Police review to consider three points

As the police review how they interview young people, Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam yesterday flagged three points that will be taken into account.

They are: What happened in the case of Benjamin Lim, the types of young people who get picked up, and how to minimise the risk of officers not following procedures.

Mr Shanmugam said the review will be completed only after the coroner's inquiry into Benjamin's death, as stakeholders will have to be consulted.

This process will start only after the coroner's inquiry has ended.

In Benjamin's case, Mr Shanmugam said there was no evidence to suggest he was mistreated. Neither was it possible, at this stage, to say that the police interview was the specific reason for his suicide.

Some have asked whether the police could have waited until the boy got home before approaching him, but the minister said they did not know who he was or his history when they went to his school.

Had the police waited and an accused person molested others, the question would then be why they did not move faster, he added.

In its review, the police will also consider if distinctions in treatment of young people should be made based on their alleged offences.

Mr Shanmugam noted that they are often brought in for a wide range of reasons, from rioting to sexual assault to murder.

At the same time, the system must reduce systemic risk - in other words, minimise the temptation of departing from the rules.

"We cannot assume that all police officers will always follow protocols. There will be some who will be tempted to take short cuts," he said.

Mr Shanmugam also noted that had Benjamin not taken his life, he would likely have been let off with a police warning, given that he was 14 and it was his first brush with the law.

Out of nearly 7,200 young people who assisted in police investigations from 2011 to last year, 70 per cent were warned, placed on a guidance programme, or had no further action taken. Only 15 per cent were charged while the other cases are still under consideration.

Mr Shanmugam stressed that the police focus on giving guidance and rehabilitation when it comes to dealing with young people.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 02, 2016, with the headline 'Police review to consider three points'. Print Edition | Subscribe