Support scheme for young suspects to be ramped up

Dr Charuta Deshpande (left) and Hamid Marican are volunteers with the Appropriate Adult for Young Suspects scheme.
Dr Charuta Deshpande (left) and Hamid Marican are volunteers with the Appropriate Adult for Young Suspects scheme.ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

More police divisions and agencies will start tapping Appropriate Adult service by April

A scheme that provides support to young suspects during interviews by investigators will be significantly expanded, less than a year after it was rolled out.

Come April next year, more police divisions and agencies such as Singapore Customs will start tapping the Appropriate Adult (AA) for young suspects service.

To prepare for the expansion, the Singapore Children's Society (SCS), which runs the scheme, wants to recruit 200 more volunteers by February, growing its pool of AAs to 500. So far, it has recruited 67 people, and it wants potential volunteers to write to it.

AAs support suspects under the age of 16 by sitting with them during the interviews. They may intervene if a suspect appears agitated or unable to understand a question.

The expansion comes after some teething problems following the scheme's launch in April this year. For example, volunteers sometimes had to put up with long waits for interviews. This has since been addressed.

SCS director Ann Hui Peng said she has received positive feedback about the scheme from volunteers and partners. "They find that the work is meaningful because it helps the young suspects," she said.

Currently, only young suspects called to Bedok Police Division, the Criminal Investigation Department and the Central Narcotics Bureau benefit from the scheme.

By next April, SCS expects young suspects called to the Clementi, Central and Tanglin police divisions to also be accompanied by AAs.

The Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau and Singapore Customs will also participate in the scheme in April.

The scheme was introduced following a multi-agency review after the death of Benjamin Lim, 14. On Jan 26 last year, he was found dead at the foot of his block, hours after the police questioned him over an alleged molestation case.

The scheme aims to support all young suspects when it is fully rolled out in 2019, Ms Ann said.

As of Nov 29, SCS had deployed AAs 424 times. About nine out of 10 cases were handled by AAs who were volunteers, and not SCS staff.

Ms Ann said: "It is a rare feat that most of the activation requests were taken up by volunteers."

In most cases, AAs are to respond to an activation and to reach the location within 90 minutes.

"Sometimes, if police are able to schedule an interview in advance, they will inform us earlier and we can let our volunteers know in advance," said Ms Ann.

Retiree Hamid Marican, an AA, has taken on eight cases so far. "The young suspects will look at me if they don't understand the question, so I will paraphrase it for them," said the former in-flight manager.

Mr Marican, 60, also likes the scheme's flexibility. "We are not obliged to respond (to activations), but we want to," he said.

Dr Charuta Deshpande, 31, a former mental health professional in India who is now a housewife here, has taken on three cases so far.

"After each interview, I felt that I had helped them feel less alone. It's a very satisfying experience," she said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 04, 2017, with the headline 'Support scheme for young suspects to be ramped up'. Print Edition | Subscribe