New powers under proposed Bill to allow S’pore police to respond more proactively

Police officers will be empowered to make forced entry into premises such as homes to protect people from injury or death under the proposed amendments.
Police officers will be empowered to make forced entry into premises such as homes to protect people from injury or death under the proposed amendments.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Police officers are set to gain new powers that will let them respond more proactively, such as in medical emergencies, under proposed amendments to the Police Force Act.

The changes will strengthen the police's operational capabilities and readiness in a more complex operating environment, said the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), which introduced the Police Force (Amendment) Bill for the first reading in Parliament on Monday (July 5).

When passed, the updated law will empower police officers to make forced entry into premises such as homes to protect people from injury or death.

Currently, police officers' powers to make forced entry are restricted to very specific circumstances such as to make an arrest, and they cannot force entry even if they hear a person in distress but believe no crime has been committed.

Special police officers, who have powers of investigation but not proactive powers of policing, will also be given the same powers as regular officers under the proposed changes.

Special police officers include full-time national servicemen and operationally ready national servicemen.

This will allow them to perform duties such as setting up roadblocks, dispersing crowds and preventing offences from being committed, said MHA.

Commercial affairs officers, who are public officers, are currently also limited to investigation powers, and have been relying on their uniformed colleagues to execute certain police powers for some aspects of their work.

It is proposed that they, too, be provided with more powers to do their job efficiently - allowing them to arrest, detain and search people, as well as require suspects to attend court - and be extended bail and bond-related powers.

As a safeguard, both special police officers and commercial affairs officers will be allowed to exercise their powers only after receiving training.

Those who are deemed unsuitable will be administratively prevented from exercising any powers, and those who misuse their powers will face strict disciplinary action.

Officers are expected to uphold the highest standards of integrity and professionalism, and MHA noted that among the amendments are increased fines for officers who commit disciplinary offences.

To ensure officers can carry out their lawful duties with assurance, the amendments propose that they be protected from liability for acts done in good faith and with reasonable care.

While similar provisions exist under other Acts, this will be more clearly codified under the Police Force Act, said the ministry.

"This amendment codifies this existing protection, so that the officers can carry out their lawful duties with greater assurance," it said.

On the administrative front, the amendments aim to streamline processes by aligning fines for disciplinary offences by police officers and including more officers in police associations to better advance their welfare.

A new provision that has been proposed states that during times of crisis, regular officers of any rank may resign only with the approval of the commissioner of police.

A crisis is defined as a state of emergency declared by the president or an activation order under the Public Order and Safety (Special Powers) Act. Such events include terrorism and public disorder.

This will bring the police to parity with the Singapore Armed Forces, for which such a provision exists under the Enlistment Act.

The amendments also seek to strengthen controls over auxiliary police forces.

They propose additional reporting and approval requirements for controllers, enhanced powers to issue directions and impose conditions, and enhanced penalties for infringement of the police's directives.

The second reading of the Police Force (Amendment) Bill is expected to be in August.