MRT, bus commuters could be subject to frisk searches under proposed laws

Enhanced security screening being conducted at Bukit Gombak MRT station on April 1, 2021.
Enhanced security screening being conducted at Bukit Gombak MRT station on April 1, 2021. ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH

SINGAPORE - Commuters taking the bus or train here could be subject to frisk searches by police officers and other "senior approved persons" under proposed laws introduced in Parliament on Monday (April 5).

Under the Road Traffic (Amendment) Bill, a "frisk search" refers to a search conducted by quickly running one's hands over an individual's outer clothing.

The Bill will amend the Road Traffic Act and the Rapid Transit Systems Act to give police officers and authorised personnel broader powers to screen and search commuters.

Current laws allow for searches only on bags or other items carried by commuters.

The Land Transport Authority (LTA) said the amendments will allow security checks to be carried out at designated entrances of bus interchanges, before fare gates at MRT and LRT stations, or any parts of these transport nodes.

If necessary, checks can be carried out on board buses and trains.

The public transport system can be an attractive target for security threats due to its vulnerability and the potential for mass casualties, the LTA said.

"There is a need to step up our existing security measures to stay vigilant against any potential security attacks," it added.

Under the proposed laws, these security checks include walking through a metal detector, passing belongings through an X-ray machine and allowing them to be inspected, as well as removing garments such as jackets, gloves, shoes or hats.

The checks can be conducted by police officers, whether or not they are in uniform, and "approved persons" who include employees of bus and rail operators.

These approved persons must be authorised by the LTA in writing to exercise any power under the proposed laws at a specific bus, train, bus interchange or train station.

Only police officers or "senior approved persons" will be given powers to conduct frisk searches, as well as to use handheld scanners to screen commuters.

These senior personnel are auxiliary police officers in uniform, security officers engaged by bus or rail operators, and outsourced enforcement officers appointed by LTA.

Those who refuse to be screened may be asked to leave the bus, train, interchange or station.

Refusing or failing to comply with requests or orders made by a police officer or an approved person without a reasonable excuse would be an offence that carries a fine of up to $1,000.

The Bill will be debated at the next Parliament sitting.

Last week, enhanced security screening measures similar to airport checks kicked off at selected MRT stations.

Checks, including metal detector screening and X-ray scans, were conducted at random.

At some stations, up to four transit security officers - privately contracted from ST Engineering - were positioned with screening equipment just before the fare gate.

The time taken for commuters to complete the screening process was less than 30 seconds, LTA said.