143 volunteers ready to help young suspects

Mr Tan, Singapore Children's Society CEO, and Ms Ann, director of its Student Service Hub (Bukit Merah). She said that among the initial pool of AAs are 16 youth social workers from the society who may be called upon if need be.
Mr Tan, Singapore Children's Society CEO, and Ms Ann, director of its Student Service Hub (Bukit Merah). She said that among the initial pool of AAs are 16 youth social workers from the society who may be called upon if need be.ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

From April 17, trained Appropriate Adults will be activated to accompany youth for police interviews

They will sit by a young suspect's side during a police interview, intervene if the teen appears agitated or unable to understand a question, and take notes of the entire process.

From April 17, these trained volunteers, or Appropriate Adults (AAs), will be only an SMS away.

Alerts will be sent out to a freshly trained pool of 143 AAs when a suspect below the age of 16 is taken to certain police or Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) divisions.

Those confident of turning up at the location within 1 1/2 hours respond to the text and are activated.

While their role is to provide emotional support to the young suspect, facilitating communication with officers if needed, there are boundaries to be observed.

  • Building up a pool of volunteers

  • NUMBER OF VOLUNTEERS

    • A total of 143 volunteers were trained over two sessions last month and this month.

    • About 200 more are interested in joining the scheme.

    • About 300 volunteers in total are needed by next year to support expansion of the scheme.

    WHERE THEY ARE DEPLOYED

    • Bedok Division, the Criminal Investigation Department of the police, and the investigation division of the Central Narcotics Bureau in the pilot phase.

    HOW VOLUNTEERS ARE TRAINED

    • They attend a briefing session on role and commitment before registering their interest as volunteers.

    • They undergo day-long training on basic police procedures and interacting with suspects below 16 years old.

    • The trainers are from the Ministry of Social and Family Development, the Ministry of Education, and the Association of Criminal Lawyers of Singapore.

    • More training sessions will be held in the middle of this year.

AAs are encouraged not to touch a child while providing emotional support, unless the child agrees. They will not remain in contact with the suspect or family members after the interview either.

Volunteers must also declare if they are related to the suspect. AAs who are lawyers are not to represent the suspects in court later to prevent conflict of interest.

The volunteers are being recruited as part of an AA scheme set up after an inter-agency review of investigation processes, following the death of schoolboy Benjamin Lim last year. The 14-year-old was found dead at the foot of his block of flats hours after being questioned by the police over an alleged molestation case.

The Singapore Children's Society (SCS), which is running the scheme, was appointed by the National Council of Social Service last month as the service provider of the new AA scheme for two years.

About 300 trained volunteers are needed by next year. The scheme will be rolled out first at the police's Bedok Division, the Criminal Investigation Department and CNB's investigation division.

Among the initial pool of AAs are 16 SCS youth social workers, who may be called upon if there are not enough volunteers immediately available, or for complex cases, Ms Ann Hui Peng, director of SCS' Student Service Hub (Bukit Merah), said yesterday.

"Internally, every three months, we are going to review processes and collect data," she said, adding that the quarterly review will likely go on for the first two years.

SCS also plans to get feedback from investigation officers, volunteers and, eventually, the young suspects themselves, to fine-tune procedures, added Ms Ann.

But beyond operational issues, "the nature of the programme hinges on the volunteers' capabilities", she pointed out.

Apart from regularly engaging trained volunteers in their 12-month tenure, SCS intends to contact those who have handled cases to ensure they are coping well, added Ms Ann.

There will also be sharing sessions among volunteers, particularly for those who have been activated. Information cards are another way to refresh the knowledge of trained volunteers, she said.

Civil servant Vincent Tan, 46, who has been confirmed as a volunteer, applauded the idea of holding regular sharing sessions.

"The networking can help to sustain the group of AAs, as some may feel alone in their challenges otherwise," said Mr Tan.

Added SCS chief executive Alfred Tan: "The key thing is to get the right person (to support a young suspect), and for the person to go straight away... We will have to design a system that suits us."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 30, 2017, with the headline '143 volunteers ready to help young suspects'. Print Edition | Subscribe