The Covid-19 pandemic brought unexpected challenges for the Singapore Police Force (SPF), particularly in the initial stages of the outbreak.
Then, Assistant Commissioner of Police (AC) Julius Lim and his division were tasked with making the first government quarantine facilities operational on short notice. In the initial stages, there was still a lot of uncertainty over how transmissible or virulent the novel coronavirus was.
As the Ground Commander, he had to coordinate closely with other agencies to establish new operation protocols to not only ensure the safety of those under quarantine, but also to protect the well-being of the police officers deployed to these facilities. “Over time, I could tell that these lengthy deployments were taking a toll on the officers, especially as the Covid-19 situation worsened,” AC Lim, 35, says.
It was completely uncharted territory but AC Lim relied on the same instincts that had guided his 12-year career in the SPF – leading by example and leaving no officer behind. He rallied the division and marshalled additional resources to uplift the well-being of the officers and their families. “I believe it was this spirit of togetherness and looking out for one another that helped us overcome the difficult moments,” he says.
Even as what seems to be the peak of the pandemic tapers off, AC Lim feels the SPF’s work is far from over. In the new normal going forward, he believes the police have a greater role to play in supporting community initiatives. For instance, the economic fallout of the pandemic will accentuate income and social inequalities.
He says: “As people find themselves out of work or struggle to put food on the table, there is a concern that Covid-19 could sharpen various inequality gaps. Left unchecked, this could give rise to a slew of social problems.
“By caring for the vulnerable, looking after at-risk youths and supporting an active citizenry, we can help turn things around for those who have fallen behind, and prevent them from slipping into a cycle of despair. Ultimately, when the community does well, the Police do well too.”
Leading the community
AC Lim credits his father, a former army officer, for his strong leadership acumen. “I like the idea of committing to something larger than myself, sharing in a sense of camaraderie and engaging in hands-on work,” he says.
After graduating from junior college in 2004, the then-18-year-old took up the SPF Scholarship. “At that time, the post-9/11 world had brought to the surface new challenges to domestic security, community bonds and social safeguards. Given the SPF’s strong emphasis on community policing, I wanted to play a more direct and active role in keeping our neighbourhoods safe,” he says.
He pursued his interest in virology as part of a Natural Sciences degree offered by the University of Cambridge. “I was intrigued by how viruses worked and wanted to learn more about how to control their impact,” he says.
In the course of his studies, he gained a greater understanding of public health issues relating to virus epidemics, transmission, treatment and vaccination – knowledge that would eventually come in handy during the crisis of Covid-19. Following that, he pursued a Master of Philosophy in Criminology.
AC Lim, a recipient of the Lee Kuan Yew Scholarship who also holds a Master in Public Administration from the Harvard Kennedy School, says the SPF Scholarship not only prepares one to lead in the SPF, but also in the community.
As a student, the scholarship programme allowed him to take up various postings, and glean knowledge and skills as a community leader. He was involved in various initiatives, such as launching a community programme for parents of at-risk youths, working on multi-agency task forces to solve municipal issues, and driving legislative amendments to strengthen law enforcement.
He also had the opportunity to serve as a delegate at the 67th United Nations General Assembly in 2012, where he led Singapore’s negotiations on several important social and security-related resolutions.
One of AC Lim’s most memorable moments on the job was kick-starting a neighbourhood parenting programme for parents of at-risk youths when he was Commanding Officer of Choa Chu Kang Neighbourhood Police Centre (NPC).
It starts at home
He explains: “One of the things I have discovered as a police officer is that crime is often a symptom of larger socio-economic problems that need to be tackled upstream. Issues like youth delinquency and gang membership can usually be traced to underlying challenges faced by the youth at home, such as the lack of parental guidance.”
So, together with schools and partner social agencies, the NPC organised parenting workshops to equip parents of at-risk youths with more knowledge and resources, and to establish new support networks between the parents, teachers, police officers and social workers. Seeing parents participate in the programme and knowing that it might help more youths stay on course and fulfil their potential made it a meaningful experience for AC Lim.
Ultimately, AC Lim believes that the road to a stronger Singapore begins with an active citizenry. He has worked alongside not only police officers, but also volunteers who have chosen to wear the uniform and are ready – at a moment’s notice – to put their lives on the line and protect the safety and security of Singapore’s neighbourhoods.
“Imagine if more citizens would step forward to serve and volunteer in other social sectors – environment sustainability, youth mentoring, or elderly companionship. We would be in a better position to address the key challenges that Singapore will face in a post-pandemic world,” he says.
Visit https://www.police.gov.sg/Join-SPF/Police-Officer/Scholarships-and-Awards for more information.