Have you ever been afraid to walk our streets late at night? Singapore is widely regarded as one of the safest cities in the world
, and one of the reasons for this is the sense of security we feel in our neighbourhoods and public spaces, which has been bolstered by the Police Camera (PolCam) network of the Singapore Police Force
PolCam has proven to be an invaluable resource in fighting crime, having helped officers to solve more than 5,000 cases since it was introduced in 2012. The PolCam network has also significantly reduced the time taken to solve crimes, with some cases being closed within hours of a Police report being made.
A Vital Investigative Tool
Investigation Officers have always relied on interviewing victims and witnesses and gathering other forms of evidence to build their cases. While these are still key aspects of the investigative toolkit, PolCam has further enhanced SPF’s capabilities. For example, PolCam footage can pinpoint the exact location and capture the behaviour of suspects, and serve as evidence in court.
“PolCams have been effective in helping us to solve cases. We can catch suspects more quickly now,” shared Inspector (INSP) Zaidi Salim, a Senior Investigation Officer with Bedok Police Division, who has been in service for over 30 years.
However, the human element remains vital, and Investigation Officers must ultimately apply their judgment to solve cases. This includes reviewing the evidence collected and statements recorded to corroborate facts, determining the criminal motive and offences disclosed, and building a watertight case for prosecution. The Investigation Officer remains the key to crime-solving.
“It still boils down to the work of the Investigation Officers,” explained INSP Zaidi. “While PolCam is a great help, it isn’t the only capability we have; we also employ other investigative tools.”
Eyes in the Neighbourhood
The PolCam network was launched in 2012 and underwent an expansion under PolCam 2.0 in 2016. Since 2012, more than 90,000 cameras have been installed in housing estates, neighbourhood centres, hawker centres, multi-storey car parks and the linkways of transportation nodes such as MRT stations and bus interchanges.
PolCam has been very effective in deterring physical crimes, such as unlicensed-moneylending (UML) related harassment cases. Such cases – which typically involve housebreaking, motor vehicle theft and damage to property – have decreased by more than half from 2015 to 2020.
PolCam has also been a vital tool for officers on the ground. One recent example of PolCam in action occurred in April 2020. A case of a vulnerable missing person was reported in the northeastern part of Singapore. Through the use of PolCam footage, officers located the missing person and brought her into safe custody within three hours of the report being lodged.
A Faster and More Proactive Response
Besides deterring and solving crime, PolCam plays another vital role by enhancing the Police’s sensemaking capabilities and allowing officers to be more responsive in managing law-and-order incidents on the ground, like people fighting or the sudden congregation and dispersal of crowds.
PolCam footage can be reviewed by officers stationed at the Police Operations Command Centre (POCC). In several cases of fights involving multiple persons, responding officers were able to arrest the suspects swiftly upon their arrival at the scene, with the support of officers at POCC.
“PolCam allows us to monitor what’s happening on the ground in real time,” said Deputy Assistant Commissioner of Police Kenneth Nge, Assistant Director, Operations Systems Division, Operations Department, SPF. “If we see 10 to 20 people on the scene for example, we can call for back-up in advance.”
An Evolving System
PolCams are deployed in public areas to enhance public security, and by 2030, the network is expected to include 200,000 cameras islandwide.
The PolCam system continues to evolve, with successive generations adding new capabilities. For example, PolCam’s visual analytics technology has been refined in order to expedite the search for relevant footage. All PolCam footage is also secured via data protection safeguards.
Among the officers who’ve seen the PolCam system develop over the years is INSP Tan Wan Ting, a Senior Investigation Officer with Bedok Police Division. “Compared to when I first started investigations six years ago, the quality of the images from PolCam is clearer now, due to technological advances," she explained. "This lets us better identify persons of interest and determine their roles in an incident, so that we can corroborate their involvement with other evidence and statements. We can then put together a comprehensive account of the incident to determine the culpability of the suspects and their motivations for committing a crime.”
Officers like INSP Tan will attest to how PolCam has supported their Policing efforts. As new crimefighting initiatives are put in place, officers will continue to employ technology to keep our neighbourhoods and streets safe.