Motion on Commemorating 200 Years Of The Singapore Police Force – Speech by Dennis Tan

Delivered in Parliament on 3 August 2021

Mdm Deputy Speaker, it is often easy to overlook the fact that the SPF and its officers are responsible for an incredibly wide range of responsibilities beyond its most stereotyped role of solving crime cases and bringing offenders to justice. In recent years, much efforts have also been expended in the area of public security and anti-terrorism. Cybercrimes and online scamming have also taken up much attention of our SPF officers. We are also living at a time when the public’s expectation of police standards is increasing; for example, video recorded interview of suspects has been introduced a few years ago and many hope that it will be extensively used.

Today I wish to spend a little time on the police work in our neighbourhoods and community.

Since I became the MP for Hougang, I have had many opportunities to see our SPF officers doing their work in my constituency. I also heard much from my own residents of their

own experience with our police officers when they have had the need to contact them.

Recently one of my elderly residents passed away suddenly and officers from the Hougang NPC and Ang Mo Kio Police Division had to attend on site to do the necessary investigation before helping staff of a casket company to remove the body. I had a great view of their professional efforts on display that evening as I witnessed the police officers going about the grim but necessary work competently, meticulously and coolly even as it was not the most pleasant of occasion. The officers, including a young NSF officer, handled the grieving relatives on site professionally and calmly and yet empathetically, patiently making sure that the next of kin knew what was going on and what the relatives had to do next.

Police officers in our NPC attend to many calls every day. I am sure they deal with all types of crime reporting like property related offences. But they also deal with noisy or unruly behaviour on void decks, fights, family or neighbours’ disputes, suicides or unnatural deaths, fires in HDB flats or common spaces, and many others. In recent times, they also had to handle many more scamming cases.

I am often amazed by the range of cases for which people make police reports. Many reports probably involve issues which do not come under police jurisdiction. But one can just imagine the amount of time taken by our police officers in NPCs, police stations and police posts, helping members of the public to patiently record their police reports.

During the Covid period, with Circuit Breaker and Work From Home, police officers probably have to contend with more cases of neighbours’ disputes and complaints of breach of safe distancing or other prevailing restrictions by groups of people hanging out in our common spaces such as void decks, ball courts, sitting areas or neighbourhood parks.

A lot of such work can be mundane, dreary and thankless. It may not be as exciting or headline-grabbing as cybercrimes, fraud and other white collar crimes, drugs and vice related offences, or even checking on KTVs or gambling dens. But a large number of our police officers have to do such unglamourous but necessary ‘bread and butter’ community policing work. The work they do in the community is necessary and help to keep things in the right equilibrium and will help to make our homes, neighbourhoods and towns feel safer, more secured and peaceful.

Madam Deputy Speaker, the SPF and its officers have over the years helped to keep our homes and neighbourhoods safer and more secured but I also agree with the point made by the honourable member for Aljunied Ms Sylvia Lim that effective policing is not just about safety alone, but justice too. Save for a few isolated incidents, by and large, we do not usually feel unsafe when we walk around any part of Singapore at any time of the day. Many people, both locally and abroad, have pointed to Singapore having fewer violent crimes on our streets. This is of course not something which we can ever take for granted and the SPF must continue to work on this.

We are also one of the few countries where many of our police officers are NSF officers, freshly enlisted from school at the cusp of adulthood. The different challenges that our young, NSF police officers may have to face every day cannot be underestimated and can be daunting. I hope that our young NSF police officers are given sufficient psychological support as they go about their work.

In Committee of Supply Debates for the Ministry of Home Affairs in recent years, MPs have brought up the issue of manpower constraints in SPF. The use of different technologies is one way of making up for such constraints in an era of

declining birth rates and population. More use of technology, while necessary, can never make up for human touch, the need for good relationships with the community as well as for more empathy when handling members of the public. Good relationship between police officers and residents in the community will promote mutual trust which is essential for effective policing. We should also be mindful that, and I quote from an article from a US Department of Justice Community Relations Services Toolkit for Policing, entitled the ‘Importance of Police-Community Relationships and Resources for Further Reading’, “the community members’ willingness to trust the police depends on whether they believe that police actions reflect community values and incorporate the principles of procedural justice and legitimacy (unquote)1. Good relationship and trust will enhance officers’ efforts on the ground when they engage residents and will also encourage provision of information important for solving of crimes or non-crime matters handled by the police.

Madam Deputy Speaker, in closing, I wish to thank our SPF officers for their service and contributions. In particular, I commend our SPF for the good work which its officers do in its community policing efforts on an every-day basis. I support the motion.

1 ‘Importance of Police-Community Relationships and Resources for Further Reading’, (a Community Relations Services Toolkit for Policing) from the Department of Justice, Community Relations Service (a Community Relations Services Toolkit for Policing