Police to get new powers in the new year as amendments to Police Force Act kick in

Police officers patrolling Citylink Mall, 2 Jun 2021.
Police officers will be legally empowered to make forced entry into any place in case of medical emergencies, to protect people from injury or death. ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO

SINGAPORE - In the new year, police officers will find themselves with new powers, enabling them to respond and protect more proactively.

They will be legally empowered to make forced entry into any place in case of medical emergencies, to protect people from injury or death.

Currently, their powers are limited to specific circumstances such as to make an arrest, and they cannot force entry even if they hear a person in distress but believe no crime has been committed.

The new powers will also be extended to special police officers, including full-time national servicemen and volunteer special constabulary officers, who currently have powers of investigation but not proactive powers of policing.

Commercial affairs officers who investigate commercial and financial crimes will also gain more powers, allowing them to arrest people who possess stolen items.

Such officers currently only have the powers of investigation.

These changes are part of several amendments to the Police Force Act that takes effect from Jan 1 next year.

The amendments were passed in Parliament on Aug 3.

Under the changes, the Act also makes explicit the existing powers of police officers to erect barriers and cordons to control human traffic, and to make it an offence to not comply with instructions from officers to not cross such barriers and cordons.

Other changes include increased penalties for motorists who evade roadblocks.

This will cover more modes of roadblock evasion apart from physically dashing through, to ensure that deterrence against such offences remains effective.

It was reported in August that in the past five years, 33 people have been convicted or given stern warnings for evading police roadblocks.

In 2017, two officers were injured after a driver dashed through a roadblock in Mackenzie Road.

More recently, in September, a motorcyclist was arrested for evading an early morning police roadblock along Holland Road, allegedly speeding off and ignoring instructions from officers to stop for checks.

Currently, the definition of roadblock evasion covers only motorists who physically dash through the roadblock with a vehicle.

The maximum penalty for this is a jail term of a year and a $5,000 fine.

But the new rules will see the definition expanded to other forms of evasion, including stopping before a roadblock and alighting to escape, reversing away from a roadblock, and making a U-turn before the roadblock to escape.

The maximum penalty will also be increased to a jail term of seven years and a fine of $10,000.

Changes to strengthen the Singapore Police Force's (SPF) disciplinary, administrative and human resources processes will also come into effect in the new year.

Key changes include allowing special police officers and civilian officers employed by the SPF to join police associations as an avenue to advance their welfare, the streamlining of processes controlling the sale of police uniforms and insignia, and the issuance of warrant cards.

Commenting on the changes, Singapore Management University law don Eugene Tan said the amendments are to provide more clarity on police powers and provide greater assurance to the officers that they are adequately protected when carrying out their duties in good faith.

"The nature of policing continues to evolve and so the Act has to be updated on a regular basis to ensure it is fit for purpose," he said.

"At another level, it is about providing stronger legal backing to the multi-faceted policing roles."

He added that the changes plug gaps in areas such as roadblocks and barriers, but they are more legalistic in nature.

"The thrust of the amendments point to the Government ensuring that (the police) are acting within statutory limits," he said.

"Overall, I see the amendments as proving the substantive assurance to all stakeholders within and without the SPF that police powers are kept relevant, properly regulated, and continue to safeguard law and order in Singapore."

The Ministry of Home Affairs said the remaining amendments to the Act will take effect at a later date, with more details that will be announced separately.

These are expected to include strengthened controls over auxiliary police forces and the employment retention of regular police officers during major crises.

Cases of roadblock evasion in Singapore

January 2017

A 26-year-old motorist who had drunk at least half a bottle of cognac at a club panicked when he saw a roadblock in Jalan Toa Payoh on Jan 26, 2017.

He reversed and drove against the flow of traffic for nearly 300m on two expressways, but the police managed to stop him along the Pan-Island Expressway.

He was jailed for four weeks, fined $2,700 and banned from driving for three years.

January and February 2017

A 35-year-old without a driving licence was driving along MacKenzie Road in the early hours of Jan 19, 2017 when he was stopped at a roadblock.

After he was asked for his licence, he sped off but was later arrested at the basement carpark of Scotts Square in Scotts Road.

While out on bail, he was driving along Kallang Road in the early hours of Feb 14, 2017, when he encountered another roadblock.

He drove against the flow of traffic to escape, travelling some 2.6km before abandoning the car in Geylang.

He was jailed for two years and nine months, fined $3,000 and banned from driving for three years.

May 2015

A 34-year-old man and his 27-year-old friend were heading to Orchard Towers in the early hours of May 31, 2015, but took a wrong turn to a high-security checkpoint outside Shangri-La Hotel where a major security summit was taking place.

The men had drugs in the car and drove off from the roadblock.

Gurkha officers opened fire and killed and 34-year-old man.

The friend was later jailed for seven years and given three strokes of the cane.

February 2015

A 29-year-old man was stopped at a roadblock while riding his motorcycle along Woodlands Avenue 12 in the early hours of Feb 11, 2015.

He later sped off and punched a cop before being arrested at a multi-storey carpark at Woodlands Drive 14. He was jailed for 24 weeks, fined $10,000 and banned from driving for six years.

Key amendments taking effect on Jan 1, 2022

- Police officers empowered to make forced entry to protect people from injury or death, including reasonably suspected cases

- Same powers police officers have extended to special police officers, which include full-time NSmen and volunteer special constabulary officers

- Increased penalties for motorists who evade roadblocks

- More types of roadblock evasion covered to ensure effective deterrence against such offences

- Existing powers of police officers to erect barriers and cordons to control human traffic made explicit in the Police Force Act

- Failure to comply with instructions to not cross such barriers or cordons is an offence

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