Published: 13 March 2015
Madam Speaker, I would like to thank Dr Janil Puthucheary and Ms Sylvia Lim for speaking on and supporting the Bill. I will address the issues raised in turn.
Criminalise Unauthorised Use, Distribution and Sale of SPF Insignia/Uniforms
2. Dr Janil asked about the impact on retailers arising from criminalising the unauthorised use, distribution and sale of SPF insignia and uniforms. Madam, the amendments are made to protect the public. Police logos, insignia and uniforms, if misused, may result in serious consequences, given the considerable powers vested with the Police. Police have in fact been engaging retailers since late last year. The retailers were informed of the plans to criminalise the unauthorised sale and distribution of these items. The retailers said that the early notice has been helpful, as they would stop bringing in new stock and take the next few months to clear existing stock. So they have had some time. Police will continue to engage the retailers in the coming months.
Forensic Specialists and Civilian Police Assistants
3. Dr Janil and Ms Liam raised questions relating to the two groups of civilian officers – forensic specialists and civilian police assistants. The appointment of these civilian officers with specialist skills and training would enhance the effectiveness of the Police and law enforcement agencies.
4. With regard to the need to tap on forensic expertise outside the public sector, while the Police and public sector have sufficient forensic capabilities for Police's day-to-day operations, there may be situations where additional surges in capacity or specialist expertise may be required. These can include a natural disaster or a building collapse. There may also be occasions when external experts are engaged to assist in specialised evidence gathering. Examples may include commercial divers who may be engaged to obtain evidence underwater, or overseas forensic specialists who are trained in conducting sophisticated forensic examinations, in specific types of crimes and circumstances.
5. Dr Janil asked about the equipment and training that will be provided to forensic specialists, Ms Lim as well. Forensic specialists will be empowered, equipped and trained to enable them to perform their duties. As they may not always partner a police officer when working at a crime scene, defensive equipment like batons will be provided for self-defence. Restraints like handcuffs may be issued to forensic specialists as they may have to detain individuals who attempt to remove evidence from, or interfere, with the crime scene. So these are mainly provided for them to carry out their immediate duties. Forensic specialists may not necessarily carry such equipment with them every time they are on duty. Police will take a risk-based approach and equip them accordingly, depending on the specific operating environment at the crime scene. Forensic specialists will be trained and tested on the use of these equipment to ensure their own safety and that of members of the public.
Civilian Police Assistants
6. Madam, I will now elaborate on the Community Warden programme. The Community Warden programme was developed as part of the overall Community Dispute Management Framework led by the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY).
7. Community Wardens assist the Police to respond to high impact noise nuisance cases in the community. Why have we focused on noise? First of all, because it is currently an offence in extreme cases of noise. Second, noise constitutes a very large proportion of cases where Police are called in for the community. These community wardens will take case notes, coordinate the referral of cases to grassroots leaders for informal mediation and issue noise abatement advisories.
8. The Police will pilot the deployment of Community Wardens in two wards, Tampines North and Boon Lay, in the second half of 2015. These Community Wardens will be civilian officers employed by the Police. They are not volunteers, though the provision is there for subsequent phases, if it proves to be useful, to have volunteers. But in the first instance for the pilot, they will not be volunteers. Ms Lim asked about educational qualifications. I thought we have spent quite a lot of time during this Parliament not talking about educational qualifications and trying to move away from that. Educational qualifications are one factor to be taken into account in selecting Community Wardens. However, more importantly, Community Wardens need to have good people skills as they will be at the frontline dealing with disputing neighbours. The pilot will last six months. Police will then review the effectiveness of the pilot before deciding on longer term plans together with MCCY.
9. Dr Janil and Ms Lim asked about the equipment and training that will be provided to Community Wardens. Similar to Forensic Specialists, the Community Wardens will be empowered, equipped and trained to enable them to perform their roles. As Community Wardens will often be deployed alone, defensive equipment like batons will be provided for self-defence. They will also put on body-worn cameras. Community wardens will be trained in basic law, mediation skills and self-defence. The community wardens will be under the command and control of the Police, and their work and safety will be monitored by the respective Police Division Operations Rooms. They will also have communication equipment to call for police assistance if this is needed.
Auxiliary Police Officers
10. I was also asked about the rationale behind the amendments related to the Auxiliary Police Officers' (APO) powers of arrest. The policy intent and practice has always been for APOs to have powers of arrest when they are on duty. The proposed amendments do not make any change to these powers, but seek to remove any ambiguity and make clear in law that APOs may detain or arrest individuals in the course of assisting the Police in the maintenance of law and order. APOs may only exercise these powers when they are on duty. This is also the current practice.
11. The circumstances where the APOs can exercise these powers will be further clarified by a Police Gazette. First, if an arrestable offence is committed in the APO's view, the APO may arrest the individual, hand-cuff the person if necessary and hand over the person to the Police without delay. For example, if an APO is on duty at the airport and he spots a pickpocket committing an offence, the APO can arrest the pickpocket. In fact, he should. Second, if an APO is made aware of the commission of an arrestable offence but this was not committed in his view, within his sight, the APO may ask the person for his particulars and request the person to wait for Police to arrive. If the person refuses to comply, the APO may detain the person until the arrival of the Police.
12. All APOs must meet a set of stringent selection criteria, including educational qualifications and security screening, before they are considered for employment. They also have to go through, and pass, a stringent training and testing regime before they can be deployed. APOs are trained and tested in shooting, unarmed tactics and police procedures as part of their basic training. Similar to police officers, APOs are also required to take annual physical fitness and shooting tests. This comprehensive training and testing regime ensures that APOs perform at a high standard and are effective in discharging their duties.
Protection for Officers
13. Dr Janil also raised a very important point and I thank him for that. What protections are there for our officers, especially our forensic specialists and civilian police assistants? Will they be accorded the same legal protection as police officers? The laws that protect police officers and public servants also apply to these civilian officers while they are on duty. For instance, if a person assaults a forensic specialist or Community Warden to prevent the officer from discharging his duty, the culprit would have committed the offence of voluntarily causing hurt to deter a public servant from his duty under the Penal Code. These civilian officers are also granted the same immunities as Police Officers under the PFA. They will not be liable for consequences of proper acts performed while discharging their duties.
14. Madam Speaker, let me conclude. This Bill covers a range of amendments to strengthen the operational effectiveness of the SPF, prevent abuse of Police uniforms and insignia, and streamline internal processes. Taken together, these amendments enable the Police to be more effective in maintaining law and order in Singapore and keeping Singapore safe and secure.
15. Madam Speaker, I beg to move and I urge Members of the House to give your support to the Police Force (Amendment) Bill.