Law amended to make harassment, verbal abuse of security officers an offence

New offences to address common types of harassment and abuse faced by security officers while on official duties were introduced. ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO

SINGAPORE - Security officers can look forward to stronger protection against harassment under the law, with heightened punishments for abuses against them, after amendments were passed in Parliament on Tuesday (Oct 5).

MPs who spoke during the debate also called for better training for security officers, and suggested that they should wear body cameras to deter abuse.

They raised these suggestions even as they welcomed amendments to the Private Security Industry Act (PSIA) passed on Tuesday (Oct 5).

New offences to address common types of harassment and abuse faced by security officers while on official duties were introduced, with heavier maximum penalties than if they were committed against members of the public.

During the debate, Ms Mariam Jaafar (Sembawang GRC) lamented the negative stereotypes that some still have about private security officers.

Unarmed security officers are often labelled as old and frail, or as moonlighters sleeping on the job, she said.

"These stereotypes embolden some people, leading them to think they can taunt and even bully our security officers.

"So, the proposed amendments… are very much welcome."

Mr Darryl David (Ang Mo Kio GRC) noted there has been high-profile incidences of security officers being physically and verbally abused by members of the public in recent years.

He said: "While we can institutionalise improvements in wage and work conditions of security officers, we cannot legislate societal attitudes towards them."

However, more can be done to make working conditions better still, he suggested, such as mandating minimum standards for rest areas.

In his speech, Minister of State for Home Affairs Desmond Tan said an average of about 150 cases of abuse of security officers were reported each year from 2018 to last year.

Mr Tan told the House: "The Ministry of Home Affairs has repeatedly emphasised that we take a very serious view of the abuse of security officers. Members of the House, and the security industry and union, have also called for better protection for security officers.

"Hence, the imperative to enhance the protection for security officers is clear and present."

Three new offences were introduced in the amended PSIA.

They are: intentionally causing harassment, alarm or distress to a security officer; assaulting or using criminal force to deter such an officer from discharging his duties; and voluntarily causing hurt in relation to the discharge of such duties.

MPs said that the Covid-19 pandemic could have worsened the incidents of abuse towards security officers.

Ms Joan Pereira (Tanjong Pagar GRC) said security officers have told her that they have been ignored or verbally abused while trying to advise people who disregard Covid-19 regulations, for instance by gathering in big groups.

She asked if security officers could don body-worn cameras - a suggestion echoed by other MPs.

Mr Yip Hon Weng (Yio Chu Kang) said that without a witness or closed-circuit camera television (CCTV) in the vicinity, harassment and verbal abuse can be difficult to prove.

Body cameras could be considered if the security guard works in a location where he is susceptible to higher risks of abuse, patrolling alone or out of range of nearby CCTVs, he said.

Mr Melvin Yong (Radin Mas) noted that the body-worn cameras were introduced for front-line police officers in 2015.

"The cameras can serve as a deterrent against potential abuse of our security officers," he said.

Ms Sylvia Lim (Aljunied GRC) said whether security officers are adequately trained and suitably equipped for their tasks would affect how members of the public interact with them.

It is not just the hard skills that are required, she said.

"It is equally necessary that security officers have training in soft skills, to be able to handle difficult people, use tactful language and so on."

Tuesday's amendments also did away with licensing security consultants under the PSIA, in a move towards industry-led accreditation.

These consultants conduct security audits and assessments of facilities, and devise plans to manage the assessed risks.

Nominated MP Raj Joshua Thomas, who is president of the Security Association Singapore and chairman of the Security Consultants Accreditation Programme Board, said the board has accredited 17 consultants to date.

About 50 to 70 consultants are expected to be accredited by the end of next year, he said, adding that the move towards self-regulation for the profession was an important one.

"This ensures that the security consultants profession develops in a manner that is relevant to the industry and to clients' needs without unnecessary government bureaucracy and administration," he said.

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