Written Replies to Parliamentary Questions

Ministry of Home Affairs Committee of Supply Debate 2015 – Speech by Mr S Iswaran, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office and Second Minister for Home Affairs and Trade & Industry

Published: 06 March 2015

Building capabilities for a safe and secure Singapore




1. Madam Chair, I thank members for their questions and suggestions pertaining to the work of the Home Team. DPM Teo has laid out the overall strategy of MHA. I will now elaborate on some of our specific efforts to fight crime and ensure the safety of our neighbourhoods.


Singapore Remained Safe in 2014


2. The crime rate in Singapore remains low though overall crime in 2014 increased by 7.4%. This increase was largely due to cybercrimes such as cheating involving e-commerce. This threat is not unique to us. Cybercrime is rising fast around the world in tandem with the widening reach of the internet, more interactions and transactions taking place online, and the growing sophistication of criminal organisations.


Strategies to Keep Singapore Safe and Secure


3. It is a timely reminder that we cannot take the safety and security that we have for granted. As our operating environment changes, new threats and needs will emerge and we must be prepared to invest resources and effort to build capacity and respond effectively. As DPM has explained, there is a limit to how much we can grow the manpower of the Home Team. So, it is essential that our Police and other Home Team officers are trained for, and deployed in, roles that optimise their impact on the ground. It is equally important that we use technology as a force multiplier and strengthen our community partnerships, to complement the work of our officers. Enhancing our capabilities, harnessing technology, and working with the community – these are the key elements of our strategy to tackle current and emerging threats to our law and order. It also underpins our community policing strategy.


Strengthening Policing within the Community


4. Mr Arthur Fong, Dr Janil Puthucheary and Ms Tin Pei Ling have asked for an update on how we have progressed with community policing. Community policing has been the cornerstone of our policing strategy for the past 30 years. Police has been able to keep our neighbourhoods safe and secure, and built a high level of trust with the community, through our network of Neighbourhood Police Centres (NPC), Neighbourhood Police Posts (NPP) and ground officers.


5. The new Community Policing System, or COPS in short, was introduced in 2012 to enhance frontline policing within the community. Under COPS, Community Policing Unit officers are selected, trained and deployed to build ties with residents, and strengthen police presence within the community. Crime Strike Force officers have built up good ground networks with stakeholders within the community, thereby improving Police's ability to fight localised crime. By April 2015, all 35 NPCs would have adopted this new COPS model.


6. The NPPs are also being revamped to provide round-the-clock automated police services, while our officers are more deeply engaged with the community. We have received good feedback from the three pilot NPPs at West Coast, Radin Mas and Marsiling. 6 more NPPs will be revamped by the end of this year.


Leveraging Technology




7. As part of our broader policing effort, we continue to explore new ways to use technology – a point which Ms Sylvia Lim has raised. Polcams are a case in point, that are being deployed in our HDB blocks. They help to deter and detect crime, and allow us to deploy police officers in frontline functions to focus on interacting with the community or in investigations where the human touch, experience, instinct and judgement are key. Since 2012, when Polcams were first installed, Police have progressively upgraded these cameras from standard to high definition, as the technology has improved and the costs have moderated. Police can now obtain footage with sharper resolution, which thus enhances the effectiveness of police investigations.


8. Over the past two and a half years, Polcams have been installed in more than 4,400 HDB blocks and Multi-Storey Carparks (MSCPs) across Singapore; more than 430 cases have been solved through Polcam footage, which also provided investigative leads in more than 890 cases. We are on track to install these Polcams in all 10,000 HDB blocks and MSCPs by the end of 2016.


Body Worn Cameras and In-Vehicle Video Recording System (IVVRS)


9. Our frontline officers have also started to use body-worn cameras (BWCs) while frontline policing vehicles are equipped with In-Vehicle Video Recording System (IVVRS). My Police colleagues have kindly lent me the BWC to show what the camera looks like. It is light, compact and not too sinister-looking. The key elements of the body-worn cameras are their recording capabilities and high-definition images. The recording can also be encrypted. There will be an indicator light when the recording is on so that members of the public know that the recording is taking place. The footage cannot be downloaded, edited, or deleted by our officers without the proper software and authorisation by the CO NPC. So there is very strong safeguard measures for the use of the BWC. The BWC and IVVRS will complement existing forensic methods to aid police investigations and the gathering of evidence. With live streaming capability, they will also strengthen Police's incident management capabilities.


10. Of course, there is always the risk of information overload, as Ms Sylvia Lim had alluded to. But we believe it is better to facilitate such flow of information which will aid crime detection and deterrence efforts, and find efficient and effective ways to make use of these data. This is why we have also continued to enhance our data and video analytics capabilities to process large volumes of information.For example, Police currently use a video review tool which incorporates compression technology and analytics capabilities. Objects and persons of interest can be identified quickly and an hour-long video footage can be compressed such that critical events can be viewed quickly in a matter of minutes. This is an example of how we can use technology to gather information and significantly reduce the time needed to process the information, which will enhance efficiency and productivity.


Strengthening Community Partnerships


11. Our third strategy is to strengthen community partnerships. It is a key aspect of COPS that has been given added impetus through the creation of Community Policing Units (CPU) at the NPCs. Our CPU officers are chosen for their strong-interpersonal skills and their ability to communicate well. They are given training to enhance these skills.


12. Ms Tin Pei Ling asked about the role of community partners. Madam, community partnerships are indispensable to MHA's efforts to keep Singapore safe and secure. Time and again, both in Singapore and elsewhere, the role played by the community has been the key differentiating factor in the deterrence of, or response to, a crime or terrorist incident. A vigilant, prepared and resilient community is an invaluable partner and a powerful ally in the fight against any threat to our safety and security. Therefore, the Police's approach is to support and empower individuals and groups to take ownership of the safety and security of their homes and neighbourhood.


13. The Community Policing Units at our NPCs have reached out to residents to form, and participate in, Neighbourhood Watch Groups and Citizens-on-Patrol groups. Some have also come forward to join our Volunteer Special Constabulary and partner our regular officers to perform frontline policing duties.


Comprehensive Approach to fight specific crime concerns


Fight against UML


14. Our fight against UML is one example of how these strategies come together to address specific crime concerns with some success. In 2009, there were about 18,000 UML cases. To tackle this scourge, we strengthened legislation by amending the Moneylenders Act in 2010 and enhanced Police's capabilities to deal with UML. Specialised units at CID and at the Divisional level were established to lead the effort and guide enforcement and preventive efforts. Police cameras deterred potential harassers and provided crucial evidence for follow-up investigations. Our community partners also played an important part through the work and vigilance of the Neighbourhood Watch Groups and general members of public. Some have also initiated other commendable efforts. For example, Sembawang NPC and the Nee Soon Town Council have worked together to train conservancy workers to look out for loanshark runners and other illicit activities in the community. This concerted and collective effort has led to a substantial 67.8% decline in UML cases over the last five years to about 6,000 in 2014.


Fighting Cybercrime


15. The increase in cybercrime is another area of concern which Mr Edwin Tong and Mr Vikram Nair have highlighted. Last year, we saw a sizeable increase in the number of crimes committed online, especially cases of cheating through e-commerce. Many of these involved scammers who impersonated sellers on online platforms to deceive victims into buying goods that would never be delivered.


16. The crimes themselves may not be new but the medium has changed. Criminals and syndicates are adapting their modus operandi to exploit the opportunities arising from the ubiquity and anonymity of the internet. Individuals from all walks of life have fallen victim to these ruses, including well-educated and tech-savvy professionals.


17. Compared to the more conventional types of crime, online crimes pose a different set of challenges to law enforcement agencies. First, such crimes are often transnational in nature involving perpetrators based overseas. Second, the funds can be transferred almost instantly, leaving victims with little recourse. Third, given the nature of the internet, there is no shortage of tools and applications to cover one's tracks. So Police from all over the world are grappling with the difficulties of tracing, apprehending and bringing the perpetrators of cybercrime to justice, as well as to recover lost monies.


18. This is why we need to emphasise education and prevention – the dictum of caveat emptor has never been more relevant. Just as we would exercise due care for our safety and property in the real world, we should have similar care and vigilance in the virtual world – be wary about buying items when prices are too good to be true; refrain from financial transactions or the exchange of personal information with people whom you do not know; and be careful when befriending strangers on the internet.


19. Police have taken active steps to educate the public on online crimes and raise awareness of common methods of online scammers. As part of the Anti-Scam Public Education Campaign, the National Crime Prevention Council and the Police have launched a website at www.scamalert.sg to raise awareness of the common scams in Singapore. We also do other outreach through roadshows, posters etc.


20. We are also building up our capabilities to deal with cybercrime. Police will establish a new Cybercrime Command within the Criminal Investigation Department (CID). The Cybercrime Command will specialise in cyber-investigations, digital forensics and cybercrime policy. Investigation officers and digital forensic officers specialising in cybercrime investigations will also be deployed at each of the six Land Divisions by the end of this year. This will ensure that our frontline units are equipped with the necessary skills to investigate cybercrime cases.


21. Beyond this, Police will continue to work closely with international and regional law enforcement agencies and industry stakeholders. In the region, Singapore leads the ASEAN Cybercrime Working Group, which provides a platform for regional capacity building and information sharing. Police will also work with INTERPOL's new Digital Crime Centre, located in Singapore, to develop digital forensics and new solutions to tackle cybercrime.


Safeguarding of Information


22. Madam Chair, given the complex operating environment and rapidly evolving crime threats, it is imperative that Police have the necessary capabilities, resources and powers to fight crime through information gathering, investigation, and eventually bringing perpetrators to justice. Let me assure Mr Gerald Giam that we take the safeguarding of information obtained by Police very seriously. Police are empowered under the CPC to collect the necessary information to support investigations into criminal activities. Such information may be shared with other government agencies only if provided for under the law. And whether it is Polcam images or from body-worn cameras, specific steps are taken and measures put in place in order to ensure they are well safeguarded.


23. Internally, Police have in place strict security protocols governing the use of and access to data. There are stringent guidelines, standard operating procedures and system security features to guard against data breaches and the misuse of data. The system is also subjected to regular audits. We have zero-tolerance for the misuse of police data and will take firm action against anyone who does so.


Creating New Platforms to Engage Community


Social Media


24. Madam, let me conclude by returning to community engagement To take community partnerships to the next level, we need to create new platforms and enabling technologies to make it easier for Singaporeans, especially a younger generation who are more tech savvy, to come forward to work with and help the Home Team.


25. Hence, we are extending our outreach in the online world. Apart from being an effective means to reach out to the community with crime alerts and public education messages, the value of social media lies in its ability to facilitate the crowdsourcing of information that can help Police in its day to day work and its investigation into crime. Every smartphone, Go-Pro camera, and in-vehicle recording device can all be put to good use and are potentially valuable source of information. Police will provide the platforms and portals to enable this.


26. We are encouraged by the response to the Facebook pages set up by the various NPCs in the last 2 years. Together with the SPF Facebook page, more than 20 cases have been solved through Facebook appeals. It is not just a media for social interaction but they can also help us in meaningful work in terms of maintaining the safety and security of our neighbourhood.


CrimeStopper and TP's "E-Feedback on Road Users" online portal


27. Police have also set up the CrimeStopper and the Traffic Police's "E-Feedback on Road Users" online portal. This allows for almost real time reporting of incidents, and is convenient for members of the public as they can do this anywhere, without having to go to a police station. Police are able to use the videos and pictures sent by the public as objective evidence to facilitate investigations. We are seeing more members of public providing information to the Police via CrimeStopper, with a 63.4% increase from 1,121 cases in 2013 to 1,832 cases in 2014. Since December last year, Traffic Police have also received almost 100 videos of traffic violations. From an overall law enforcement perspective, this is an example of how we are trying to bring together various resources within the community in order to undertake effective enforcement.


28. I would like to encourage more to come forward and use these avenues to help solve crime together. Taken together, these programmes and crowdsourcing initiatives will enable us to take community partnerships to a new level. It lends itself to a more dynamic, two-way partnership that strengthens interaction, collaboration and the flow of information between Police and the community, thereby empowering the community to play a more active role in keeping our neighbourhoods safe and secure.




29. Madam Chair, Singaporeans have placed their trust in the Home Team to keep Singapore safe and secure. This is a trust that has been painstakingly built over many years through the work of our Home Team departments and officers, much of these take place quietly behind the scenes. As our operating environment becomes more complex and the nature of crime continues to evolve, we must never take our safety and security for granted. In the Home Team, we will continue to invest in new capabilities, harness technology and work with the community to build a strong and future-ready Home Team that will keep Singapore safe and secure. 


Managing Security Threats
Community Engagement
Science and Technology