The Straits Times says

Protect those who protect the people

Respect for law and order distinguishes Singapore from countries that pay lip service to that protective social value. It is this respect which has helped to transform Singapore into a safe home for its citizens and residents, and to enhance investor confidence in a country that is tied innately to the global economy. Police officers form the backbone of a law-and-order society. It stands to reason therefore that the law should help shield them from harm. It is only right that public servants should be protected by the fact that it is an offence to cause hurt to them in the discharge of their duty. Now, the High Court has unveiled a new sentencing framework that seeks to stiffen penalties in the wake of a spate of cop abuse cases. The framework provides for punishments that range from a fine to up to seven years' jail. Also, caning would generally be justified for certain offences. The change comes at a time when physical and verbal abuse of police officers has been on the rise, with an increase in cases of over 65 per cent between 2014 and last year. There were 688 cases of physical hurt in three years.

The court is right to call for harsher deterrent sentences which send out a clear message that the law - and those upholding it - is not to be toyed with. Policing is a profession not without risk; indeed, officers are often required to put themselves in harm's way. Thus, society should have no tolerance for acts of violence against law enforcers who are doing their job and can at most defend themselves, not retaliate. The court warned that attacks on police officers could have several undesirable societal consequences. "All these issues are compounded by the increasingly complex and uncertain security environment with which modern-day policing is presented in a densely populated country, where emergency situations could arise at any time with dire consequences to the public," Judge of Appeal Tay Yong Kwang said, writing on the court's behalf.

At the same time, states must ensure adequate protection for citizens in their encounters with the police. The United States provides a cautionary tale. There, abuse of police powers - although in a small number of high-profile cases - has affected faith in law enforcers' ability to check themselves. For this reason, new laws passed by individual US states, which mete out severe punishment for harm to police officers, have proved controversial. Some say it is a wrong move and will set back police-community relations.

Singapore has worked hard to build a responsible Home Team that enjoys citizens' trust. That must continue. Ultimately, the best protection for police officers is a law-abiding citizenry which respects the men and women in blue who enforce the law, and the best protection for citizens is a professional, well-trained police force worthy of their respect.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 14, 2017, with the headline 'Protect those who protect the people'. Print Edition | Subscribe