Rethink practice of outsourcing traffic policing

A video clip recently surfaced online, purportedly showing a Land Transport Authority (LTA) enforcement officer gesticulating threateningly before opening a car door in an apparent attempt to manhandle the driver ("Another LTA officer filmed in fracas"; last Tuesday).

Anecdotal evidence suggests that this is not an isolated incident. Such cases call into question the LTA's decision to outsource traffic policing to private contractors.

The LTA and Traffic Police are state institutions whose overriding purpose is to serve and protect citizens.

However, private contractors are intrinsically profit-oriented, and are perhaps even subject to performance indicators and quotas.

These disparate motivations and philosophies are significant because they inevitably influence the conduct of front-line personnel.

There is also the question of accountability. The Traffic Police are directly accountable to the state. If an officer is found to have infringed regulations, he can be brought to task by an internal disciplinary committee.

But private contractors operate under many layers of murky bureaucracy, and the precise channels for bringing their employees to task remain unclear.

The rash actions of one black sheep can tar the reputation of our nation's law enforcement agencies, potentially causing citizens to lose faith in their public institutions. Therefore, government agencies should reconsider contracting models that could compromise the strength and integrity of vital public institutions.

Paul Chan Poh Hoi

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 11, 2016, with the headline 'Rethink practice of outsourcing traffic policing'. Print Edition | Subscribe