Enhancing the SPF’s operational capability and readiness
SPEECH BY MELVIN YONG (RADIN MAS SMC) AT THE 2ND READING OF THE POLICE FORCE (AMENDMENT) BILL ON 3AUG 2021
Mr Deputy Speaker, as a Police officer for 20 years, I have seen first-hand how the risks and threats to our domestic safety and security have evolved over the years and how our Singapore Police Force has strived to constantly keep themselves a step ahead of the criminals and those who wish to cause harm to us. The proposed amendments to enhance the SPF’s operational capabilities and readiness are therefore timely as they will enable the force to better keep Singapore and Singaporeans safe and secure.
My speech today seeks to gain clarity on why we are increasing the penalties for evading roadblocks and to better understand the rationale for increasing the Police powers for some of our civilian officers and whether we can better deploy our Police National Service personnel.
The Bill proposes to increase the penalties for evading roadblocks from the current maximum jail term of 12 months and/or fine of S$5,000 to a maximum jail term of seven years and/or fine of S$10,000.
While I understand that the new penalties take reference from the offence of voluntarily causing hurt to deter a public servant from his duties, this is a seven-times increase in maximum jail term. I would like to raise several questions to better understand the need for such a steep increase.
How many cases of drivers evading a police roadblock have been recorded in the past five years? Are we are seeing a significant upward trend, which has necessitated this sharp increase in penalties to send a deterrent message? How many incidents of roadblock evasion have left our Police officers seriously injured?
A scan through our mainstream media articles found that the last publicised case of Police officers injured by a person evading a roadblock was in June 2017 when Lianhe Wanbao reported that a driver had dashed through a roadblock and injured two Police officers in a violent struggle when being arrested. This could be the same case cited by the Minister of State yesterday in his opening speech.
In the event where the actions of the driver result in injury, the Police could consider and would probably have done so in the past to serve a charge of voluntarily causing hurt to deter a public servant from his duty or voluntarily causing grievous hurt if the injuries are serious. Is it therefore necessary to raise the penalties for evading a roadblock by seven times?
Next, I would like to better understand the need to confer more Police powers to civilian Commercial Affairs Officers (CAOs).
I was the primary staff officer who coordinated the reconstitution of the Commercial Affairs Department to become a part of the Singapore Police Force back in 2000. In the process, I helped to put up the paper to establish the CAO scheme of service.
CAOs are meant to be specialists who perform an important role in combating white collar crime and their good work is vital in helping to maintain Singapore’s status as the region’s premier financial and commercial hub. When establishing the CAO scheme, we knew that we had to look beyond the profile of typical Police officers and attract local talents in law, finance and economics to fight the ever-evolving complex financial crimes ranging from investment and securities fraud to transnational scams.
The Bill proposes to provide CAOs with more Police powers such as the power to arrest, to enter a place to investigate an arrestable offence and requiring suspects to attend Court, among others. This is a significant extension of Police powers to civilian officers and possibly unprecedented.
CAOs are civilian officers, not Police officers and there were reasons why they were given only certain Police powers restricted to investigating offences under the Criminal Procedure Code when the CAO scheme was first established. These were deemed then to be sufficient for the CAOs to carry out their investigation duties effectively, supported by trained and armed Police colleagues.
With this amendment, will CAOs be deemed as Police officers from henceforth?
The additional powers also come with increased risks. Would CAOs need to be armed to protect themselves?
To exercise the power of arrest, should we require CAOs to learn defence tactics and pass a yearly Individual Physical Proficiency Test (IPPT), much like what regular Police officers are required to do today? Would a CAO candidate’s Physical Employment Standards (PES) status be now factored into the hiring process?
We established the CAO scheme in 2000 to attract a special group of individuals to join the Police to fight complex white-collar crimes. I recall we started with around 30 CAOs back in 2000. I believe the number would have grown over the past 20 years. But is that number sufficient to sustain the scheme of service? What is the attrition rate of CAOs, especially in their first three years of service?
Rather than mould civilian CAOs into pseudo Police officers, why not consider posting trained, experienced Police officers with the requisite law, finance and economics backgrounds to the Commercial Affairs Department to supplement its current investigative resources? I strongly believe the force has today many qualified uniformed men and women capable of handling white-collar crime investigations.
The Bill also proposes to expand the powers of our Police full-time national servicemen (PNSFs) and police reservists (PNSmen). I support this and I have a few suggestions on how we could better empower them so that they have a fulfilling time serving their National Service obligation.
During my time in the force, I observed that PNSFs and PNSmen were more motivated when deployed to perform tasks that were relevant and related to either their area of study or their work experience. Beyond expanding their powers as proposed in the Bill, can we create a more structured deployment scheme to better leverage the talents of both our PNSFs and PNSmen?
One good example is the MINDEF’s Cyber NSF Scheme, which I believe the Minister of State would be familiar with. It allows those with cybersecurity and computer science backgrounds to apply for a vocation as a Cyber Operator during their National Service.
Perhaps those with law or finance backgrounds can be deployed to the Commercial Affairs Department while those with computer science training can be deployed to help strengthen the SPF’s cybersecurity teams.
We should strive to leverage the strengths and talents of our PNSFs and PNSmen to augment the good work of our regular Police officers.
In conclusion, the proposed amendments to the Police Force Act are timely as they would allow the SPF to keep up with new threats and continue keeping Singapore safe and secure. But as we expand the powers of various categories of officers, we must ensure that we are able to continue to attract the best candidates to perform the specialist roles in the SPF.
We can and should also better deploy our PNSFs and PNSmen to maximise their fullest potential because every Police officer matters. Notwithstanding the above, I support the Bill.