K-9! Life in the Singapore Police Force’s Police K-9 Unit
“Always Alert and Ready”
The use of police dogs was first mooted in 1953. At the start, the Police K-9 Unit consisted of 4 German Shepherds and 4 Trainee Handlers. The K-9 unit has since come a long way with its recent new facilities set up at Mowbray Road. The Unit has a total strength of 179 dogs and 209 officers with specialisation in narcotics, explosives and guard canines.
BY MICHELLE LIM
Often, when we think of a career in the Singapore Police Force, we inevitably think of police officers performing patrol duties, the criminal investigators or the traffic police. Few are aware of the exciting frontline opportunities available with the Police K-9 Unit. We spoke to CPL Civon Loke, a trained explosives detection dog handler, about her career and experiences in the K-9 unit.
Since joining the SPF in 2000, CPL Loke completed the requisite 6 months residential Basic Police Officer course in the Police Academy, where she underwent the training in physical fitness, criminal law, investigation procedures, weaponry and unarmed combat. Given the option of the most preferred division/unit to be posted to after the completion of the training, Cpl Loke chose the K-9 unit. She was eventually posted there, where she was initially trained to handle a narcotics detection dog. She has proved herself in her vocation and was selected to go to the UK to train for 8 weeks with the Surrey Police Dog Training School to handle explosives detection dogs.
Career Central: What made you join SPF?
CPL Loke: It was my childhood ambition to be a police office! I am a very adventurous person, who’s keen to take on new challenges. So joining SPF was a natural career choice for me. Career Central: So what made you chose PDU?CPL Loke: Well, I love working with animals! (with a laugh) I also think the work is very interesting though at times, stressful. It is a very satisfying and rewarding job.
Career Central: Did you have dogs or pets growing up?
CPL Loke: I had a dog when I was young but that was a pet. The dogs we work with here are working dogs, meaning that we need to instill in them discipline and take very stringent care of their health and well being. A pet, on the other hand, tends to be indulged more and probably requires less stringent care.
Career Central: Tell me more about your current partner. And what does it take to be a good police dog?
CPL Loke: My partner is a 3-year-old Springer Spaniel from the UK. Her name is Molly and I got her last year. She actually came from a home in the UK. Molly is a trained explosives detection dog. To be a good working police dog, the temperament of the canine is important. It must be intelligent, curious, energetic and have a drive for work. Examples of suitable working dogs are German Shepherds, Labradors, Spaniels, Border Collies and Beagles. To maintain optimal performance and stamina, you need to be very careful about the dogs’ diet (no treats!), health and grooming. Training for the dogs generally starts at 11⁄2 to 2 years old, if they are younger than that, they may not be mature enough. If they are older, they are likely to have a bad attitude or inappropriate habits.
Career Central: Could you share with us what a typical day is like for you?
CPL Loke: I am usually stationed at the Woodlands Checkpoint and I am responsible for the cargo that comes into Singapore. The first thing I do after reporting for work is to head straight to Molly’s kennel to check on her. If she has made a mess, I will need to clean her and her kennel. Fortunately, Molly is a clean dog! It’s my duty to feed her and ensure she always has a clean bowl of water. After that, I will take her to the exercise area for her morning exercises. After that I will give Molly a quick groom.
Once all that is done, we will get down to perform our duties at the Checkpoint. We will get called upon to do a check if they (the other agencies at the checkpoint) find something suspicious.
Career Central: So what does Molly do if she does find something?
CPL Loke: Every dog is different. As the handler, you have to know your dog very well and read what they are trying to say to you. As an explosives detection dog, Molly has been trained not to touch any explosives she finds. Some dogs will signal a find by freezing and looking intently at the object, some will get very excited. Molly does something really funny – she does a tango with the object when she finds something. You will see her prancing back and forth like she is doing a tango! But of course, she will never physically touch the object.
Career Central: You called Molly your partner. Did you have to go though a bonding period?
CPL Loke: You have to build up a strong bond with the dog because it’s a partnership. You have to possess the confidence that your dog will do what you ask and she will need to have the confidence that you are there to guide and keep her safe.
Career Central: Your experience in Surrey must be memorable. Could you share what went on in the training program?
CPL Loke: I really learnt a lot during those 8 weeks. We were taught and trained in a wide variety of subjects. These include system of search, safety distance, safety precautions before, during and after the search and other job related skills and procedures. I also learnt about the capabilities and limitations of a search dog.
Career Central: How about your training process with Molly? What was that like?
CPL Loke: Molly came to us untrained. And we basically trained together from the start. We started with just play and bonding during the first week. This meant lots of ball retrieval games. The idea is for the dog and handler to gain confidence with each other. During this period, I found out that Molly likes to chase rabbits! After the initial training, we then moved into the actual training, which involved a lot of procedure-based exercises.
Career Central: What do you like about your job? Any dislikes?
CPL Loke: I like everything about my job! I have learnt so much and it has really been interesting. Not at all a “regular desk-bound” job in any sense. And the opportunity to get paid to come in to work with dogs is great. There is little politics because I just have to deal with the dog! I really cannot think of anything I don’t like about what I do.
Career Central: What are the perks of the job?
CPL Loke: Well, I work 12-hour shifts; but for every 2 days I work, I will get 2 days off. And I get 28 days of leave in a year (after 10 years of service, I will get 35 days leave). However, because of the nature of my job, I am on call 24 hours a day even when I am on vacation.
Career Central: So what kind of a person would be suitable for a job like yours?
CPL Loke: I think that person has to have a strong sense of responsibility as you are not just responsible for yourself, but also your dog and the people around you. You need to be able to work well under stress and have the ability to stay calm during tense situations. I don’t think it’s a prerequisite to be a dog lover to perform in the job but like I said, this is a close partnership between the handler and the dog, so you need to be able to develop a close bond to work well together. And of course, when the time comes, you will need to be able to let the dog go. It will be sad but you have to understand it’s the nature of the job.