Parliamentary Speeches

Police Force (Amendment) Bill - Wrap-Up Speech by Mr Desmond Tan, Minister of State, Ministry of Home Affairs and Ministry of Sustainability and the Environment

Published: 03 August 2021


1.   Madam Deputy Speaker, I thank the members for their views and for their support of the Bill. Please allow me to address their questions in turn.

#1 – Enhance SPF’s Operational Capabilities and Readiness

Roadblock Evasion

2.   First, on roadblock evasion.

3.   Mr Gan Thiam Poh asked if the enhanced regime against roadblock evasion will apply to motorcyclists.

a.   The answer is yes.
b.   The enhanced regime applies to all modalities of roadblock evasion and will cover all types of vehicles.

4.   Mr Gan asked how many roadblocks were conducted in the past five years. Mr Gan and Mr Melvin Yong also asked how many cases of roadblock evasion were detected,  resulted in serious injuries for Police Officers, and whether it is necessary to raise the penalties for roadblock evasion when the offender can be charged for other offences like voluntarily causing hurt when their actions result in injury.

a.   From 2016 to 2020, SPF conducted about 8,000 roadblocks per year.
b.   There were 33 cases of roadblock evasion where the offender was convicted or issued with a stern warning. Of these, there were two cases where the roadblock evasion directly resulted in injury for Police Officers. Motorists who deliberately evade roadblocks seriously endanger the lives of Police Officers as well as other road users in the vicinity of the roadblock.
c.   In instances where hurt is caused to Police Officers, it is true that we can take action using general application provisions like voluntarily causing hurt to deter a public servant from his duty, or voluntarily causing grievous hurt. However, the action of roadblock evasion, by itself, is a serious and risky behaviour. We should not rely on the offender also committing other offences to be able to take the person to task. Given the high risks, the Bill increases the penalties significantly to strengthen the deterrence against roadblock evasion.

5.   Mr Desmond Choo suggested to introduce a mandatory minimum jail sentence for the offence of roadblock evasion.

a.   We agree with Mr Choo that motorists who evade roadblocks not only obstruct the course of justice, but also show disregard for the safety of other road users.
b.   That said, we reserve mandatory minimum jail sentences for the most egregious offences. For driving-related offences, those that attract mandatory minimum jail sentences are Dangerous Driving causing Death or Grievous Hurt. Those offences involve death or very serious injuries.
c.   While we agree with Mr Choo that evasion of roadblock can result in dire consequences, we do not think that it warrants mandatory minimum jail sentences, at least for now. We will monitor the situation after the increase in penalties take effect.

6.   Mr Gan shared his concerns about the safety of Police Officers deployed at roadblocks, and asked how many motorists at these roadblocks were detected for driving under influence or having illegally modified vehicles.

a.   On driving under influence, SPF detected an average of 700 cases per year from 2018 to 2020.
b.   On illegally modified vehicles, the Land Transport Authority does not have a breakdown for the number of cases detected at the roadblocks, as they do not conduct roadblocks per se.

7.   Mr Gan also asked if SPF will look into introducing barriers made of hardier material to minimise the risk to Police Officers.

a.   The safety of our Police Officers is of paramount importance.
b.   For this reason, Police Officers deployed to roadblock operations are equipped with reflective vests and traffic wands. Emergency light beacons are also set up in the area to ensure that they are highly visible.
c.   We also train our Police Officers to react to situations where errant motorists might endanger the officers’ safety. Our officers will take into consideration factors such as the prevailing traffic conditions and perform risk assessments when conducting roadblock operations.
d.   On Mr Gan’s suggestion to use hardier barriers, SPF will continue to review its procedures and processes to carry out roadblock operations in a safe and effective manner.

8.   Mr Gan also suggested that Auxiliary Police Officers (APOs) can help to support SPF’s roadblock operations, to better detect motorists who speed or drive in illegally modified vehicles.

a.   Currently, the SPF only deploys Police Officers to roadblock operations.
b.   Roadblock operations are inherently riskier, as officers may come across crimes such as possession of weapons or drugs. Hence, it requires Police Officers who have undergone the appropriate training to handle such serious cases. 

Make Explicit Police Officers’ Power to Set Up Human Barriers and Cordons

9.   Next, Ms Sylvia Lim asked about the new offence which targets pedestrians near barriers in section 26 of the PFA.

a.   We would like to clarify that this provision is not meant to target pedestrians in relation to a roadblock.
b.   Rather, section 26(7) targets members of public who fail to proceed and stop before reaching barriers or cordons meant to control human traffic, and remain there until permitted to continue. This refers to cordons that are used to ensure the safety of bystanders or control human traffic near crime scenes or high security areas, rather than roadblocks for motorists.

Power of Forced Entry for Medical Emergencies

10.   Next, on providing Police Officers with the power to make forced entry in medical emergencies.

11.   Mr Sharael Taha raised questions regarding what constitutes a “medical emergency” and how Police Officers assess a medical emergency behind locked doors. Dr Shahira Abdullah also suggested having clear guidelines on when Police Officers should reasonably suspect that a medical emergency has taken place, before making forced entry.

a.   Clause 7 of the Bill makes clear that a Police Officer can make forced entry when he reasonably suspects that: (i) a person requires assistance because of any injury or poor state of health; (ii) he is unable to enter the place; and (iii) is of the view that entry is necessary to protect the person’s life, health or safety. This allows Police Officers to make forced entry for a variety of medical emergencies, ranging from a stroke to a serious fall.
b.   Given that each case of medical emergency is unique and time-sensitive, instead of having prescriptive conditions, Police Officers will take into consideration a variety of factors before making forced entry. For example, they look out for signs of distress such as audible shouts for help and seek more information from next-of-kin or neighbours to get a clearer picture of the situation. 

12.   Mr Louis Ng and Dr Shahira asked if Police Officers already receive training to equip them with the skills needed to attend to medical emergencies.

a.   The answer is yes. All frontline Police Officers are equipped with basic first aid and CPR skills and are required to undergo regular re-certification to ensure their skills remain up-to-date and relevant.
b.   Police Officers are also instructed to immediately activate SCDF’s emergency medical services where necessary.

13.   In cases where Police Officers make forced entry and it turns out to be unwarranted, Dr Shahira asked if there will be proper recourse for the owner.

a.   There may indeed be instances when SPF will provide compensation for damage to property. However, such situations will be assessed on a case-by-case basis, and will depend on the facts and circumstances of the case.

14.   Dr Shahira also spoke on whether Police Officers should make forced entry in cases of attempted suicide, and asked if these officers are given protection.

a.   We would like to clarify that Police Officers already have the power to make forced entry for attempted suicide under sections 26A and 26B of the PFA. We share Dr Shahira’s concern that such cases are highly complex. For this reason, SPF has officers who are specially trained to intervene in attempted suicide cases, to prevent harm and prevent loss of lives. Where necessary, the Crisis Negotiation Unit will be activated to render such assistance.
b.   Police Officers who make forced entry in cases of attempted suicide are already protected from liability under the common law defence of necessity, and will continue to be protected in future for acts done in good faith and with reasonable care, when the new section 114A of the PFA comes into effect.

Accord Special Police Officers (SPOs) and Commercial Affairs Officers (CAOs) with More Powers

15.   Moving on, I will address members’ questions on according SPOs and CAOs with more necessary powers.

16.   Ms Sylvia Lim asked why we are providing CAOs with full policing powers. Mr Melvin Yong asked if CAOs will be deemed as Police Officers and be armed, given that the Bill accords CAOs with more policing powers which come with additional risks. Mr Yong also asked about the number of CAOs in SPF and the attrition rate for new CAOs, and suggested deploying Police Officers in the Commercial Affairs Department to supplement the CAOs.

a.   Before I answer Ms Lim’s and Mr Yong’s questions, I would like to clarify that we are not providing CAOs with full policing powers. While CAOs will be given more powers of arrest, search, and other administrative powers, they will not be given powers not relevant to their work, such as the power to seize offensive weapons.
b.   Now, to elaborate on why we are according CAOs with more powers, I would like to provide a backdrop of our crime trend. In recent years, commercial and financial crimes have increasingly become an area of concern. Not only has there been an uptick in such crimes, they have also become more complex in nature. Therefore, it is necessary to equip our CAOs with more powers that are required to perform their duties, and to enhance operational efficiency.
c.   On Mr Yong’s suggestion to deploy regular Police Officers, CAD already comprises a mix of CAOs and regular Police Officers, as Ms Lim has also pointed out.
           i.   There are currently about 130 CAOs and 90 regular Police Officers in the CAD.
           ii.   These figures have remained stable in the last five years, and the attrition rate for new CAOs has generally been low.
d.   Having both CAOs and regular Police Officers in CAD better allows us to bring perpetrators of white-collar crimes to justice, as SPF can then leverage on CAOs’ specialised knowledge in the areas of Accounting and Finance while tapping on the broader investigation skills that regular Police Officers have acquired from investigating into a wider range of crimes.
e.   Given that CAOs have the mandate to deal with white collar crimes that are typically not violent or confrontational in nature, we assess that there is currently no operational need to deem them as full-fledged Police Officers. Hence, we will not be providing them with arms or with the full suite of policing powers, as I earlier mentioned. Furthermore, should CAD encounter the need to use a higher level of force, they can leverage on regular Police Officers in CAD who work alongside CAOs. 

17.   Mr Yong also asked if CAOs will be required to undergo physical tests such as the Individual Physical Proficiency Test (IPPT) and be of a minimum Physical Employment Standard (PES), to exercise their new powers of arrest.

a.   The answer is no.
b.   We would like to clarify that the power of arrest is also not new to CAOs. For example, they already have the power to arrest suspects of an arrestable offence under the Criminal Procedure Code. This Bill provides them with more powers of arrest which are relevant in their work, such as to arrest a person reasonably suspected to possess something which is fraudulently obtained.
c.   In any case, I would like to assure Mr Yong that CAOs are required to undergo rigorous training and tests on safely conducting arrests and self-defence, before they are allowed to exercise this power at the frontline. For now, we assess that the training is adequate to meet our operational needs, and it is not necessary to set an IPPT or PES requirement for CAOs.
d.   We would also like to share that this approach is consistent with other non-uniformed officers who already have similar powers to investigate white-collar crimes. For example, authorised IRAS officers, whose core duty is to investigate tax crimes, are empowered to arrest suspects of serious tax crimes.

18.   Mr Louis Ng asked if there will be safeguards and training for SPOs and CAOs. The SPF has multiple safeguards in place to ensure SPOs and CAOs exercise their new powers safely and in accordance with the law.

a.   First, SPOs and CAOs will be required to undergo rigorous training and tests, before they can exercise policing powers. For example, SPOs and CAOs will have to undergo modules on legal knowledge, self-defence and scenario-based training before they are deployed to the frontline.
b.   Second, SPOs and CAOs will be subject to similar safeguards which Police Officers are already subject to, such as those under the Criminal Procedure Code. For example, when SPOs and CAOs arrest a suspect, the suspect must not be restrained more than is necessary to prevent his escape, in accordance with section 76 of the Criminal Procedure Code.
c.   Third, SPF has zero tolerance for persons who misuse or abuse their policing powers. SPOs and CAOs who are found to have done so will be subject to strict disciplinary action. For serious cases, they may be subject to criminal proceedings. 

19.   Mr Gan Thiam Poh asked if SPF will equip all officers with body-worn cameras to mitigate the risk of wrongful accusations and misuse of powers, and if such video footage will be kept safely to prevent cyber attacks and misuse.

a.   Currently, our frontline Police Officers, including SPOs, are equipped with body-worn cameras to facilitate investigations and the gathering of evidence. Video footages from these cameras are also useful to address allegations of wrongdoing, such as the recent case where our Police Officers were falsely accused of abusing their authority to confront an elderly lady in May 2021, when they actually were telling her domestic helper to remind her to wear a mask and even bought her a packet of food.
b.   For CAOs, we are reviewing the need to equip them with body-worn cameras, similarly to aid investigations and to prevent allegations.
c.   I would like to assure Mr Gan that we take the safeguarding of video footages seriously. SPF has in place strict protocols governing the use and access to such data. Typically, SPF only shares data with other Government agencies if provided for under the law. These security measures help to guard against data breaches and the misuse of information.

20.   We note Mr Yong’s suggestion for SPF to have a more structured deployment scheme to better leverage the talents of our full-time and operationally ready NSmen.

a.   When deploying officers to NS vocations, SPF already takes into consideration factors such as the officer’s skills and aptitude. To better leverage the talents of our NSmen, these officers are provided with multiple pathways within the SPF.
b.   For example, officers with background in nautical studies may be deployed to the Police Coast Guard, while officers with expertise in photography may be deployed to the Public Affairs Department to create media content.
c.   When officers transit to become operationally ready NSmen, they may be provided with the option to change their vocation based on their skillsets. For example, officers with a background in Psychology may serve as counsellors in the Police Psychological Services Department.
d.   We will continuously review the deployment process, to further improve the NS experience and to optimise our manpower.

Empower Commissioner of Police to Delegate Powers to Civilian Officers in Leadership Positions

21.   On empowering Commissioner to delegate powers to civilian officers in leadership positions, Mr Sharael Taha, Ms Sylvia Lim and Dr Shahira Abdullah asked what type of powers Commissioner will and will not be able to delegate to civilian officers. Mr Sharael also asked about the circumstances under which Commissioner will delegate such powers.

a.   The current intent behind Clause 5 of the Bill is to allow Commissioner to delegate more administrative powers such as that to issue internal orders to civilian officers in leadership positions. To illustrate, the Director of the Commercial Affairs Department, who is a civilian officer, will be able to directly issue SOPs on managing suspects of commercial and financial crimes. Currently, he will need to ask a Police Officer to do so on his behalf. Once this provision comes into force, he will no longer need to do so, thus improving operational efficiency. We want to assure the House that the delegation of powers will be carefully considered, in the best way possible to achieve our desired outcomes.
b.   It is provided in law that highly sensitive powers which should only be exercised by Commissioner himself will be non-delegable to either Police Officers or even civilian officers. Clause 5 makes explicit that the list of non-delegable powers are those in section 18 and 110A of the PFA, as well as under the Public Order and Safety (Special Powers) Act (POSSPA). For example, this includes the power to give special authorisations to Police Officers to impose curfew under POSSPA.

22.   Ms Sylvia Lim asked if SPF intends to allow civilian officers to take over command duties, and if civilian officers will have the relevant expertise and credibility to do so.

a.   We would like to clarify that SPF already has civilian officers in leadership positions who assume command duties. For example, the current Directors of the Commercial Affairs Department is a non-Police Officer.
b.   The benefit of civilianising more leadership posts is that SPF can draw from a wider range of experiences, competencies and perspectives, beyond the pool of uniformed officers. This enables SPF to be more diverse, more agile and open to transformation, and to better achieve its mission of ensuring the safety and security of Singapore.
c.   That said, I would like to assure Ms Lim that the intent of Clause 5 of the Bill is not to allow civilian officers to exercise the Commissioner’s powers of command at the frontline. We recognise that there are powers which require the specialised knowledge of a Police Officer who has had years of experience with policing, such as the power to disperse an unlawful assembly by military force. These powers are best exercised by the Commissioner or the Police Officers in leadership positions, and will remain that way.

23.   Mr Sharael also asked if Commissioner will delegate the power to investigate commercial, financial and cybercrimes to civilian officers, given the recent uptick in such crimes.

a.   I want to clarify that SPF’s Commercial Affairs Department already has civilian officers who have the powers to investigate such commercial and financial crimes.
b.   This allows the SPF to draw from a wider pool of skillsets, in order to bring perpetrators of such crimes to justice.

Retain Employment of Regular Police Officers During Major Crises

24.   Many members raised questions about retaining the employment of regular officers during major crises.

25.   Mr Louis Ng asked under what circumstances the Commissioner may refuse notices of resignation.

26.   To recap, as set out in the Bill, notices of resignation can be refused only under two situations.

a.   First, when the President has issued a Proclamation of Emergency under the Constitution, when she is satisfied that a grave emergency exists whereby the security or economic life of Singapore is threatened.
b.   Second, when the Minister for Home Affairs has given an activation order under the Public Order and Safety (Special Powers) Act. Activation orders are only given when a serious incident has occurred, such as a terrorist attack.

27.   Police Officers may decide to resign during a crisis for a variety of reasons. In assessing whether to accept or reject a notice of resignation, the Commissioner may take into consideration the reason behind the resignation. For example, if it is due to the Police Officers having a medical condition that does not allow him to serve in SPF, the Commissioner will likely accept his resignation.

28.   Mr Ng also asked if Police Officers who have indicated their unwillingness to stay in SPF should be retained.

a.   First, I would like to assure the House that our Police Officers are extremely dedicated to their duties, and I have no doubt that they will rise to the challenge especially during a crisis.
b.   While we do not wish to retain anybody who does not want to serve, we also have to balance against the needs of the society during times of emergency. This is especially important, to prevent a scenario where there could be mass resignations that compromise SPF's operational efficiency in responding to the crisis.

29.   Mr Gan Thiam Poh suggested creating an appeal board to preside over appeals against rejections of notices of resignation and to be redeployed to perform other duties.

a.   Given the fast-paced, uncertain and dynamic nature of a crisis, it may not be prudent or even feasible for appeal boards to convene in the thick of a crisis.
b.   That said, we recognise that there may be Police Officers who desire to serve the nation and support the efforts to overcome a crisis in other ways, such as in the healthcare sector instead. Commissioner may take this into consideration when assessing the notice of resignation, along with other factors such as SPF’s manpower situation and needs.
c.   Should a Police Officer’s notice of resignation be rejected, SPF will internally assess his ability to serve in roles assigned to him. If need be, he may be redeployed to other roles within the SPF to more effectively carry out duties.

30.   Mr Ng also asked about SPF’s plans to ensure that SPF will be adequately staffed to withstand crises.

a.   During major crises which require more frontline officers, SPF may redeploy more regular Police Officers and full-time NSmen from back-end roles to serve at the frontline.
b.   SPF may also recall and mobilise operationally ready NSmen, Volunteer Ex-NSmen and Volunteer Special Constabulary Officers. The wealth of experience these officers have acquired over the years of NS and volunteering will help SPF in its efforts to effectively overcome the crisis.

Protect Officers from Liability for Acts Done in Good Faith and with Reasonable Care

31.   Moving on, I will touch on protecting officers from liability for acts done in good faith and with reasonable care.

32.   Mr Desmond Choo asked about the regulations that the Minister for Home Affairs may prescribe in determining what constitutes “good faith and reasonable care”.

a.   Such matters and circumstances may include the operating environment in which the officer is acting, standards and practices the officer has to follow, and the resources to which the officer has access to.
b.   MHA will be prescribing these in the subsidiary legislation to allow for greater flexibility to make refinements over time, given our officers’ constantly changing operating environments and standards in response to ever-evolving security landscape and threats. More details will be ready in due course, when the subsidiary legislation is formulated.

33.   Mr Choo also asked for examples where officers did not act in good faith and with reasonable care. In general, such cases are few and far between.

a.   But that said, I can give two hypothetical examples. First, Police Officers receive a tipoff that a suspect of a crime is in a building and immediately effect forced entry to arrest him without even first attempting to verify if he was actually inside. The Police Officers would not have acted in good faith and with reasonable care.  
b.   Another example is if a Police Officer fails to respond to and investigate a ‘999’ distress call by an individual known to SPF as being the target of repeated physical domestic violence, and the individual dies from injuries from the abuser.
c.   I want to emphasise that the protection that we will be according to officers is not unconditional, and is subject to them acting in good faith and with reasonable care. Making explicit this protection in law will allow our officers to more effectively carry out their duties, such as preventing crime or saving lives, without the distractions and the constant concerns about getting sued or being held liable for injuries or damage to property.

34.   To address Mr Choo’s question on whether superiors will be held liable if their subordinates did not act in good faith and with reasonable care, this will very much depend on the facts and circumstances of the case, such as whether the superior had knowledge or control over his subordinate’s action at that point in time, or could reasonably be expected to be able to stop or influence his actions.

35.   Mr Sharael Taha asked if this protection will be extended to Prison Officers and other Home Team officers.

a.   To clarify, many of our Home Team officers already have protections from liability under other legislation. For example, SCDF officers are protected from liability for acts done in good faith and with reasonable care in the execution of the Civil Defence Act and the Fire Safety Act.
b.   For Prison Officers, they are currently not explicitly protected in legislation although they are already covered under the common law defence of necessity. MHA will likewise consider making explicit this protection for Prison Officers and other Home Team officers in their relevant legislation where opportune, just as we have done so in the PFA for Police Officers, and the Civil Defence Act for SCDF officers in 2018.

Improve SPF’s Disciplinary, Administrative and Human Resources Processes

36.   Next, Dr Shahira Abdullah had suggested that persons who manufacture Police uniforms or insignia should seek Commissioner’s written permission. To clarify, SPF already has in place a transparent framework to regulate the market for Police uniforms or insignia. None of these permissions are given verbally, and all are written in black and white.

a.   For example, persons who wish to manufacture Police uniforms are required to bid for an open tender. Those who are successful are subject to conditions in the contract, which include the specifications of the uniforms they are allowed to manufacture.
b.   Should a person manufacture Police uniforms without Commissioner’s permission, he will be liable for a fine not exceeding $10,000 and jail for up to three years or both.

Strengthen Controls Over the APFs

37.   Next, Mr Desmond Choo asked about legal liabilities for APF employers that infringe sections 87(5), (7) and (8) in Clause 21 of the Bill. The existing section 90 already allows the Commissioner to take certain actions if an APF employer infringes any provision in Part IX of the PFA, which includes Clause 21 of the Bill. These actions include suspending or revoking the authorisation for the creation of an APF, as well as the imposition of financial penalties on the APF employer.

38.   Mr Choo also asked if section 88 in Clause 22 of the Bill applies to entities and persons with indirect control over the board of the APF employer. I stated earlier that Clause 22 will require a person to seek the Minister’s approval before becoming an indirect controller, as defined in Clause 17 of the Bill. As Mr Joshua Thomas has also commented on the controller requirements, I would like to reiterate that the requirements are for a person to notify the Commissioner after becoming a 5% controller of an APF employer, and to seek the Minister’s approval before becoming a 25%, 50% or indirect controller, or ceasing to be a 50% or 75% controller.

39.   Mr Choo cited the example of a company with a controlling stake in the parent company owning the APF employer. If such control involves the holding of equity interest or control of voting power in the APF employer, then depending on the facts, this may fall under the definition of a 5%, 25%, 50% or 75% controller in Clause 17. 

40.   Mr Thomas commented on Clause 20 of the Bill, which makes it an offence for a person, who is not an employer of an authorised APF, to carry out any security activity in the course of any business. I would like to clarify that this is not new – such a provision is currently covered under the existing section 86(9), but we have updated the penalties. I would also like to assure Mr Thomas that the SPF will continue to work closely with the APFs, to prevent any infringements of the PFA and Private Security Industry Act in advertising their armed and unarmed services.


41.   Madam Deputy Speaker, the Bill is an important piece of legislation which allows the SPF to continue to keep Singapore safe and secure.

a.   That the vast majority of residents in Singapore feel assured that they can walk home safe at night is not a matter of chance or coincidence.
b.   It is a result of decades of effective policing, supported by robust laws.

42.   I thank the Members for their strong support for the Bill. Let us continue to keep Singapore safe and secure.

43.   Madam, I beg to move.