Police Force (Amendment) Bill – Speech by Sylvia Lim

Delivered in Parliament on 2 August 2021

I would like to seek some clarifications on the Bill. These clarifications pertain to three areas, firs, the delegation of powers to civilian officers, second, the conduct of road blocks, and third, the new powers of Commercial Affairs Officers and Special Police Officers.

Delegation of powers to civilian officers

Under the existing Act, the powers of the Commissioner (CP) may be delegated by him to a police officer not below the rank of superintendent. In the case of the Deputy Commissioner (DCP), his powers may be delegated by CP to a police officer not below the rank of an assistant superintendent.

Clause 5 of the Bill will change the position to enable such powers of the CP or DCP to be delegated to non-police personnel who are performing duties in the Police Force not below the prescribed grade.   In the Ministry’s media release on the Bill on 5 July, it was clarified that this provision would allow delegation of CP’s or DCP’s powers to civilian officers in leadership positions within the SPF.

I am somewhat concerned about what this change will entail. For instance, is it envisaged that the command of the force at the highest levels could conceivably be delegated to civilian officers from time to time? If this is so, I wonder how well this will go down amongst uniformed officers.

Sir, we assume that police training is a critical prerequisite for exercising police powers, let alone for commanding those who exercise such powers. Further, developing police leadership skills is a specialised field that in recent years has been spearheaded by the Police Psychological Services Division; the assessments require potential police leaders to be put through simulations of incident management at the frontline and officers are also continually developed for police leadership. There is also an organisational culture amongst uniformed personnel which can be quite distinct from civilians working in the same organisation. That being the case, one has to wonder about the delegation of police leadership powers at the highest level to civilians. While these civilians may be senior enough in grade, would they have the necessary experience and credibility to exercise such command responsibilities?

Although there are other provisions in the main Act that allow for assignment of powers to civilians, they are usually clearly scoped. For instance, Section 18 of the Act enables the Minister to appoint civilians to exercise powers to grant licences. To expect civilians to exercise such administrative powers seems unobjectionable compared with the prospect of them exercising command or frontline powers.

My view is that the scope of Clause 5 is not clear as the wording is not qualified. A further explanation of what is envisaged would be necessary. Earlier, the Minister of State confirmed that certain powers of the Commissioner would not be delegable. Where are we to find this list of non-delegable powers?

Conduct of Road Blocks

Clause 6 of the Bill makes changes to the provision on conducting road blocks. Under the amendments, it is much more explicit what drivers and police officers can and cannot do. This is an improvement.

I have a query about the proposed S26(6), which is new. This sub-section will make it an offence for pedestrians travelling in the direction of a road block to cross the barrier, and subjects pedestrians to the officers’ instructions as well. Earlier the Minister of State explained that one of the target groups was drivers who abandoned their vehicles and attempted to escape on foot. Could he elaborate on whether there are other categories of pedestrians being contemplated by the provision?

Police Powers to Commercial Affairs Officers and Special Constabulary

Clauses 9 and 10 of the Bill propose to expand the powers of Commercial Affairs and Special Constabulary officers. These clauses will empower these officers not just to do investigations but to exercise all police powers including the power to arrest without warrant and have similar police powers of search, forced entry and so on.

From my understanding, the CAD has had police officers attached to it since it was formed. This arrangement was made precisely because the CAO’s powers were limited; when it was time to do raids, the police officers attached to CAD would accompany the investigators in charge to exercise their full powers. My understanding is that this arrangement has worked for many years.

May I ask what has motivated the change to give CAOs and Special Police Officers full police powers now? Is this due to manpower shortages in the police force, or some other operational reason?