Scheme to help suspects under 16 expanded, more volunteers needed

A scheme that provides support to suspects under 16 during investigations is looking for more volunteers as it expands to more police divisions and enforcement agencies.

The Singapore Children's Society (SCS), which started the scheme in April last year, now has 408 trained volunteers. The volunteers or Appropriate Adults sit with young suspects during questioning, and can intervene if the suspects become agitated or distressed.

According to a Straits Times report last December, the scheme had 370 volunteers at the time, and it was in place at Bedok Police Division, Criminal Investigation Department and Central Narcotics Bureau. The report added that SCS aimed to recruit 500 volunteers by February.

Starting today, the scheme will also cover Clementi, Central and Tanglin police divisions, Singapore Customs and the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau.

SCS director Ann Hui Peng said the society already has a strong pool of volunteers to help out with the expected increase in the number of cases, but she added that the scheme can be improved. For instance, SCS would like to have more volunteers who are available during office hours or late at night, she said.

She added that since the scheme began, the Appropriate Adults were activated 590 times, and volunteers handled about nine in 10 cases. SCS staff also helped attend to cases.

Ms Ann said with a bigger pool of volunteers, SCS can provide a better match for cases, based on factors such as gender, the volunteer's experience and language preferences.

She added that she also hopes to see more volunteers who have experience in dealing with young people, like volunteer and former principal Andrew Chew, 58.

Said Mr Chew: "I've worked with youth... so I'm more sensitive when they fidget or when they become distracted."

Investigation officer S. Aiswarya, 25, who has worked with Appropriate Adults on three occasions, said they help ensure the emotional well-being of suspects is taken care of.

Citing the case of a repeat offender for theft, Ms Aiswarya said she and the Appropriate Adult were able to find out that the young girl stole because she did not want to be a burden to her family.

She said: "When we tell young suspects that Appropriate Adults are there for their emotional well-being, they are more forthcoming."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 17, 2018, with the headline 'Scheme to help suspects under 16 expanded, more volunteers needed'. Print Edition | Subscribe