Government survey shows majority polled support new expanded laws for police to tackle terror attacks

Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam said the survey conducted by government feedback unit Reach showed 82 per cent of the 1,038 people polled supported the Act.
Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam said the survey conducted by government feedback unit Reach showed 82 per cent of the 1,038 people polled supported the Act.ST PHOTO: JONATHAN CHOO

SINGAPORE - Despite online sentiment that appeared to oppose the passing of the Public Order and Safety (Special Powers) Bill, a recent survey on the particular law showed that the majority supported it.

The Bill, which was passed in March, gives the police expanded powers to deal with terror attacks and among other things, allows officers to enforce a communications stop order.

Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam said the survey conducted by government feedback unit Reach showed 82 per cent of the 1,038 people polled supported the Act.

"(If) you looked online during the period when we had the legislation in gestation, it would have created the feeling that there was a lot of opposition to it and we were doing something that was terrible."

Addressing about 1,000 officers who attended the annual police workplan seminar on Thursday (May 3), Mr Shanmugam told officers to be confident in discharging their duties and not to get "sidetracked" by the "vocal minority".

He said it is the Government's job to propose legislation, carry it and make necessary assessments.

"You just do yours, and you will get the full support," he said, reassuring officers that the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) and the police force would stand by them.

 
 
 

In the same vein, if things go wrong operationally, it is the minister who will be accountable and responsible to the public, he said.

There has to be internal accountability, he added, and the relevant leaders will need to ensure mistakes are not repeated.

"That is my approach... And the (uniformed) services need to know that very clearly. So that you can go about your work confidently, and do your duty, and have faith and trust in the system."

"That is what is asked of you. Leave the rest to us, and be assured that we will answer the questions and shield you from political attacks."

He cited a 2016 Ministerial Statement he gave in Parliament when concerns were raised about investigation processes when handling young suspects following the suicide of 14-year-old schoolboy Benjamin Lim after he was questioned by police over an alleged molestation case.

A multi-agency review took place after his death. During that period, Mr Shanmugam said police officers should not be attacked and publicly added that he would take responsibility if the issue was with protocols.

An MHA review in 2016 concluded that existing processes were sound and suggested adjustments to boost coordination among agencies.

The Appropriate Adult Scheme for Young Suspects was introduced in April 2017, allowing some young suspects to be accompanied by independent volunteers during police interviews.

In his speech on Thursday, Mr Shanmugam also cited the trust that members of public had in the police force.

The same Reach survey revealed that 76 per cent of those polled indicated that the Act was necessary to enable the police to handle major security incidents effectively. The survey was done after the law was passed.

Another 67 per cent thought it was reasonable for police to have powers to stop individuals from taking or sharing messages and videos about ongoing security operations and 78 per cent said they trusted the police would exercise these powers fairly.

He noted that the new legislation, which will replace the Public Order (Preservation) Act enacted in 1958, gives police powers that would not be "doable" in many countries.

"I believed it was doable in Singapore because people trust the police that they will exercise their powers responsibly, and we need those powers to deal with the situations that are evolving."

"You cannot deal with the new threats with legislation that is outdated."