Parliamentary Speeches

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

Published: 02 August 2021

1.   Mr Deputy Speaker, I beg to move that the Bill now be read a second time.


2.   Singapore is one of the safest countries in the world. In 2020, Singapore was ranked top in the Gallup Global Law and Order report for the 7th year running. This is in large part due to the Singapore Police Force (SPF).

3.   The Bill seeks to amend the Police Force Act (PFA), so that SPF can carry out its mission to prevent, to deter, and detect crime, and ensure the safety and security of Singaporeans, even more effectively. The amendments aim to achieve the following:

a.   First, to enhance SPF’s operational capabilities and readiness;
b.   Second, to improve SPF’s disciplinary, administrative and human resources processes; and
c.   Third, to strengthen controls over the Auxiliary Police Force.

#1 – Enhance SPF’s Operational Capabilities and Readiness

4.   Let me start with the first objective of enhancing SPF’s operational capabilities and readiness.

A – Roadblock Evasion

5.   The Bill enhances the regime against evading Police roadblocks.

a.   Drivers who evade roadblocks endanger the lives of Police Officers and other road users.
b.   In an ensuing car chase, for example, evading drivers often exhibit dangerous driving behaviour, such as speeding, running red light, and swerving in and out of lanes suddenly without warning.
c.   In 2017, a driver was instructed to stop at a roadblock. Not only did he not stop his vehicle, he dashed through the roadblock, which triggered a chase. He was sentenced to only three weeks’ imprisonment for the offence of roadblock evasion. We were lucky that the driver did not cause harm in an instance to other road users, and to our officers. In other instances, roadblock evasion has led to more serious damage to property and even injuries.

6.   To increase deterrence, Clause 6 of the Bill increases the maximum jail term and fine for evading a Police roadblock.

7.   Clause 6 will also expand the definition of roadblock evasion to cover more modalities of evasion.

a.   Currently, the offence of roadblock evasion only applies to drivers who physically dash through a roadblock with his vehicle.
b.   However, SPF has encountered cases where drivers evade roadblocks by other ways such as reversing, making a U-turn, or alighting from their vehicle and escaping on foot.
c.   In 2016, a motorcyclist stopped before a roadblock, abandoned his vehicle, and fled on foot. While arresting the motorcyclist, a Police Officer was injured. The motorcyclist was eventually convicted of voluntarily causing hurt to a public servant, unlawful possession of a weapon and possession of a controlled drug. However, no further action could be taken against him for evading the roadblock as he did not physically dash through it.
d.   Clause 6 will make it an offence for a driver to fail to follow a Police Officer’s order, be it given by a spoken word, a hand signal, a notice or a sign, warning of the presence of a roadblock, to proceed towards a roadblock, to stop, remain in the vehicle and keep the vehicle stationary until he or she is permitted to proceed.

B – Barriers to Control Human Traffic

8.   Next, on the set-up of barriers to control human traffic.

9.   SPF sets up various types of barriers to control human traffic, such as to prevent members of the public from entering a crime scene or high-security area. However, even though the PFA provides that SPF has the duty to take lawful measures to preserve public peace, and prevent and detect crimes and offences, the PFA does not explicitly empower Police Officers to set up these barriers.

10.   Clause 6 makes explicit Police Officers’ power to erect barriers to control human traffic. It also creates an offence for persons who fail to follow a Police Officer’s order to not cross such barriers.

C – Power of Forced Entry for Medical Emergencies

11.   Next, forced entry for cases of medical emergency.

12.   Police Officers’ powers to make forced entry are currently scoped to very specific circumstances, such as to perform rescue operations in cases of attempted suicide or to arrest suspects.

13.   However, Police Officers would sometimes also respond to cases of medical emergency.

a.   In Jun 2021, SPF received a call from a resident who heard a weak voice coming from a nearby unit asking for help. A senior resident resided in that unit alone. When our officers arrived outside the unit, they could not hear any sounds, were unable to contact the senior or even his next-of-kin, and were told by his neighbor that the senior had just returned  from the hospital that very morning.
b.   As the senior could have been in dire need of help, the Police Officers decided to make a forced entry immediately. They discovered that the senior had fallen and was unable to move. Thanks to our officers’ actions, the senior was able to receive help quickly, and was conveyed to the hospital.

14.   Currently, in such cases of medical emergency, Police Officers rely on the common law defence of necessity to make forced entry.

15.   To provide Police Officers with greater assurance that they can make forced entry to conduct life-saving operations, Clause 7 makes explicit that Police Officers have the power to make forced entry of any place if they reasonably suspect that a person requires assistance because of injury or poor health.

D – Provide Special Police Officers with the Same Powers Conferred on Regulars

16.   Next, on providing Special Police Officers (SPOs) with the same powers conferred on regular Police Officers.

17.   SPOs comprise four categories of officers – full-time Police National Servicemen (NSmen); Operationally Ready Police NSmen; Volunteer Ex-NSmen; and Volunteer Special Constabulary Officers.

a.   In the PFA, our SPOs are vested with the same duties as regular Police Officers. Like regulars, they have the duty to prevent and detect crimes, preserve public peace, and protect persons from injury or death.
b.   However, SPOs currently only have powers of investigation under Part IV of the Criminal Procedure Code (CPC).
c.   This means that while they have the power to arrest a suspect or execute a search warrant, they do not have powers beyond investigations. These include the powers to set up roadblocks and search a person before they enter a high security area. 

18.   To close this gap, Clause 10 provides SPOs with the same powers conferred on regulars. They will allow SPF to deploy SPOs in a wider range of operations.

19.   To ensure that these powers are exercised appropriately, SPF has in place robust safeguards.

a.   SPF will ensure that only SPOs who pass the requisite training can exercise policing powers and be deployed at the frontline.
b.   SPOs who are deemed unsuitable to exercise policing powers will be deployed to perform backend and administrative duties which is already being done today.
c.   For those who misuse their powers, SPF will take strict disciplinary action. In serious cases, we will initiate criminal proceedings.

E – Provide Commercial Affairs Officers with Necessary Powers

20.   Next, providing Commercial Affairs Officers (CAOs) with necessary powers.

21.   CAOs are public officers employed by the SPF to investigate commercial and financial crimes.

22.   Currently, the PFA only provides CAOs with the powers of investigation under Part IV of the CPC. However, there are other powers which are necessary for their work.

a.   For example, CAOs currently have the power to arrest suspects for an arrestable offence. However, if the suspect is unable to furnish bail and is subject to lock-up, CAOs will have to seek the assistance of Police Officers to search the suspect to remove illicit items or items that may be used to facilitate escape or cause harm, prior to the lock-up. This is not an efficient process.

23.   Hence, Clause 9 provides CAOs with more powers, such as the power to arrest persons who possess anything reasonably suspected to be fraudulently obtained, and the power to issue bails and bonds.

24.   There will be safeguards to prevent CAOs from misusing their powers.

a.   Clause 9 makes it explicit that CAOs are subject to certain restrictions while carrying out procedures relating to arrest and search, such as the mode for searching women. These are the same restrictions which apply to Police Officers.
b.   CAOs must also attend training and pass the requisite tests before they can exercise these powers.

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

25.   Next, empowering the Commissioner of Police to delegate his powers to civilian officers.

26.   Currently, the Commissioner can delegate his powers to Police Officers in leadership positions.

a.   However, he cannot do the same for civilian officers in leadership positions, such as the Director of the Commercial Affairs Department (CAD).

27.   This hampers operational efficiency.

a.   For example, if the CAD Director wishes to issue Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) on how to handle cases of specific commercial crimes to Investigation Officers, he will have to ask a Police Officer to do so on his behalf.

28.   Clause 5 allows the Commissioner to delegate his and his Deputy Commissioners’ powers to civilian officers in leadership positions.

a.   Some powers conferred on the Commissioner will continue to be non-delegable. Examples include those under the Public Order and Safety (Special Powers) Act.

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

29.   Next, protecting officers from liability for acts done in good faith and reasonable care.

30.   At times, Police Officers have to make split-second decisions and take decisive action in order to save lives, even if their actions may result in injury or damage to property. Such time-critical and dangerous situations are often a matter of life and death, and present themselves in high-stress environments. 

a.   For example, if a patrolling Police Officer finds a person in a crowded public place waving around a chopper in his hand and shouting at passers-by, and if the person becomes increasingly agitated, the Police Officer might tase the person to ensure public safety. Here, the defence of good faith and reasonable care applies even if the person suffers injuries as a result, as the Police Officer believed honestly and based on objectively reasonable grounds that his actions were necessary to prevent harm, and the Police Officer had adhered to the standard operating protocol for using a taser to restrain a dangerous and armed person.

31.   Clause 27 protects Police Officers, SPOs, CAOs, Intelligence Officers, and Forensic Specialists from liability for acts and omissions done in good faith and with reasonable care.

a.   When carrying out their lawful duties, our officers can already rely on the common law defence of necessity. But we want to give greater assurance to our officers and make it explicit that they have protection for acts done in good faith and with reasonable care under the law, so that they can carry out their duties with greater confidence.
b.   This is similar to the protection that is already accorded to other Home Team officers, such as the SCDF officers.

32.   Mr Deputy Speaker, I would like to emphasise that the new provision will not mean that our officers can act with disregard. It only applies when our officers have acted in good faith and with reasonable care. Officers who act irresponsibly will still be subjected to disciplinary proceedings or even criminal proceedings.

H – Retain Employment of Regular Police Officers During Major Crises

33.   Next, the Bill provides SPF with the legal power to retain the employment of regular Police Officers during a major crisis.

34.   Major crises may include a major terrorist incident, or a large-scale, sustained public order incident. SPF would need to have sufficient manpower to manage such crises.

35.   Today, SPF can already mobilise SPOs under certain circumstances and require them to serve until they are demobilised.

a.   Full-time NSmen and Operationally Ready NSmen can already be retained for mobilised service upon a proclamation by the President under section 16 of the Enlistment Act.
b.   For volunteers, the Commissioner of Police can already mobilise them for active service under any circumstances under section 73 of the PFA, so long as the Minister’s permission is sought.

36.   However, SPF does not have the legal power to stop regular Police Officers from resigning in the midst of a major crisis.

37.   To make sure that SPF has sufficient manpower resources during a major crisis, Clause 3 provides the Commissioner may refuse a notice of resignation given during a crisis period.

a.   The Commissioner must be of the opinion that the officer’s service is necessary for the securing of the public safety, defence and security of Singapore.
b.   The definition of a “crisis” only applies when the President has issued a Proclamation of Emergency under the Constitution, or the Minister for Home Affairs has given an activation order under the Public Order and Safety (Special Powers) Act.
c.   This is broadly similar to how the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) can already retain regular servicemen for mobilised service upon a proclamation by the President pursuant to section 16 of the Enlistment Act.

#2 – Improve SPF’s Disciplinary, Administrative and Human Resources Processes

38.   I will now speak about the second objective to improve SPF’s disciplinary, administrative and human resources processes.

A – Increased Fines for Disciplinary Offences

39.   First, Clauses 8 and 15 increase the maximum fines for Volunteer Special Constabulary Officers and regular Police Officers below the rank of Inspector. This ensures our officers continue to uphold the highest standards of integrity and conduct.

B – Allow SPF to Require Operationally Ready NSmen to Report for Disciplinary Proceedings Without Compensating for Loss of Civilian Remuneration

40.   Next, today, SPF issues recall orders under the Enlistment Act to compel NSmen to report for disciplinary proceedings, and NSmen can claim for loss in civilian remuneration.

41.   Clause 16 allows SPF to issue orders under the PFA to compel NSmen who have committed disciplinary offences to report for disciplinary proceedings without having to make up for any loss in civilian remuneration. This is because the disciplinary proceedings arose out of their own wrongful actions in the first place.

a.   Similar provisions for SCDF and SAF NSmen already exist in the Civil Defence Act and the Singapore Armed Forces Act respectively.

C – Automatic Discharge of Full-Time NSmen

42.   Next, currently, the Commissioner’s approval has to be sought for the discharge of NSFs for reasons other than completing full time service, even when the reasons are straightforward, such as the NSF having a serious medical condition or being transferred to the SAF or SCDF.

43.   To streamline this process, Clause 13 specifies the conditions under which NSFs may be discharged from SPF automatically, without the need for the Commissioner’s approval.

a.   This aligns with the approach for Operationally Ready NSmen, who can already be automatically discharged under the same conditions.

D – Include More Officers in Police Associations

44.   Next, currently, the PFA allows the Minister to make regulations for Police associations, such as the Police Central Welfare Fund, which advance the welfare of regular Police Officers.

45.   Clause 28 allows the Minister to also include SPOs and civilian officers employed by SPF in Police associations. This is in recognition of the contributions that they make to support SPF in ensuring the safety and security of Singapore.

E – Disbandment of Vigilante Corps

46.   Next, disbandment of the Vigilante Corps (VC).

47.   Currently, full-time NSmen and Operationally Ready NSmen in SPF serve in one of two Forces:

a.   They may serve in the Special Constabulary, where they perform the same duties as regular Police Officers and have powers of investigation under Part IV of the CPC.
b.   Otherwise, they may also serve in the Vigilante Corps.
c.   Since the introduction of the VC in 1964, VC officers have made important contributions in supporting SPF to maintain law and order in Singapore. They mainly perform support roles, and do not have any policing powers.

48.   Moving forward, MHA will be disbanding the VC and transferring all existing VC officers to the Special Constabulary. This gives our NSmen the opportunity to be deployed in greater variety of roles in SPF.

F – Minor Amendments

49.   The Bill also makes minor amendments to streamline SPF’s administrative and human resources, which I will not go into here.

#3 – Strengthen Controls over APFs

50.   The Bill also strengthens controls over Auxiliary Police Forces (APFs), which provide armed security services and supplement the Home Team’s efforts in ensuring the safety and security of Singapore.

51.   The armed security industry was liberalised in 2004 to allow more APFs to operate islandwide. This was in consideration of the increasingly complex security environment, which required a larger pool of armed forces to step up security measures at various critical infrastructure and key installations. With the APFs providing support for such functions, SPF is also better able to focus on its core mission, to prevent, deter and detect crime.  

52.   We had stated then that it was necessary to ensure that only trusted agents may operate and manage APFs in Singapore. These considerations remain valid today, as Auxiliary Police Officers bear arms and are vested with certain powers to perform their functions effectively. They also have access to the sensitive locations where they are deployed to protect. Having reviewed the regulatory regimes of other essential services sectors, and the prevailing operating environment, we felt that we should update the APF controls in the PFA, to ensure that the controls remain effective.

53.   Currently, the PFA requires an APF employer to obtain the Minister’s approval before the APF employer is acquired by any other person. The Minister’s approval is also required before one becomes a substantial shareholder of an APF employer. Going forward, we will make these controls more holistic.

a.   First, before a person acquires the business of an APF employer, Clause 21 requires both the person and the APF employer to seek approval from the Minister.
b.   Second, Clause 21 will require the chairman and directors of an APF employer to be approved by the Commissioner of Police, on top of the existing requirement for the CEO to be approved.
c.   Third, Clause 22 will require 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. These thresholds, which take reference from the legislation of other essential services sectors, ensure that only trusted agents can have the ability to influence and direct actions of the APF. Clause 19 imposes a requirement on APF employers to inform the Commissioner after becoming aware of such transactions. This provides another layer to detect any potential attempts to circumvent our reporting and approval requirements.

54.   There may be circumstances, such as public emergencies, where it is crucial that we ensure the continuity of security services provided by the APFs. Clause 24 provides for the Minister to issue a special administration order to allow the affairs of an APF employer to be managed by the Commissioner or an appointed person. This regime is found in other essential services sectors, to ensure no disruptions to the provision of these services.

55.   MHA will also update the penalties for offences and infringements in relation to APF employers and controllers.

56.   Finally, Clauses 25 and 26 update existing powers to investigate and to make regulations, to reflect the changes in APF controls.


57.   Mr Deputy Speaker, with the evolving security landscape, our laws in relation to SPF have to be kept up-to-date, so that it is well poised to tackle any challenges.

58.   Mr Speaker, I beg to move.