More quick response teams to boost anti-terror security

ST VIDEO: FABIAN KOH

More beige berets at popular places plus enhancement of equipment and training will reduce response time

More police officers in beige berets will be patrolling popular areas such as Orchard Road and Marina Bay, in another boost for Singapore's counter-terrorism response.

Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam announced the measure yesterday to underline the need for a robust counter-terrorism capability following the shootings in Christchurch, New Zealand, last month.

In-Situ Reaction Team (IRT) officers, easily recognisable by their beige berets, were first deployed in December 2017 to heighten security in places with large crowds during the festive period.

"Our plan is to put more IRTs in locations with large crowds so that the response time for the police is reduced," Mr Shanmugam said at the Singapore Police Force's (SPF) annual workplan seminar held at the Singapore University of Technology and Design.

Citing the Christchurch shootings to show how terror attacks can happen any time and anywhere, he said: "If it can happen in New Zealand, it can happen anywhere. New Zealand is one of the last places you would expect an attack."

Mr Shanmugam praised the response of the country's people and the political leadership shown by New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and her government, saying that New Zealand's national response was something Singapore could learn from.

Noting that the first minutes are the most critical in the event of a terrorist attack, Mr Shanmugam said that enhancing the equipment and the training of Singapore's counter-terrorism forces will reduce the response time.

Front-line officers have been re-equipped with pistols in place of traditional revolvers, while officers from the Emergency Response Teams have received new vehicles with more space for their operational equipment.

The tempo of exercises has been increased to maintain the officers' readiness. Each exercise serves as an important validation of Singapore's counter-terrorism capabilities, Mr Shanmugam said.

Another 10,000 cameras have been installed under the PolCam 2.0 programme, bringing the number of fully operational police cameras deployed in public areas to nearly 80,000.

Mr Shanmugam added that while the SPF has continued to keep crime under control, there is still the need for caution, citing a surge in violent crime - especially stabbings - in Britain.

"It wouldn't have occurred to me to think of London in those terms," said the minister, noting that the number of fatal stabbings in England and Wales in the past two years was the highest since 1946.

 
 
 

He stressed the need to prevent similar incidents from happening here. "There will be a commitment to continue resourcing the police, and to keep our laws updated and fit for purpose. We will support the police in your mission," he said.

The workplan seminar is the SPF's marquee event, showcasing its efforts to leverage technology and evolve into a smart force.

One of the technologies showcased this year is a screening platform called Jarvis, which allows investigation officers to search multiple SPF databases with a single query, cutting the process time from 20 minutes to just five.

Before Jarvis, investigation officers had to log in to several different screening systems to conduct searches, such as for personal information of individuals.

Jarvis was developed in collaboration with GovTech - the agency behind public sector technology transformations - and was trialled with 300 users between March and November last year. The platform was rolled out to all investigation officers last month.

There are data protection protocols and access controls in place to ensure that the system will not be misused by officers. The system is not connected to the Internet, access is tiered and monitored, and there are tight rules about its usage.

Senior Assistant Commissioner of Police How Kwang Hwee, who is SPF's director of operations, said: "The police continue to explore the use of technology, such as UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) and robots, to enhance our frontline operations, training and community engagement."

The use of UAVs, which can give frontline commanders a better sense of an incident as it develops, helps them to make better decisions on the ground and coordinate the actions of the available resources, he said.

Other technologies include smart glasses for officers to perform real-time video analytics, as well as a mannequin that can help trainees to improve their techniques in police defence tactics by using sensors to measure the strength and location of each strike.

Mr Shanmugam also noted that the SPF will be marking its bicentenary next year. "The force has come a long way. I think few organisations can claim such a long, unbroken, proud heritage," he said, adding that the SPF is among the most trusted institutions in Singapore today.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 12, 2019, with the headline 'More quick response teams to boost anti-terror security'. Print Edition | Subscribe