A greater emphasis by the police on public partnership is an extension of the community policing strategy that was adopted here in 1981, inspired by Japan's "koban" style of policing. In its time, the network of neighbourhood watch groups formed was considered a leap forward in not just having more eyes and ears on the ground but in also promoting community relations. Now, the Home Team envisages citizen volunteers serving as active first responders, with fire extinguishers, first aid and emergency equipment at hand and basic skills to render assistance.
Where safety and security is concerned, one can never get enough community participation - as threats will never evaporate entirely despite low crime and fire fatality rates. The 30-year-old community emergency preparedness programme should not ease up as terrorism risks, for example, call for constant vigilance. The tragedy of the unexpected could lie as much in its human toll as in any responsive flat-footedness. Because ordinary people tend to be first at the scene, it can make a difference if they are able to, say, use automated external defibrillators, render first aid and extinguish smaller fires. In the circumstances, the target of ensuring one in three households is well-versed in emergency preparedness is a modest one.
With a well-developed app ecosystem here, a bigger catchment could result from engaging those with smartphones, in-vehicle recorders and Go-Pro cameras in community efforts to thwart crime. Another potential benefit of engaging the digerati is the possible exchange of information or expert tips if cyber attacks are launched by suspected terrorists, crime syndicates or state-sponsored groups. Volunteer data specialists would also be useful when data collected and shared under the Smart Nation initiative is to be mined for security and safety leads.
Whether online or offline, big gains are possible in educating residents on how to avoid becoming victims of crime. Such police outreach programmes run in Ang Mo Kio, for example, led to a 60 per cent drop in theft and housebreaking there. Taken together, public partnership programmes can engender a collective sense of ownership of local security issues, and promote social cohesion, especially when those collaborating reflect diversity.
That climate of trust can be enhanced by the potential of greater interaction between officers and citizens as the Community Policing System is rolled out to all Neighbourhood Police Centres. Running this system and meeting other critical targets will strain the Home Team's resources in a tight labour market. All the more, community partnerships will be essential.