Drug offenders with intellectual or mental disabilities will soon have the support of independent, trained volunteers during questioning by the Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB).
The initiative will draw on some 200 existing volunteers under the Appropriate Adult (AA) scheme, run by the Movement for the Intellectually Disabled of Singapore (Minds), from Jan 30.
CNB's director of enforcement Ong Pang Thong said the bureau decided to adopt the idea after a review of its practices.
"These AAs are trained by Minds, and we believe they will enable our investigation officers to better communicate with drug offenders with intellectual disabilities, autism spectrum disorder or mental health issues," he said.
The volunteer can also provide emotional support to the drug offender, he added.
The CNB is the latest agency to work with Minds, after the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) earlier this month. Minds volunteers have worked with the police since January last year.
From April, suspects under the age of 16 will also be accompanied by an appropriate adult, from a separate pool of volunteers, during interviews.
While the number of drug cases involving those with mental disabilities is not tracked, Minds volunteers were needed 228 times last year, according to the National Council of Social Service. The scheme currently has 208 volunteers, with about 30 more to join soon.
The AVA came on board after an AA volunteer was called upon to help in a case of animal cruelty involving a person with intellectual disability.
Lee Wai Leong, 41, who suffers from moderate intellectual disability, was sentenced to 18 months' probation last June for throwing a male cat down 13 storeys to its death in Yishun.
"Subsequently, we established a working relationship with Minds to activate AA volunteers to be present during investigation interviews with persons with intellectual disability," said an AVA spokesman.
AVA has since worked with Minds on two alleged animal cruelty cases, with investigations still ongoing.
Financial consultant Michael Tok, 42, has been asked to help 26 times, among the highest for a volunteer, and welcomed its extension to other offences.
He said: "The needs of this group of people will be similar, so in any case where interviews need to be conducted, we can help them understand the questions by the investigators and monitor their reactions."
For instance, AAs may step in to simplify questions asked or use visual cues, such as drawings and hand signs, said Mr Tok.
He learnt about the scheme about a year ago at Pathlight School, which his nine-year-old son with autism attends.
Ms Tang Hui Yee, 28, who joined the AA scheme last year and has helped in two cases, also said she would be open to supporting CNB and AVA.
"Not many people are educated about those with special needs and how to interact with them," said the programme executive at Youth Corps Singapore.
"Having more agencies on board shows that even if they don't have the experience, they are willing to take the first step by having those who understand them better step in," said Ms Tang, who previously taught children with autism at Eden School.
She said: "No one wants to be misunderstood. I have met people who turned over a new leaf when you give them a chance, and that comes from giving them a fair interview process."