Making Singapore the world's safest place

Singapore's crime rate fell last year to its lowest in almost 30 years, but Commissioner of Police Ng Joo Hee believes it can be better.

"It doesn't matter if the population hits 6.9 million, we can go lower because a lot of the crime here is preventable," he said.

That explains a renewed focus on crime prevention since he became police chief three years ago and set out to work towards making Singapore "the safest place in the world".

The most significant move is the Community Policing System (Cops) introduced last year, which has officers getting out of their patrol cars and Neighbourhood Police Posts to pound the beat on foot or on bicycles, getting to know people who live and work in the area.

It is a big change because Mr Ng does not want people to interact with police officers only when crimes happen. He wants the police officer to be a familiar face in the neighbourhood, someone the public can count on.

The Cops strategy was first introduced at Neighbourhood Police Centres (NPCs) in Bukit Merah East and Tampines last May.

Six more - in Clementi, Bishan, Punggol, Sengkang, Woodlands East and Woodlands West - have adopted it since January and more NPCs will follow. These include centres in Ang Mo Kio South, Bedok North, Jurong East, Jurong West, Nanyang and Rochor in June, and another six by the end of this year.

In his first interview since taking over as commissioner from Mr Khoo Boon Hui in February 2010, Mr Ng told The Sunday Times: "I took over a very successful and enviable police force. But I thought, let's clarify our mission and see how we can do better."

The mission of the force remains simple: to prevent, deter and detect crime. But he felt some policing strategies needed to change.

For example, most police resources are dedicated to responding to crime.

"Our policemen are sitting in police cars and they're waiting to be dispatched to a 999 call," said Mr Ng. "We invested greatly in this and have performance standards on these things, but... the smart thing to do is to prevent the crime in the first place."

Prevention and deterrence, however, are far harder than solving crime. For one thing, crime prevention requires officers to be more deeply embedded in a neighbourhood.

"We wanted to move away from where most of our interactions with the public are when something bad has happened to them," said Mr Ng. "Now we have the police officer walking a beat until he becomes a familiar face and a member of that community where he's trusted."

One part of the Cops model has officers on policing duties walk the beat in shorts and casual polo T-shirts, sometimes zipping around on mountain bikes.

Another component involves having teams of plain-clothes officers from the NPCs conducting ambushes and other anti-crime operations in housing estates.

Similar plain-clothes units already operate out of the six police land divisions but the teams under the 35 NPCs will work closer to the ground.

Mr Ng said Cops was a result of more than two years of tests.

"We experimented with it, first in Woodlands and other places and there was some impact on local crime," he said. "So, we decided that we should roll it out, and generally the feedback so far is people really like it, they like to talk to the policemen without being victims of crime."

More than half the NPC network is on course to adopt the Cops model by the end of the year, and all will have it by the end of 2015.

What will also help in the commissioner's drive to make Singapore the safest place on earth is a network of police cameras that will cover all Housing Board estates by 2016.

While the cameras are deployed mainly to deter and solve crime, including cases of loan shark harassment, the police are prepared to share the footage with other agencies such as the Land Transport Authority and National Environment Agency to combat illegal parking and high-rise littering.

"We're wiring up every HDB block in Singapore, all 10,000 blocks and every block will have about eight cameras," he said.

"We're talking about close to a 100,000 cameras. This is a massive, massive police infrastructure."

But will there be a day when there is no crime in Singapore?

"As long as there's more than one human being, there will be crime. It's part of the human condition," said Mr Ng. "But how low can we go? No one can answer this. I think we can go a lot lower."