SINGAPORE - Only a fifth of citizen patrol volunteers are under the age of 40, and more young people are needed as the scheme rebrands and adapts to better serve the community.
Bukit Batok MP Murali Pillai, speaking at the 20th anniversary celebrations of the Citizens on Patrol (COP) scheme on Saturday (April 13), said: "I hope that in the coming years, we can encourage a larger number of younger residents to take on the mantle of fighting crime in their neighbourhoods."
Mr Murali, who is also deputy chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Home Affairs and Law, said: "At present, about a fifth of COP members are below 40 years of age."
The majority of the volunteers are aged between 40 and 60 years old.
The COP initiative was introduced in 1999 to encourage the community to play a more active role in safeguarding the neighbourhoods. Volunteers join policemen on foot patrols to deter crime and help spread crime prevention messages.
Mr Murali said there are currently over 700 COP groups in Singapore.
One young volunteer is Miss Nur Arfa Muhammad Rahmat, 18, a second-year infocomm security management student in Republic Polytechnic.
Miss Arfa joined COP when she was just 13, after listening to a school talk on the scheme.
"I didn't know regular people like myself could volunteer to patrol the neighbourhood," she said.
Miss Arfa, whose ambition is to become a police officer, finds that COP patrols help her familiarise herself with her estate in the Sembawang Drive area.
"There are new blocks and park connectors that I didn't even know existed."
She also convinced her junior in Sembawang Secondary School, 17-year-old Vincent Chia, to join the scheme too.
Although they live in different estates, they can patrol Sembawang together under the rebranded COP scheme.
On Saturday, Mr Murali also announced that the Singapore Police Force will be introducing a new volunteering platform in the Police @ SG app in July this year, to enable COP members to coordinate and sign up for patrols more conveniently.
Previously, COP members used informal and less structured channels like WhatsApp to arrange patrols, he said.
Mr Murali added that the volunteers' scope of patrol has widened.
"Today, COP volunteers have expanded the mandate beyond their immediate neighbourhoods, into areas like our town centres and public transportation nodes."
Since mid-August last year, COP volunteers from Queenstown Neighbourhood Police Centre (NPC) have also been patrolling Queenstown MRT station to address the increase in molestation cases on public transport, he added.
To better prepare the volunteers for their work, the police have updated the COP training package since February this year to address the increased threat of terrorism and the changing face of crime.
Volunteers now undergo training in three core areas - crime prevention, SGSecure knowledge and community emergency preparedness - and they receive badges after the training.
More than 1,000 members have been trained under the new curriculum.
As part of the scheme's rebranding, a new COP logo was launched, along with COP identification cards and vests. Members from the various groups will now wear the same vests during their patrols.
In addition, the scheme now sets an age limit of 17 to 80 for recruitment of volunteers.
A total of 59 COP members also received 10-year and 15-year Long Service Awards on Saturday.
Mr Ganesan Kulandai, 64, who works in the construction industry, received a 15-year Long Service Award.
He said the scheme's rebranding served as a good motivation for members. "When we put on the vest and the badges, we can be proud. Now everyone can see and recognise us."
Mr Ganesan is a team leader in his COP group in the Everton Park area of Tanjong Pagar, where he coordinates the patrols of about 15 people.
He said he tries to get volunteers to bring their children along on COP patrols. He hopes that by turning the patrols into a family activity, more youngsters will get involved.
Correction note: An earlier version of the article said that Mr Ganesan Kulandai works in the Building and Construction Authority. The police have since clarified that he works in the construction industry.