A first-hand experience of how police conduct an arrest of a non-compliant suspect

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SINGAPORE - A drunken man staggers, waving his arms and repeatedly kicking things at bystanders. Two police officers approach him and try to calm him down. He ignores them, continues to snap at the officers and struggles when they try to subdue him.

Eventually, it took five officers to restrain and handcuff him.

Scenes like this - of subjects actively resisting arrest - have grown more common over the years.

A total of 412 cases were reported last year (2017) of Singapore Police Force (SPF) officers being physically or verbally abused on the job, 33 fewer than in 2016. The figure was just 314 in 2015.

Cases of physical hurt went up from 210 in 2016 to 246 in 2017.

Attacks on police officers came under the spotlight last year as the High Court rolled out a new sentencing framework and stiffened penalties in the light of a series of such cases. The revised framework provided for punishments ranging from a fine to up to seven years' jail, depending on the level of harm and culpability.

Providing an insight into the inherent difficulties in arresting a non-compliant subject and the way in which officers often had to make spontaneous decisions on the ground, the SPF recently allowed various media, including The Straits Times, to observe a condensed version of their officers' basic training.

At the Home Team Academy on May 16, journalists were shown basic defensive stances and manoeuvres usually adopted by the officers as well as more aggressive methods like palm heel and knee strikes.

The journalists were then paired up and shown the various arm locks that can incapacitate a suspect to allow them to be handcuffed.

But it took us several minutes to be able to execute each movement smoothly, and much of that time was spent fumbling and twisting arms the wrong way. In a real-life situation, there was little doubt the "suspects" would have have been able to flee.

For example, the intoxicated subject was actually a part of a scenario-based exercise during the training, in which the journalists role-played as police officers attempting to arrest a non-compliant person.

On the first attempt, the "officers" took almost 20 minutes to handcuff the suspect, even after calling for back-up. The second attempt took approximately 10 minutes. Both times, the "officers" soon resorted to improvised tactics.

Out on the field, the force used can range from verbal commands to unarmed combat, tasers, and firearms.

The journalists were given the chance to use the officers' extendable batons, which were surprisingly heavy. They were told by the instructors to hit a practice target with increasing force and to aim for the thigh area, which is cushioned with a larger proportion of fat and muscle to offset the blow.

The journalists were also taken to a range to try out shooting a Taser, albeit using training cartridges with no current. Out on the field an operational Taser delivers 50,000 volts of electricity through two sharp probes into the body, stunning any suspect for five seconds per cycle.

In deciding how much force to use, police officers have to take into consideration multiple factors within a short period of time, including their own number, the crowd size, the environment and the suspect's physical profile, said Mr Raymond Lo, Superintendent of Police, Frontline Policing Training Centre.

He said that although officers were well-equipped with the necessary training - there was a group of NSFs in the dojo adjacent to ours executing the same techniques much more competently - the situation on the ground was "often very dynamic" and, like in the scenario-based exercise, forces them to make split-second decisions.

"If you think about it, the aggressor often has the first-mover advantage, because they have to exhibit some level of aggression before officers will react," Mr Lo said.

He added that officers should "always expect the worst and be prepared for it".

Correction note: An earlier version of this report misspelt the Superintendent's surname. We are sorry for the error.

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