man arrested for suspected armed robbery at a moneylender in Bukit Batok

It was the third reported armed robbery in less than a year at a moneylender.

On Apr 12, a 38-year-old auxiliary police officer allegedly entered a moneylender in Jurong armed with a revolver. He fled with more than S$24,000 in cash before he was arrested, the police said.

READ: AETOS auxiliary police officer charged with robbing Jurong moneylender while armed with gun

Last November, four men were arrested for their alleged involvement in robbing a moneylender in Jurong East. One of them is accused of pointing a karambit knife at an employee.

WHY MONEYLENDERS ARE TARGETS 

Mr Hareenderpal Singh, a security analyst with Deep Security Services, believes that armed robbers choose to target moneylenders because they deal with huge amounts of cash and might not have enough security features.

Many are also designed like an open office, with no security panels or guards, he said.

"In a bank, there is a 50-50 chance that there might be an armed officer in there," he added. "If I walk into a moneylender, I know there's a 100 per cent chance of me walking out."

READ: 4 men arrested for armed robbery along Jurong Gateway Road

Another favourable target for armed robbers are jewellery shops, Mr Singh said, noting that many are now adopting open concepts, unlike in older designs when staff were separated by metal grilles.

At a press conference on Jul 9 after the suspect in Bukit Batok incident was arrested, CNA asked the police if they would focus on tackling armed robbery in commercial units.

Jurong Police Division commander Assistant Commissioner of Police (AC) Shee Tek Tze said officers "proactively" engage the community throughout the year, even in the absence of such cases.

For instance, officers would advise the public on preventing crimes like robbery, housebreaking or shop theft, he said.

READ: Pawn shop robber who donned turban to throw police off the scent gets jail and caning

Police data showed that the number of violent/serious property crimes, which include armed robbery, fell from 210 cases in 2018 to 155 cases in 2019.

Figures for this category of crime were not released in 2020, but the police said Singapore saw 23 more days free of snatch theft, robbery and housebreaking that year compared to 2019.

MONEYLENDERS NOT TOO CONCERNED

Mr Jimmy Lee, managing director of Cash Mart, a moneylender in Balestier, said he is not concerned about the cases of armed robbery at such businesses.

"Because I still feel that Singapore is very, very safe, and if you were to commit an armed robbery, it's very unlikely that you can skip town," he said, noting that the police's "track record is very good".

A manager at Ban King Credit in Ang Mo Kio, who only wanted to be known as Ms Lim, said she was not too worried as well.

"If it happens, then you report to the police. You never know what's going to happen; the risk is always there," she said.

"All the cases - very fast. Within the day, they (the armed robbers) are being nabbed (by the police) already."

Both moneylenders said they have multiple closed-circuit television cameras in their outlets, with more than one employee inside at any one time.

Mr Lee also encourages clients to use cashless transaction methods to reduce the flow of cash in and out of the outlet, and thus the risk of robbery.

CCTV and metal grilles at a pawn shop. (Photo: Cindy Co)

Nevertheless, Mr Singh feels there is room for commercial units to beef up security measures by investing in metal grilles and a secret button to alert security agencies.

These come at a one-time cost, and for smaller businesses, they are more affordable than hiring guards, which could cost between S$4,000 and S$4,500 a month, he said.

Mr Singh said the "cost-to-risk ratio" is a big factor for businesses in Singapore when it comes to spending on security.

"Singapore, at the end of the day, is a very safe country. It's not like other places where such robberies happen almost every single day," he added.

"So, the cost is too high versus the risk. And when something like this happens, our police force is actually quite efficient."

READ: Teenager gets probation for robbing shop while armed with knife

Mr Lee agreed with the cost factor, pointing out that moneylenders - like many other small businesses - have been battered by the COVID-19 pandemic, and do not have multiple income streams like banks.

On the suggestion of metal grilles, Ms Lim highlighted that her outlet is too small for such barriers, while Mr Lee said he wanted his outlet to be warm and welcoming.

"Usually when the borrowers come to us, especially for the new borrowers, they are very sceptical. Because as lenders, we carry a very negative social stigma," he said.

"They get scared when they approach lenders and feel that we are like ah longs. So if you have all these barriers in place, it's very hard to interact with the customer."

WHAT STAFF SHOULD DO

Ultimately, staff at both moneylenders are informed about what to do in case of an armed robbery - comply then call the police.

"Of course if the actual thing happens, you will for sure be alarmed," Ms Lim said. 

"So we tell them not to be fearful. And if the robber wants something, give it to them to protect ourselves. You don't know what they will do. Anything, just report to police."

In an armed robbery of a commercial unit, staff members' safety is "always the most important", AC Shee said.

"The logical and sensible thing is to be calm, and to be able to observe what has happened, so that at the later stage they can provide information to the police to aid our investigation."

READ: StanChart robber David Roach sentenced to jail in Singapore 5 years after high-profile bank heist and escape

Staff members should likewise comply with the armed robber's demands, Mr Singh said.

"Even a trained security officer is taught not to engage an armed robber," he said, noting that these robbers will usually ask to fill a bag with cash within a certain amount of time.

"Just (comply) a bit slower, and while you are doing it, try to focus on the robber to get as many details as you can."

This includes the suspect's appearance, including height, clothes, skin colour and body markings like scars or tattoos.

READ: Man armed with chopper flees after failed attempt to rob Bedok pawn shop

Mr Singh advised victims not to try secretly calling the police or the robber's bluff if he does not show his weapon.

"Don't ever try to do that because you never know what the consequences will be," he said. "You never know what he is holding. If he is holding a gun, he just shoots you and that's it, you're gone."

After the robber flees, Mr Singh said employees should immediately lock their unit and call the police.

They should also be careful not to contaminate the crime scene in case investigators need to dust for fingerprints, he added.

ARMED ROBBERY OF INDIVIDUALS

Apart from armed robberies in commercial units, a person on the street could be a target too, although such incidents are rare.

On Jul 15, a 20-year-old man was arrested for allegedly trying to rob a victim of S$100,000 in cash along Gerald Drive in the Buangkok area. The victim resisted and suffered a slash wound on the left side of his face, said the police.

Last year, a 40-year-old suspect was arrested in a case of attempted robbery with a knife along Changi Road. 

In 2019, a man robbed a teenager on the upper deck of a bus, taking his phone and cash. The man had concealed a curved karambit knife in his shirt so that the victim would see it without drawing the attention of other passengers.

READ: Jail, caning for man who threw kitten down rubbish chute, robbed teen at knifepoint

The best response in such situations would be to comply with the robber's demands, said self-defence experts, although they added that this should not be done blindly.

Victims should take note of the suspect’s appearance, including his physique, the colour and type of his clothes, as well as the language and slang he used, said Mr Jeffrey Fleury, master trainer at JF Self Defense.

"That would be most useful for the police to initiate search and identification," he added.

Ms Qin Yunquan, co-founder of self-defence school Kapap Academy, acknowledged that during a robbery, victims could feel "tremendous fear" and freeze up, but said it is important to remain calm and anticipate what the attacker could do.

This includes observing the size and type of the weapon, how and with which hand he is holding the weapon, and what he is doing with his free hand, she said.

Any weapon, even common items, used by the attacker could be dangerous, said Mr Daniel Kim, a Krav Maga instructor at The CoActive Self Defense and Fitness.

"Do not attempt to rush your attacker or disarm them," he said. "Use a non-aggressive tone to verbally de-escalate the situation as much as possible."

READ: Enjoy travelling alone, ladies? Here’s how to protect yourself

Ultimately, Ms Qin stressed that the "best and safest strategy" in an armed robbery is to give up the cash or valuables and not attempt to fight back.

"However, it cannot be assumed that after giving your money or valuables, you will not be abducted or even attacked with the weapon," she said.

"Be alert and ready to use your hands to block, deflect any incoming slash or stab even after having given your money or valuables."

Source: CNA/hz(gs)

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