Police get extra eyes and ears on public transport in new scheme

(From left) Kenneth Chan, Robert Abrams and Alvin Tan are among the first Riders-On-Watch volunteers. They will help keep a lookout for persons of interest or someone who needs help with the public transport system.
(From left) Kenneth Chan, Robert Abrams and Alvin Tan are among the first Riders-On-Watch volunteers. They will help keep a lookout for persons of interest or someone who needs help with the public transport system.ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

SINGAPORE - The police have launched a scheme for ordinary people to be their eyes and ears for incidents that occur on public transport.

These Riders-On-Watch (ROW) will help keep a lookout for persons of interest or someone who needs help when they receive alerts by text or WhatsApp about things that happen in the public transport system.

These could range from crimes like outrage of modesty and theft, to incidents like someone falling down an escalator or an elderly person who is lost.

ROW volunteers may receive descriptions of an alleged offender's physical appearance or pictures captured from surveillance footage. Their job is then to help the police by keeping a lookout and reporting back if they see something.

The first Riders-On-Watch will be the 15 people who received awards on Tuesday (July 2) at the Woodlands Police Division for their public-spirited acts on public transport this year, as well as four others who received the same Public Spiritedness Award last year.

In one incident, three men worked together to apprehend a man who had molested a woman at Somerset MRT station on June 14.

The victim was in the midst of confronting her molester when he punched her in the face to try and get away. When they saw this, Mr Alvin Tan, 39, and Mr Robert Abrams, 41, who are colleagues at a technology company, jumped in to shield her and prevent the man from running away.

As they pursued the offender, who was running towards the exit to Orchard Gateway, Mr Kenneth Chan, 42, a hairstylist at a nearby salon, noticed the commotion and helped to chase and pin him down.

For Mr Abrams, stepping in to help was a natural reaction. He said: "You can't just see a man punch a woman and not do anything."

He also supports the ROW scheme, as "everyday people should take ownership of their own safety and that of their neighbours".

Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Home Affairs Amrin Amin, guest of honour at the award ceremony and launch of the scheme by the Police Force's Public Transport Security Command (TransCom), said that with increased public transport ridership in the coming years as more train lines and bus routes are added, the public transport system becomes an even more attractive target for terror and crime.

Last year, a record high of 7.54 million trips were made daily on average on buses and trains. TransCom officers, who patrol the train network and bus interchanges every day, made 723 arrests for various offences.

Mr Amrin added that the ever-evolving nature of threats thus presents the need for TransCom to deepen its engagement with riders.

He said: "The policemen and women cannot be everywhere; thus we want to call on the public to be our force multipliers."

TransCom hopes to recruit 3,000 volunteers by the end of this year.

Members of the public can sign up by scanning the QR code on posters at public transport nodes or on postcards that TransCom officers will be handing out at MRT stations. They can also go on the Singapore Police Force website to sign up.