How robots, tech help Home Team officers in the field

Ms Tan Joe-Lin, who supervises a team of crime scene specialists, using a handheld 3D scanner that is used to document crime scenes. The scanner can examine hard-to-reach places and the user can immediately see what was scanned and redo it if need be
Ms Tan Joe-Lin, who supervises a team of crime scene specialists, using a handheld 3D scanner that is used to document crime scenes. The scanner can examine hard-to-reach places and the user can immediately see what was scanned and redo it if need be, reducing the time taken to process a scene.ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO

Robots can be stationed at protected areas to deter potential perpetrators, or be sent in to deal with dangerous situations such as bomb threats, but they will not replace Home Team officers, said a Home Affairs Ministry (MHA) official.

Mr Lee Guoming, senior assistant director for robotics, automation and unmanned systems at MHA's Science and Technology Group, said yesterday that officers perform roles that involve complex human interactions and relationships, which robots cannot undertake.

"As of now, robots do not have the capacity for emotional relationships, as well as the ability to understand the context of what the job requires, such as comforting the next of kin of a deceased," added Mr Lee, 38, who has worked at MHA for around seven years.

He will be among the officers joining the Home Team Science and Technology Agency, or HTX, which will be set up by December.

Second Minister for Home Affairs Josephine Teo told Parliament yesterday that there will initially be 1,300 officers from various Home Team departments in HTX.

Mr Lee, who graduated from the National University of Singapore in 2006 with a degree in mechanical engineering, said in a recent interview that the new agency will allow closer collaboration among experts from different fields.

"It's an exciting time for scientists and engineers because we get exposure to other technologies, for example, data science and AI (artificial intelligence)," he added.

"The fact is that any solutions we develop for the Home Team are unlikely to be on their own - they are likely to have different components."

Mr Lee said robots can be stationed at protected areas for perimeter security as they can provide a persistent presence that is not susceptible to human fatigue or error. "By using robots to enhance the presence in a protected area, we can ideally prevent crime," he added.

 
 
 

Ms Tan Joe-Lin, 34, who supervises a team of crime scene specialists under the Singapore Police Force's Criminal Investigation Department, will also be part of the new science and technology outfit.

She said technology has always been a game-changer in crime scene investigations.

For instance, a tablet-form, handheld 3D scanner introduced last year complements the existing 3D terrestrial laser scanner, mounted on a tripod, in documenting crime scenes.

"It is difficult to bring the larger terrestrial scanner into certain places, such as onto a large vessel.

"The handheld scanner allows us to scan hard-to-reach places, and we can immediately see what was scanned and redo it if need be, reducing the time taken to process a scene," she said.

Another example is the use of a portable kit to recover fingerprints at the scene instead of back at a lab as it was done in the past, which saves a few hours. These few hours right after a crime is committed could be critical, as, in some cases, the perpetrator might leave the country, said Ms Tan, who joined the police in 2012 and specialises in blood stain pattern analysis.

Ms Tan said her role at HTX will allow her to delve deeper into her specialisation and research technology that can improve crime scene investigation processes.

"At the end of the day, when the investigating officer comes to you and says, 'Oh, we've managed to catch the accused based on the DNA evidence that you found', or through fingerprint evidence that we uncovered, that itself is already great job satisfaction," she added.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 07, 2019, with the headline 'How robots, tech help Home Team officers in the field'. Print Edition | Subscribe