Earlier this year in May, Timor-Leste held parliamentary elections, the fifth since its independence in 2002. To the average Singaporean, this news may not carry much weight. However, for Assistant Commissioner of Police (AC) Xie Xingmao, it represents the culmination of global efforts to help Asia’s youngest nation find its footing – efforts in which he played a small yet memorable role over a decade ago.
As part of the Singapore Police Force (SPF) United Nations Peacekeeping Force, AC Xie was deployed to Timor-Leste in 2012. The SPF Scholarship recipient helped local police build up intelligence capabilities ahead of the nation’s presidential and general elections that were held in the same year.
“Protestors were clashing on the streets, throwing fire bombs at one another, setting up roadblocks and throwing rocks at UN vehicles,” recalls the 37-year-old officer. His unit gathered information from citizens and relayed it to ground forces, enabling police to prevent riots from happening.
The year-long stint in Timor-Leste is but one of myriad postings across the public service and private sector that have characterised the scholar’s 14 years in the Force. AC Xie currently oversees the Ang Mo Kio Division.
Past recipients of the SPF Scholarship (previously known as the SPF Overseas Scholarship) include Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat and Head of Civil Service Leo Yip. Like those before him, AC Xie’s diverse career exposure has shaped him into a strategic leader who is well-positioned to take Singapore further.
“SPF is a uniformed organisation. As part of career development, leadership comes up quickly,” he says. “At a young age – maybe in your early 30s – you will be asked to lead about 80 to 100 people.”
Finding the right fit
How did someone who once dreamt of becoming a chemical engineer end up donning a police uniform? AC Xie’s path to joining the SPF began after a two-day attachment with the Force in 2005, under a programme to introduce potential scholars to police work.
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Witnessing officers deal with criminals and victims, the then 19-year-old was drawn to how officers served society.
“I felt their impact in the lives of families who had been torn apart due to crime, violence and gambling debts,” he says.
On top of that, he liked that it was not an office job.
“Policing offers the opportunity to interact with the public at the frontline, at different levels, on top of desk-bound duties,” he adds.
After meeting former graduates who had studied chemical engineering but worked in industries like finance and consulting, AC Xie realised his passion for science might not guarantee him the meaningful career that he was looking for.
“This challenged my thoughts of just wanting an overseas education and seeing myself working in a chemical plant till my 50s,” he says. “Ultimately, I decided to go for a scholarship that would provide me with a career that could give me the best growth as a person.”
After graduating from Imperial College London with a master’s degree in chemical engineering, AC Xie kicked off his career in the SPF as an Investigation Officer and Ground Response Force Officer at Tanglin Division and Toa Payoh Neighbourhood Police Centre respectively.
From the outset, he was roped into projects to study solutions to issues faced by the Force. This equipped the scholar with a big-picture understanding of the organisation’s direction and goals, and set the stage for his development as a leader.
Becoming a strategic thinker
In the following years, more postings further deepened AC Xie’s understanding of high-level issues faced by Singapore.
They included a stint at the Ministry of Home Affairs, where he worked with the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority on policies related to naturalisation and drafted legislation for the collection of iris images to enhance border security.
Within the SPF, he also oversaw policies on the planning of major events such as the National Day Parade and Asean Summit, enhanced operational readiness of the SPF and crafted security and counter-terrorism measures.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, AC Xie also ran police operations to control the spread of the virus in migrant worker dormitories while providing for the welfare of migrant workers.
His most recent attachment to the private sector – as a director at building consultancy firm Building System & Diagnostics – saw him develop expertise in green building technology, carbon accounting and ESG (environmental, social and governance) reporting. These are lessons that he could apply back at the Force as part of Singapore’s efforts to meet its climate change commitments for 2050.
Taken together, these experiences have equipped AC Xie with a powerful understanding of the complexities surrounding law and order, international borders, and political and social issues – enabling him to help the nation deal with emerging threats and handle crises as they arise.
“The SPF Scholarship developed my leadership and strategic thinking, which allowed me to think ahead about the challenges that the Force and the public service will face, and deal with them through innovation and collaboration with the community as well as private organisations,” says AC Xie.
“All in all, I have achieved – and am still achieving – what I sought: growth as a person and leader,” he adds. “All these experiences, spanning different areas of work, put me on a path of constant development.”
This article is brought to you by the Singapore Police Force.