Seizing a chance, trusting fellow officers: How police responded to knife-wielding man in Yishun
Officers recount the incident in Yishun where a man held a woman at knifepoint, how teamwork was crucial and how a police NSF who was on the way to work stepped in to help.
SINGAPORE: When police officers responded to a call for help along Yishun Ring Road on Jan 9, they were faced with a dangerous and unpredictable situation.
A man was holding a woman at knifepoint outside a coffee shop. He appeared to be extremely paranoid.
Over the next 20 minutes, officers from the Ground Response Force and those from the Emergency Response Team (ERT) of Woodlands Police Division spoke to the perpetrator.
Then, Sergeant 3 (Sgt 3) Mohd Syarhan Zaharin spotted a window of opportunity. He seized the chance to move into the man’s blind spot from behind and took him down by surprise.
Other officers proceeded to disarm and arrest him.
Sgt 3 Syarhan and three other first responders spoke to reporters on Friday (Jan 20) as they recounted what happened almost two weeks ago.
The suspect, Mohamed Faizal Mohamed Ariff, has since been charged. Preliminary investigations showed that he tested positive for controlled drugs.
Station Inspector (SI) Watson Tan Chiew Sheng was the duty team leader managing the incident. A veteran Ground Response Force officer with 22 years of experience, he had to coordinate with fellow officers to “isolate and contain the incident” while waiting for the Emergency Response Team to arrive.
“The man was observed to not be in the right frame of mind, so I had to take extreme precautions on his next action. Any show of force could further escalate the situation and cause further harm to the victim,” added SI Tan.
The fact that the suspect appeared to be under the influence of something “added an air of unpredictability to the situation”, said Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP) Paul Chew, team leader of Woodlands Police Division’s Emergency Response Team.
He stressed that police officers are not medical professionals who can categorically confirm if suspects are on drugs, but their preliminary observations pointed to Faizal not being in the right state of mind.
“Generally, people in their right state of mind won’t point knives at helpless victims,” he said.
“Through our verbal communication with him, there were points in time when we gave instructions, to which he refused to comply.”
VICTIM WAS "PETRIFIED"
Despite the unpredictability of the situation, ASP Chew said he tried to remain calm and focused on the mission.
While the officers did not manage to speak directly to the victim, he could tell that she “was petrified to a point of being barely able to move”.
“Honestly, I don’t know how she felt at the point in time, but I do hope that we were exuding some confidence because I think when we go in there with the objective of getting her out safe, that is something people can feel,” he added.
The victim, a 60-year-old Yishun resident, suffered minor injuries in the form of an abrasion on her chin. She did not want to be taken to the hospital.
Eyewitnesses previously said that Faizal had approached her near Block 108 Yishun Ring Road and pulled her along for about 50m to the nearby coffee shop.
NSF JUMPED IN TO HELP
As the police officers faced off with Faizal, full-time national serviceman (NSF) Corporal (Cpl) Yang Kai Siang was on his way to work at Ang Mo Kio South Neighbourhood Police Centre when he saw the commotion.
He was initially confused about the situation. Then he saw Sgt 3 Syarhan grabbing the knife-wielder from behind.
“I quickly joined the other officers to pin the man down. It was not easy because he was struggling and uncooperative,” said Cpl Yang, who enlisted in National Service with the police about a year ago.
The 19-year-old has served as a Ground Response Force officer for about three months. He added that he was confident in his own training in unarmed tactics, which helped him to deal with the situation.
As for Sgt 3 Syarhan, who is part of Woodlands Police Division’s Emergency Response Team, he said his role was to observe the perpetrator from behind and see when they could apprehend him.
“The moment I had an attempt to take on the guy was when he was distracted, focusing on my colleagues. That’s when I knew it was the opportunity to move in and do the takedown,” he added.
The victim then collapsed to the ground while police officers restrained and disarmed the man.
When asked if he would have done anything differently, Sgt 3 Syarhan replied that he would have, if the perpetrator was holding a gun or had attacked police officers with the knife.
ASP Chew added that the officers’ biggest challenge was in identifying the chance to take the man down.
“In this kind of situation, it’s potentially a life-and-death situation so the stakes are high,” he added. "You have to identify the window of opportunity, you have to commit fully to it, and of course, you have to trust in your colleagues around you.”
LOVED ONES WERE WORRIED
The officers also addressed questions about video footage of the incident that circulated online.
Sgt 3 Syarhan said his mother recognised his voice from the footage and asked him how he was, but he normally would not tell his family what he does daily.
ASP Chew’s wife was heavily pregnant at the time and “very worried” when he told her about the incident. She gave birth to their first child, a boy, on Thursday.
“Ultimately, I think she knows there is a level of risk involved in what I do,” he added. “She has always supported me because she knows I’m trying to do the right thing.”
Many of ASP Chew’s friends also recognised him and contacted him. “I was quite touched because of all the messages of support and people checking in on me to make sure I was all right,” he said.
When asked if being filmed by members of the public affected the way officers work, SI Tan said it was “normal” to him.
ASP Chew, who was filmed speaking to the perpetrator and appeared to know him, said officers like himself attend to multiple calls and incidents.
"Inevitably, of course, there are some people you would find more recognisable and familiar than others," he added.
A police spokesperson previously said that the perpetrator was known to officers in the area, but was not wanted by the authorities.
ASP Chew said he believes that as long as they “do the right things”, they do not have to worry.
“Of course, there will always be people who criticise. There will be people who ask why didn’t we do this? Why didn’t we do that?" he added.
"But at the end of the day, if we know why we did what we did and our conscience is clear, we really don’t have anything to worry about.”