Public trust in its officers among keys to S'pore police's success in keeping country safe: Shanmugam

On the quality of officers and leadership on SPF, Mr K. Shanmugam said that high quality does not only mean educational qualities, but those of character.
On the quality of officers and leadership on SPF, Mr K. Shanmugam said that high quality does not only mean educational qualities, but those of character.PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO FILE

SINGAPORE - The success of the Singapore Police Force (SPF) in keeping Singapore safe is the result of the criminal justice system, the quality of the leadership in the force, as well as the public's trust in its officers, said Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam on Tuesday (Aug 3).

Speaking in Parliament to announce that medals and medallions will be awarded to officers, retired officers and their families to commemorate 200 years of the SPF, he outlined how Singapore came to have its level of security today.

He cited a Gallup report from 2020 which showed that 97 per cent of residents in Singapore feel safe when they are walking alone in their neighbourhoods at night. The global average is 69 per cent.

"What we have, this level of safety, security and confidence in the force did not just happen in the natural course of events. It is the result of paths taken, and also paths avoided," said Mr Shanmugam.

He listed the criminal justice system, the quality of leadership in the SPF and the trust in the community as some of the factors that led to the force's success.

In discussing the criminal justice system, Mr Shanmugam gave examples of the way Singapore adapted its laws from the system it inherited from the British to create a framework for the police to be effective.

He cited a 1976 change that was made to allow the courts here to draw an adverse inference if an accused person puts up a defence that he did not mention when he was first interviewed by the police.

This goes against the "right to remain silent", but encourages suspects to be forthcoming during investigations, as accused people have to tell the police the truth when interviewed or adverse inferences can be drawn, said Mr Shanmugam.

This means that criminals here do not walk free on a technicality if the police officers do not tell the suspect that they have a right to remain silent.

"Our position: It is in the public interest that persons under investigation by the police tell the truth when interviewed. The change had a big impact on how suspects behave and the entire criminal process," he said.

Mr Shanmugam also responded to Workers' Party (WP) chairman Sylvia Lim (Aljunied GRC) who had earlier cited two models of criminal justice - the crime control model and the due process model.

Ms Lim said the crime control model focuses on efficiency and crime suppression, seeing crime control as more important than individual freedom, while the due process model focuses on having a just and fair criminal justice system for all, and upholding constitutional rights.

"Every criminal justice system worth its salt will have to find its balance between the two models," she said.

Mr Shanmugam said: "The right balance is not, or should not, be guided by pure ideology. It should be guided by what works, what is fair, what is right."

He had earlier said that “if the criminal justice system does not work, if there is no proper due process and crimes go unpunished, then it is difficult for a police force to be effective.”

He added: "Our philosophy is that the police investigations should not be made into a series of technical hurdles which have to be cleared. But it must be a fair and clear process that helps to arrive at the truth."

On the quality of officers and leadership of SPF, Mr Shanmugam said that high quality does not only mean educational qualities, but also those of character.

He quoted founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew, who said in 2011 that Singapore cannot have a situation where the criminals are smarter and better resourced than the police. Mr Lee also said that if Singapore did not recruit strong officers with a moral fibre and a sense of purpose, it would go downhill very fast.

Mr Shanmugam noted that with the emphasis on quality, fewer than one in 10 applicants to the SPF is accepted as direct-entry sergeants or inspectors today.

He also highlighted the importance of the public's trust in the police.

"This is a remarkable state of affairs. Even more remarkable when you look at the situation of police forces in other cities," he said, noting the calls to defund the police in the United States.

The need to maintain public trust and confidence is also why errant officers are dealt with strictly, said Mr Shanmugam.

He added that when an allegation is made against any officer, the Internal Affairs Office conducts the investigation and the Public Service Commission will take disciplinary action against the officer where there is wrongdoing.

Where crimes are perceived to have been committed, "the courts often take into account the fact that this is a police officer who is charged with upholding the laws, and therefore the punishment is usually stricter", said Mr Shanmugam.

He noted that the many community initiatives such as the neighbourhood police posts, and others, have contributed to the high level of trust between the community and the police.

"When a police officer arrives on a scene, people cooperate with his directions. They accept the officer has a right to investigate and manage the incident in the interests of the public. And members of the public largely trust the SPF... This level of public trust cannot be taken for granted," he said.

Looking ahead, Mr Shanmugam said that the police force would strengthen itself for the future by getting better equipment, undergoing more training and utilising technology more. "This is an SPF that will use technology quite extensively to enhance its operational capabilities and streamline its processes," he said.

He added: "I am confident that the SPF will continue to uphold its tradition of excellence, and stay anchored on its core values: courage, loyalty, integrity, fairness, even as it charts its way through a more complex operating environment.

"And in doing so, the SPF must continue to hold its officers to the highest standards of integrity and professionalism, in order to maintain the trust of Singaporeans whom it serves."

Correction note: This story has been edited for clarity.