Looking forward to 2017: Crime

Ready when terror hits and making roads safer

Besides troops being prepared for an emergency situation, ordinary Singaporeans are also urged to be alert to possible terror threats and learn how to respond to one.
Besides troops being prepared for an emergency situation, ordinary Singaporeans are also urged to be alert to possible terror threats and learn how to respond to one.ST FILE PHOTO

As 2016 draws to a close, with many notable events shaping what has been called by many a year of change, 2017 looks set to be just as significant. The Straits Times looks at what to expect for security and crime, social services and the consumer sector.

Video recording of police interviews may also be revisited.

People in Singapore have been repeatedly exposed to news of terror attacks this year, and experts expect terrorism and extremism to continue characterising the security landscape next year.

In September, the Government launched the SGSecure movement, emphasising the need for preparedness for a potential attack here.

While Singapore has been spared an attack by militants, there is always the threat of one. In May, six Bangladeshi men were prosecuted here under the Terrorism (Suppression of Financing) Act for planning an attack in the South Asian country.

In August, the Indonesian authorities thwarted plans by five members of a terror cell in Batam who had been looking at launching a rocket attack on Marina Bay.

  • 2016: Notable events

  • Holland Village bank robbery

    In July, a 27-year-old Canadian tourist carried out Singapore's first successful bank robbery in more than a decade - by allegedly handing the teller a slip of paper with his demands at Standard Chartered Bank in Holland Village.

    Within seven hours of fleeing with about $30,000, David James Roach arrived in Bangkok. He was arrested the next day in a budget hostel in the Ratchathewi district. He remains in custody in Thailand.

  • City Harvest Church court appeal

    The marathon City Harvest trial continued in the High Court as six church leaders, who were convicted of misappropriating millions in church funds to promote Ms Ho Yeow Sun's pop music career, appealed against their conviction and sentences.

    Meanwhile, the prosecution wanted longer terms of between five and 12 years, instead of the 21 months to eight years given. A five-day appeal hearing closed in September, with Justice Chan Seng Onn calling their project a "very extravagant" way of spreading the gospel. Judgment will be delivered at a later date.

  • The Real Singapore sedition trial

    The co-founders of socio-political website The Real Singapore (TRS) were jailed for eight and 10 months on charges of sedition for deliberately sowing discord between Singaporeans and foreigners through a series of six articles and a Facebook update.

    Australian Ai Takagi, 23, pleaded guilty in March. Her husband Yang Kaiheng, 27, claimed trial but did an about-turn halfway through - after admitting he lied about how TRS started, among other matters.

    The case threw the issue of fake news into the spotlight.

  • SMRT accident

    Rail operator SMRT, one of its former engineers and a director of control operations were charged over a fatal accident that claimed the lives of two trainees in March.

    The two trainees, who were part of a team sent to check on a potential equipment flaw on tracks near Pasir Ris MRT station, were killed by an oncoming train travelling at 60kmh. Investigations are ongoing to determine if there are others to be held liable for safety lapses.

  • Benjamin Lim suicide

    The suicide of a 14-year-old teenager in January prompted a review of how police and schools deal with young suspects.

    Benjamin Lim's death sparked hot discussion online, following false claims that officers were sporting police ID cards when they arrived at his school to investigate an alleged case of outrage of modesty.

    After a two-day coroner's inquiry in May, a multi-agency group was also set up to better understand youth suicides.

    Seow Bei Yi

This month, the Ministry of Home Affairs revealed that 70 or so radicalised foreigners were also deported over the past two years. The announcement followed news that an Indonesian terror suspect, who had worked here as a maid, was radicalised through social media while abroad.

Such incidents drive home the need to sensitise, train and mobilise Singaporeans to prevent terror incidents and to respond to them.

This has already begun, with more schools, community centres and companies teaching skills such as cardiopulmonary resuscitation. Religious groups also said they were ramping up security measures at their premises.

The police, too, will also strengthen their Special Operations Command, adding 300 officers by next July, said Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam during the police force's workplan seminar in April.

The terror threat has to be tackled online too.

With terror groups and their associates compensating "for their losses in physical space by expanding further into cyberspace", the threat in virtual communities will continue to grow, said Dr Rohan Gunaratna, head of the International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research.

Another area of concern is the imminent return of South-east Asian militants from Iraq and Syria.

Associate Professor Kumar Ramakrishna said that as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria loses its grip on Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria next year, the regional threat will likely worsen and the public's "active involvement" will be needed for early detection of threats.

Separately, an upcoming review of road traffic offences here seeks to increase penalties for offences causing death or hurt to others, especially if drivers are under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or are repeat offenders.

Currently, drink-driving offenders may face up to a $5,000 fine or six months' jail, while repeat offenders may be jailed for up to 12 months. They will also be disqualified from driving for at least a year. Causing the death of another by driving recklessly or by a rash act draws a jail term of up to five years.

In Queensland, Australia, offenders can be jailed for up to 10 years for causing death by dangerous driving. In Britain, there is a maximum penalty of life imprisonment if the accused is proven to have been "grossly negligent".

But president of the Association of Criminal Lawyers of Singapore, Mr Sunil Sudheesan, cautioned against relying on punitive measures to reduce drink driving.

He highlighted the need for education and solutions, such as working with drinking establishments, to discourage such acts.

Another issue that the authorities could revisit next year is the video recording of police interviews with suspects. The Independent Commission Against Corruption in Hong Kong records interviews. As a result, "interviews are hardly challenged when presented in court as evidence", said Mr Sudheesan.

A pilot here, to have interviews of suspects video recorded, was slated to take place in the first quarter of this year, but it has since been postponed. Mr Shanmugam said in July that this scheme is likely to proceed after some legislative changes.

Police procedures came under the spotlight following the death of 14-year-old Benjamin Lim, who was interviewed in an open-plan office by an investigator after being accused of molest. A video recording of the interview would have curbed speculation. There is an ongoing review of police protocols on interviewing young offenders as well.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 30, 2016, with the headline 'Ready when terror hits and making roads safer'. Print Edition | Subscribe