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Overseas Terror Attacks and the Public Order and Safety (Special Powers) Bill

Singapore has learnt a lot from terror attacks overseas – it’s how the Public Order and Safety (Special Powers) Bill came about.
Special Tactics and Rescue (STAR) officers rappelling down a mock helicopter during a showcase in November 2017. The unit handles hostage and rescue operations and high-risk arrests. PHOTO: Aizil A. Rahim

The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) is proposing to pass the Public Order and Safety (Special Powers) Bill, which aims to provide special powers to Police officers and protect the integrity of Police operations in the event of serious incidents, such as terror attacks.

The new Bill will be debated on 21 March 2018 in Parliament. If passed, the Bill will become an Act – the Public Order and Safety (Special Powers) Act, or POSSPA – and will replace the existing Public Order (Preservation) Act (POPA), allowing a better response to terrorist threats faced by Singapore.

The new Bill was developed after careful consideration of how other countries have dealt with terror incidents. Home Team News takes you through three examples.

2013 Boston Marathon Bombings – The Manhunt

The 2013 Boston Marathon Bombings left three people dead and over 260 others injured. Following the bombings, an extensive manhunt was mounted for the suspects, brothers Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, during which they killed two more people and injured many others.

If it happened in Singapore: It is not clear that POPA can be activated for a manhunt scenario such as the one that took place in Boston because the Act can only be used if public order is seriously disturbed or threatened. There might not be any public disorder during a manhunt, even when armed terrorists may still be on the loose. With POSSPA, scenarios where public safety is severely threatened will be covered even when there is no public disorder.

January 2015 Paris Attacks – Dealing with Multiple Attacks in a Fast-changing Environment

Between 7 and 9 January 2015, two terror attacks took place in Paris – a shooting at the Charlie Hebdoheadquarters and a siege at the Hyper Cacher Supermarket. Over three days, 20 people were killed and 22 others were injured.

The suspects of the Charlie Hebdo shooting fled. To prevent them from causing further harm, the French Police had to pursue the suspects quickly across many different areas.

If it happened in Singapore: Under POPA, the Minister for Home Affairs has to make a new proclamation to bring the special powers to bear in each new area of operation. Manhunts are dynamic and, very often, the area of operation can change very quickly. POSSPA allows the Minister to declare a serious incident– this in turn allows the Commissioner of Police (who runs the operation) to decide where to apply the special powers, as and when the situation evolves.

2008 Mumbai Terrorist Attack – Stopping the Flow of Info to the Bad Guys

During terror incidents in other countries, Police forces have appealed to the public not to circulate recordings of ongoing security operations, to ensure the safety of both the public and officers in the area of operations.

However, many individuals and the media continue to record and share useful information that attackers can use to their advantage.

During the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attack, the media broadcasted ongoing security operations live – this allowed terrorists who were holed up in the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel to receive intelligence about when and where the Police were about to storm in.

If the new Bill is passed: Only the Commissioner of Police can issue a communications stop order that will require members of the public to stop recording or communicating films or pictures of an incident area, or stop communicating text or audio messages about ongoing operations in the area. The communications stop order is intended to prevent security operations from being compromised – it will be limited to coverage of the area of operations, and for the duration of the operations. This will help to ensure the safety of the public and officers involved in the operations.

These overseas terror attacks have been instructive to the MHA in preparing for serious incidents, in order to protect Singaporeans and save lives.

Click here to read MHA’s press release on the Public Order and Safety (Special Powers) Bill.

Written by

Muhamad Khair


19 March 2018

Law and order
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