2 in 5 security officers in Singapore face abuse while on duty; almost daily occurrence for some: Survey

Most of these cases were targeted at older officers and mostly from members of the public.
Most of these cases were targeted at older officers and mostly from members of the public. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - A 29-year-old man shouted at safe distancing ambassadors when they asked him to move away from a section of the food court at Hillion Mall cordoned off for safe distancing.

Soon after, Mr Santhosh Chokkalingam, a security officer deployed at the Petir Road mall, stepped in to tell the man to calm down and leave, but he too was yelled at.

Mr Santhosh had intended to handle the matter quietly, but he had to call the police when the man turned violent and tried to hit the ambassadors, he said, recalling the incident on the evening of Dec 17.

"We face these kinds of cases daily when people cannot understand why they can't enter a place because of safe distancing. But I have to stay calm and not be aggressive to them," said Mr Santhosh, 47, who was recognised with a certificate by the Union of Security Employees (USE) on Monday (Dec 27) for handling the situation.

Such cases of abuse have become an almost daily occurrence for some officers, according to results of the latest USE and Singapore University of Social Sciences survey on the welfare, wages and job prospects of security officers announced at a media briefing on Monday (Dec 27).

The mental well-being of officers was also emphasised this year, with more than half of the respondents saying they felt nervous or stressed at work. This was the case especially among female officers and younger employees.

Roughly two in five of 1,000 officers surveyed between July to September this year said they experienced verbal or physical abuse while on duty - a number that has stayed largely constant from a previous survey conducted during the Covid-19 pandemic, which hit early last year.

Most of these cases were targeted at older officers and came mostly from members of the public, which formed around 40 per cent of the abuse cases reported by officers.

Other abusers mentioned included employers, service buyers and residents.

A reason for this could be the rise in Covid-19 measures officers have had to oversee, which could lead to more run-ins with members of the public, USE executive secretary Steve Tan said.

The results show that these cases have become more frequent too, with almost 40 per cent - up from 30 per cent - of those who reported verbal abuse indicating that they experienced such incidents at least every two weeks.

Abuse cases in most settings like residential areas dipped slightly, but rose in commercial areas, possibly due to the increase in footfall in those locations, said Mr Tan.

"Perhaps as we open up, there are more instances of people not complying with safe management measures and officers need to handle even more people," he said.

Security officer Santhosh Chokkalingam, who was recognised with a certificate by the Union of Security Employees on Dec 27, 2021. ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH

Citing an example, he said he saw a driver scolding a security officer at a car park gantry in Kallang when the man was confused about which mode of payment he could use.

"The officer didn't deploy the gantry there, but he faced the brunt of the abuse because the system was poorly designed," said Mr Tan.

The survey also touched on areas such as wages and work prospects.

Close to 70 per cent of respondents said they are compensated fairly and are expecting a median wage increase of about $150 next year.

More than eight in 10 said they are satisfied with their job.

These findings will help the union improve working conditions for those in the industry, said Mr Tan.

The union has lobbied for heavier penalties for those who abuse security officers on duty, and this will come into force next year, as well as changes to the progressive wage model that will see their wages rise annually over the next six years.

USE general secretary Raymond Chin said: "We urge the general public to recognise the important work of our security officers as front-line warriors protecting property and lives and cooperate with them when required."

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