Is the Singapore Police Force Proud of Lionel de Souza?
I came across a forum letter in Monday's The New Paper (TNP) regarding the impending closure of Sungei Road's ad hoc roadside stalls- also known as 'Thieves Market, because it's a place where thieves sometimes sell their ill gotten gains. It was written by one Lionel Jerome de Souza. Now Mr de Souza is a familiar name in the forum sections of both TNP and the Straits Times, invariably all his letters take a familiar theme – exploits of his days as a policeman and how he himself made a great arrest and fought crime all on his own, back in the 1960s and 1970s.
'Thieves Market' in Sungei Road. Lionel de Souza claims to have curbed its gangster activities!
1 would come to the conclusion that de Souza was some kind of yesteryear 'Robocop' by the way he describes his crime fighting activities and Monday's letter reiterates the point. He says this of his time as a 'detective in the old Beach Road Police Station' – 'I dare say I played a pivotal role in suppressing the activities of gangsters in the area.' He goes on to relate an incident of how he (with little reference to his partner) arrested an old thief for theft of hub-caps at Thieves Market. I admit being a little confused here, he talked earlier of gangsters, but then relates a story of an old thief, hardly the kind of person which would make people quiver in fear. Anyway let's give him the benefit of doubt, he made an arrest, albeit an old opium smoker, if he wants some credit for it, hey that's fine.
Gangsters from the past in a line-up. If you think a mere constable like Lionel de Souza could have curbed them, there's some snake oil I'd like to interest you in buying! (Omy.sg photo)
But as I said, this a familiar pattern of Mr de Souza's, everything is 'I, I, I, or me, me, me.' If you trawl through some of his letters past, he takes credit for combatting rioters, arresting gamblers, robbers and even the most minor offences like the above. Surely this man most have been a legendary cop that the Singapore Police Force is very proud to have had in its' ranks and surely his exploits are shared with every new recruit. You'd expect at least a few chapters if not a book, has been printed and made available for every police officer in Singapore, to study and take notes.
With that in mind, I approached a retired detective and investigator, who served with and during Mr de Souza's time and asked him to clarify some of the 'legends' that Mr de Souza has been sharing with the public. For easy reading, I've made it into a 'Q and A' format. I'm AH and he's ex-cop.
AH: Firstly let me thank you for service to Singapore in one of the most trying law and order periods.
Ex-Cop: Thanks, but not much thanks is needed. It was our duty and privilege to serve the nation.
AH: You know or heard of Mr de Souza?
Ex-Cop: Obviously, I served with him in CID and was like him, a constable, a detective, a sergeant and an investigator.
AH: Mr de Souza has made no secret of his numerous commendations, high commendations and other awards. He must have been a fantastic cop?
Ex-Cop: I myself have numerous such awards and I know of many others who have similar ones, in fact they are several others who have the highest award ever – the Conspicuous Gallantry Medal, which Mr de Souza doesn't possess.
AH: So we must take his word with a large pinch of salt
Ex-Cop: I'm sure among his awards there must have been a few which he played the pivotal role in making an arrest, but I'd like to caution people into thinking each award is based on a singular event, a singular arrest or solely the work of 1 man.
AH: Explain please.
Ex-Cop: Police work above all else is team work. There was no place then and I'm sure, no place now for 'Robocops' or 'Dirty Harrys.' You work as a team, you can have your own contacts as a detective or make a breakthrough as an IO (investigation officer) in a case, but you have to share this info with your team-mates and superior officers.
AH: Go on
Ex-Cop: In fact more often than not, the info is shared by a number of officers and the team i/c or department head collates this and then briefs the team on what each officer must do. Even in arrests, you are never encouraged to go on your own, you go with a team, prepared for any contingencies.
AH: What about the awards?
Ex-Cop: Usually when a good arrest is made, several members of the team or the whole team is given the award. It's not just given to the officer making the arrest or placing the cuffs on the accused. Some awards are given for a series of arrests made, not just one, and some awards are given for your performance for a period of time. Eg: You can make 'ikan bilis' arrests of bicycle thieves for a number of years and get an award for that. It's in recognition for performance over a period of time.
AH: So can de Souza say he played a pivotal role in suppressing activities of 1 area?
Ex-Cop: Rubbish. Is he a Robocop? Is he there 24 hours a day? Is he alone? I say again police work is team work. It's not about 1 man, it never was, and never is. It's about a group of men, from the beat constable who observes illegal activity and reports it, his Sgt who monitors it and forwards it, the intelligence branch who collates it, the detective branch who goes and detects it and makes the arrest and the IO who investigates it. I don't think ever that Lionel de Souza was the 1 and only detective in Secret Societies Branch, so how can he say he was pivotal in suppressing an area. Moreover in the article it says in 1963, in 1963 he was a mere constable, albeit a detective. Constables take orders from their Sgts and Inspectors, so how can a mere constable decide what to do in 1 area or any area?
AH: Aha, that's a more reasonable explanation.
AH: Ignoring all this, surely de Souza must have still been a superb officer and the SPF been very proud of him?
Ex-Cop: So proud that they didn't confirm him as an Inspector and later tried to sack him.
Ex-Cop: In those days, there was no Cpl ranks, the next promotion was Sgt. Like myself Lionel de Souza was promoted to Sgt after some years and went on to CID, where he became an SIO. My opinion is that de Souza was very good at trumpeting or blowing his own horn and he was given a chance to become a Senior Officer – that is an Inspector of Police (Insp).
AH: So he was promoted to Insp?
Ex-Cop: No. He was given an acting rank – he would act like an Insp but remain on a Sgt's pay.
AH: Then what happened.
Ex-Cop: Normally this acting rank is a formality. You serve for about a year, go to the interview and you're then promoted to the rank permanently.
AH: Obviously he didn't get it.
Ex-Cop: He was not, he was found unsuitable for it. In fact he was also found unsuitable for the next rank above Sgt – Station Inspector. He actually only received 1 promotion in his whole career – Constable to Sgt. Hardly the thing you would expect for the super cop he claimed to be.
AH: You mentioned him getting nearly sacked?
Ex-Cop: He was sacked in fact. In the 1980s, he was attached to Queenstown Police Station as an IO. He apparently had a penchant for abusing accused persons with violence. He went too far and assaulted an accused person who later reported it.
AH: Then what happened?
Ex-Cop: He was brought before a disciplinary board and found guilty of assault. he was promptly judged by the Commissioner to be unfit to be a police officer, reduced back to constable and dismissed.
AH: I guess there's more.
Ex-Cop: Yes, it seems the board and the powers be were in too much of a hurry to get rid of him, that they didn't give him a fair trial. He appealed the dismissal in the High Court and the JC agreed he didn't get a fair trial. He promptly threw the dismissal out and reinstated him. However since by that time he had passed retirement age for Sgts, he was considered to have retired at his last rank of Sgt.
AH: Not a very grand exit for someone who continuously tells the public what a grand and super cop he was.
Ex-Cop: If I was him, I would have just kept quiet and enjoyed my retirement and thanked my lucky stars. The High Court judgment while re-instating him, didn't really touch much on the allegations of assault. In fact I gather he got lucky because his fellow IO who was present when the allegation of assault was made, refused to cooperate with the inquiry. He too was dismissed for abetment (but also reinstated). I met this officer too. Let's just say, he had a rather different take to the story to that de Souza has been saying.
AH: Oh wow, that put's quite a different spin on things.
Ex-Cop: There's plenty more of his exploits, but I think I just want to comment on what's on the record.
AH: Oh ok, do you have anything else to say?
Ex-Cop: Like myself, de Souza is well into his 70s. He should just enjoy his retirement and may I advise him to consider some of the 'not so good things' he's done over the years and repent for them.
AH: Ok thanks.
Besides commenting on police matters and talking of his 'wonderful arrests', Mr de Souza is somewhat of a 'PAP apologist.' You'll find him on FB, criticising every opposition politician and supporting the PAP to the hilt. He's also a branch leader at PAP Hougang. Unfortunately for him, his work in Hougang has seen the PAP lose the contests there each and every time. He disagrees with everyone who has a different opinion calling them 'clowns.' He clearly doesn't respect the democratic will of the people and is stuck in some kind of 1960s mindset. He's clearly from the dinosaur age.
Mr de Souza lecturing us on why he thinks Ministers should get million dollar salaries.
That said, we are democrats and we allow people like him to express his undying love for the PAP. But I wonder if they love him just as much, given his somewhat troubling background. More importantly, given his penchant for commenting on police matters and talking up his role to the effect that he alone was responsible for crime-fighting, I seriously wonder if the Singapore Police Force (SPF) shares the same views? I hope they do not condone such shameless self-praise and should disassociate themselves from a character like him, by replying to some of his forum letters and distancing themselves from his revelations and personal opinions. My advice to Lionel Jerome de Souza is this – Better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak (or write) and remove all doubt!
Lionel "The Dinosaur" de Souza. I am thankful that police officers like him are extinct.
I would like to end by reiterating what the retired cop said – police work is team work. Whether a policeman or woman, sits behind a desk answering 999 calls, whether they do lock-up duties, sit at the counter taking reports, attend to cases, do crowd control duties, airport screenings, investigate cases or make arrests, each of them has an important duty to fill. The SPF cannot successfully operate if 1 of these roles is missing. Every police officer, irrespective of rank is important. No police officer can be a Robocop and do everything and no police officer should think he's one like Lionel Jerome de Souza. We are extremely fortunate that dinosaurs like him are extinct in the SPF today.