Published: 18 July 2022
1. Good afternoon conference attendees, distinguished guests, and international partners. A warm welcome to all our Home Team leaders and officers.
2. Before I continue, I would like to give special mention and thanks to our partners from the US-based Society for Police and Criminal Psychology (SPCP). Thank you for your continued support for this conference. And to our organisers, thank you for inviting me to the Opening Ceremony.
3. I am happy and honoured to open the fifth Asian Conference of Criminal and Operations Psychology, ACCOP for short, which is organised by the Home Team Psychologists.
4. I have been told that ACCOP, for the last four runs, has been an in-person conference but today, for the first time, ACCOP is being held as a virtual event.
5. One positive aspect of it being a virtual event this year is that we have more than tripled the numbers of attendees. For the first time ever, we have more than a thousand attendees with about 200 international attendees taking part in the proceedings.
6. This means that by having it online, ACCOP 2022 will have a far larger reach than previous instalments, allowing for participants and presenters from all over the world to learn from one another.
7. Our Home Team psychologists shared with me that the aim of organising ACCOP is to promote psychological and behavioural science research and learning in the areas of public safety and security.
8. This is an important endeavour. Humans are at the core of public safety and security. Through psychology and the behavioural sciences, we can better understand the motivations, reasoning and thought processes of those involved, and thereby identify ways that can help us to improve safety and security.
9. There can be common entry points for criminals to take advantage of – weaknesses in our psyche that each and every one of us has, maybe where we desire too much, trust too much, or have let our guard down. And criminals are on the lookout for that, exploiting our human tendencies and psychology to harm us or scam us.
10. Beyond that, conferences such as the ACCOP also serve as a useful bridge between practitioners and academics, providing unique opportunities to learn about each other’s best practices and allowing for deepened understanding of each other’s specialised operating environment.
Emerging Issues of Crime, Safety and Security
11. I would like to take this opportunity to highlight three issues today.
Threat of Scams
12. The first is the Threat of Scams. In 2021, victims in Singapore lost at least $633 million to scams, with most of these scams originating overseas and the result of syndicated, technologically sophisticated criminals. Scams also represented more than half of the reported crime cases in Singapore and led to a 24% rise in local crime levels.
13. If we look at the various scam types, we will see that they prey on different aspects of our human tendencies and psychology. In phishing scams where criminals abuse our innate trust in our institutions and victims click on links unsuspectingly. In love scams, fake friend scams and China official impersonation scams where criminals abuse our desire to be loved, affirmed or our desire to want to protect our loved ones. In loan scams, investment scams, e-commerce scams and jobs scams where criminals abuse our desire to save some money, earn some income, or make a profit. No doubt, in some cases, greed got the better of some of the victims and it was an expensive mistake for the victims to make, but we also hear of vulnerable victims who lose their life savings because they were vulnerable and needed some quick income.
14. We should also not underestimate the mental impact sustained by victims of scams. A scam victim can experience a sense of helplessness and shame.
15. One victim said that she was “devastated and felt like committing suicide.” The victim also thought that she was “going crazy and did not dare talk to anyone else because people will laugh and mock” her. These victims could fall further into this cycle of self-blame and be at greater risk of self-harm.
16. While the Singapore Police Force, the National Crime Prevention Council and our local banks and partners are doing everything they can to detect and stop scams quickly, we can each step up to act against scams.
17. Where we can, we should have tools to block scam messages and calls. Where a scam message or call comes through, we should have the means to disengage and report to the authorities quickly and effectively. Where a scam is being perpetuated, we should work with organisations and the authorities to disrupt the scam from further harming victims. All this is continuous work in progress and is a constant ‘cat and mouse’ game. Scammers are upping their game even as the authorities intervene to protect victims.
18. The best safeguard we can have is a vigilant public. And we can all play an active role - from spreading awareness of how scammers operate, to spotting the signs of someone who may be falling prey to a scam, to supporting one another so that we can together fight back against the threat that scams pose to our society.
19. We need stronger community guardians, and we can all play a part in this fight. Speak to your loved ones about scams and remind them on how to spot the signs, teach them not to pick up suspicious calls, tell them not to transfer any money without first checking with family or the authorities, and together, we can prevent scams.
Scourge of Drugs
20. The second issue I would like to talk about today is the Scourge of Drugs.
21. Drugs are not a problem unknown and foreign to us. From impairing brain functioning in individuals to the breaking apart of family units and the conducting of drug-related crimes, the ill-effects of drugs on society have been well-established.
22. As the drug situation globally and regionally continue to be a challenging landscape, our local environment has not been spared from the harms of this scourge.
23. Last month, during an anti-drug operation, our Central Narcotics Bureau officers found a nine-month-old baby close to his mother, a drug-abuser and the baby’s sole caregiver. The baby boy was found near drug paraphernalia and living in dirty conditions with rubbish surrounding his baby rocker. Our officers then brought the boy back to the station and provided him with necessities such as milk powder.
24. Last July in another operation, our officers also found three young children close to where suspected illegal drug activities were taking place. One of the children was a 10-month-old crying baby. Upon seeing that sight, one of our officers, saddened by the sight, then held the baby while preparing milk for the baby to consume. This commendable act of care and concern was shared on various media platforms.
25. These cases remind us that drug abuse does not only have consequences on the individual who consumes them, but innocent victims are also often affected by the behaviours of the abusers. If we do not adopt a tough stance towards drugs, future generations will continue to suffer.
26. To tackle drug supply and consumption, Singapore has adopted a comprehensive drug control strategy that consists of three pillars. Preventive Drug Education, tough anti-drug laws and enforcement, as well as rehabilitation and aftercare.
27. A key driver in our fight against this scourge continues to be our tough stance towards drug consumption and trafficking.
28. Recently, our Home Team Psychologists conducted a study with residents from cities in our region to examine their views on Singapore’s crime situation, law and safety.
29. The study found that majority of the regional respondents are aware of Singapore’s strict laws and believe in the deterrent effect of our laws for serious crimes such as murder, smuggling of firearms and drug trafficking.
30. As such, to continue keeping the ill-effects of drug consumption and trafficking at bay, we need to persist with our tough stance towards drugs. Together with your support and cooperation, we will ensure that we are effectively combatting this scourge and continually building a safe and drug-free Singapore for generations to come.
Youth Sex Offending
31. The third behavioural issue I would like to talk about today is that of Youth Sex Offending.
32. In the Ministry of Social and Family Development’s 2021 Report on Youth Delinquency, there has been a general upward trend in the number of youth offenders committing outrage of modesty and rape offences.
33. From 2016 to 2020, sexual offences committed by youths rose by 49%.
34. In Parliament this year, I spoke on The White Paper on Singapore Women’s Development.
35. One key area of this White Paper is on the protection of women against violence and harm. To continue building a Singapore where women are protected from all forms of violence, we have raised the penalties for three sexual offences, one of which is the outrage of modesty.
36. We have also created the National Anti-Violence and Harassment Hotline, a one-stop service to support anyone who is a victim of violence including sexual violence and sexual harassment. We have also increased our resources to social service agencies to provide help to victims of violence and sexual offences. The MHA and MSF are working closely on these initiatives. These measures however, while significant, cannot be the only solutions.
37. To ensure that Singapore becomes a safer place for all women, we all have a part to play. Societal mindsets lie at the root of many sexual offences and to tackle these offences, we need to tackle the mindsets that lead to them.
38. To do so, we need to continually educate on the value of respect and on what appropriate behaviour constitutes. Hopefully, by doing so with the help of parents, educators, significant adults and the larger community, we can change the mindsets of our youths and over time, build a safer Singapore for one another.
39. I have covered only these three issues here. But there are many other issues where psychology and the behavioural sciences can come in and enlighten us.
40. I see that your programme has four days of exciting content. I highly encourage the exchanges of knowledge and best practices facilitated by conferences such as the ACCOP. These exchanges will allow us to gain insights from the latest research in the field while also informing future research through in-depth understanding of the operational landscape of these challenges.
41. Over the next week, there will be special sessions as well as keynote addresses from international experts such as Dr Cassandra Cross and Professor David Best.
42. There will also be numerous asynchronous presentations and daily panel sessions. Through all these conference items, new perspectives, fresh ideas, and innovative methods will be shared and discussed. I hope that you will participate actively in the conference’s proceedings, sharing your views and exchanging your ideas so that we may all learn together.
43. I am confident that you will find the knowledge gained throughout the week thought-provoking, rich, and insightful.
44. Thank you once again for inviting me to open this conference and I wish all of you an enriching conference experience.