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How Oxford law graduate applies his legal knowledge to crime solving
Head of Investigation at the Singapore Police Force’s Bedok Division, DSP Timothy Yap
As Head of Investigation at the Singapore Police Force’s Bedok Division, DSP Yap leads a branch of more than 150 officers. PHOTO: SPH MEDIA

SPF and President’s Scholar Timothy Yap is using his legal knowledge in his police investigations to enhance public safety

Most people make fresh resolutions on New Year’s Eve – and the one that Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) Timothy Yap decided on during the 2012 Marina Bay countdown changed the course of his life.

That evening, the 17-year-old shadowed police officers as they patrolled the area and used closed-camera footage to scan for security threats while working with other government agencies to craft contingency plans to prevent overcrowding.

The second-year student at Hwa Chong Institution (Junior College) had signed up for the front-line attachment with the Singapore Police Force (SPF) as part of his pre-university career exploration.

It proved to be a life-changing experience for the aspiring lawyer. 

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“The scale of the operations was incredible,” recalls DSP Yap, 30. “In other countries, having so many people packed into one place has resulted in incidents such as riots and stampedes.

“Experiencing first-hand what it takes to prevent such chaos, and to maintain law and order in Singapore, left a deep impression on me.” 

Over the course of the attachment, the young man also gained “an unvarnished view of how people’s lives are affected by crime” and witnessed how those in distress often turn to the Police first for help.

“Police officers are the closest to those who suffer harm when the law is broken,” he says. 

“These first-hand experiences convinced me to uphold the law from outside the courtroom.”

Legal insights on the front lines

As Head of Investigation at the Singapore Police Force’s Bedok Division, DSP Yap leads a branch of more than 150 officers. PHOTO: SPH MEDIA
After reading law at the University of Oxford, DSP Yap did his master’s at Harvard Law School. PHOTO: SINGAPORE POLICE FORCE

With his newly awakened passion for a Police career, DSP Yap applied for and secured The Singapore Police Force Scholarship

He was also one of five students, all holding Public Service Commission (PSC) scholarships, who were awarded the President’s Scholarship in 2013.

Despite his new career path, he still chose to read law at the University of Oxford and pursue a master’s at Harvard Law School, supported by his various scholarships.

“I believe that the law is an expression of society’s shared values; they are the common rules that we abide by,” he says. 

“I considered it important to develop the ability to reflect thoughtfully on the laws that I would be charged with upholding.”

Policies that protect the vulnerable

Police officers do more than fight crime. DSP Timothy Yap, for one, has been critical in helping shape policies that protect vulnerable victims since he enrolled in the SPF in 2017.

As an investigation officer in the Special Victims Unit of the SPF’s Central Division, he worked with victims to arrest perpetrators of sexual crime. Later, he investigated homicides, firearms offences and kidnappings as a senior investigation officer in the CID.

These rotations gave DSP Yap more insight into what victims go through during the course of the case. This included managing emotionally distressed victims and working out safety plans as a sexual crime investigator. He was able to contribute his understanding of their experiences subsequently in 2021, when he worked on a review of case-handling processes for victims of family violence and sexual crime.

Efforts to improve these processes – such as enhancing support for victims and better training for investigators on victim care – were published in conjunction with the international Sexual Assault Awareness Month in April 2022.

“There is a saying that the measure of a society is how it treats its most vulnerable members,” says DSP Yap. 

“I want to be able to shape the policies and practices that keep people safe, and instil confidence in the justice system.”

Even as a law student, DSP Yap was able to harness his legal knowledge to help Singapore. As an intern in the SPF’s Criminal Investigation Department (CID) during the 2015 General Election, he was part of a team that conducted briefings about election legislation to Police officers who were deployed to voting sites.

Working with the Attorney-General’s Chambers, the team helped explain to officers what constitutes criminal offences, the powers that Police officers are given to resolve situations, and when further investigations may be required.

“It was a fruitful experience applying my academic knowledge to help officers to carry out their duties well,” he says.

Solving crimes to serve justice

DSP Timothy Yap from Bedok Police Station
DSP Yap has been involved in policy and investigative work. PHOTO: SPH MEDIA

The early groundwork exposure has also proved helpful in DSP Yap’s current position as Head Investigation at the SPF’s Bedok Division, where he leads a branch of more than 150 officers to investigate crime and work with prosecutors to prove criminal charges in court.

One of his most memorable days on the job was a high-profile chase of a serial housebreaker who targeted multiple landed houses in one day, including four in Pasir Ris. 

To identify the suspect, his team worked closely with witnesses, including two migrant domestic helpers who had bravely confronted the suspect and secured critical evidence. 

“There is a saying that the measure of a society is how it treats its most vulnerable members. I want to be able to shape the policies and practices that keep people safe.”

Deputy Superintendent of Police Timothy Yap, recipient of The SPF Scholarship

The intense pursuit culminated in the perpetrator being arrested at the departure area of Changi Airport Terminal 4, just as he was attempting to flee the country. 

It was a scene DSP Yap would remember for the rest of his life. 

“When we discovered the suspect was about to leave Singapore, there was a moment when I thought he might have gotten away with it. Yet, we managed to marshall the forces needed to stop him,” he recounts.

DSP Yap (second from left) at his scholarship presentation ceremony in 2013 with Senior Minister Teo Chee Hean and former Commissioner of Police Ng Joo Hee (third from left). PHOTO: ST FILE

It is this truth-seeking mission that gives his career its greater meaning, he says. 

“By piecing together evidence to establish the facts, investigators provide closure to victims and ensure that those responsible are taken to task.”

“I lead my officers to seek the truth and bring criminals to justice, so that they know that crime does not pay.”

About The SPF Scholarship
The Singapore Police Force scholarship is one of the most prestigious scholarships offered by the Public Service Commission (PSC) to candidates who demonstrate strong leadership qualities and have a strong interest in policing work. Scholars will continue their learning journeys in world-renowned universities which provide intellectually, socially and personally enriching programmes. Upon graduation, scholars will be involved in shaping policies that address issues on public law and order as well as play an integral role in protecting the country and its communities.

This article is brought to you by the Singapore Police Force.

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