Second security breach at Woodlands Checkpoint in less than 2 months

By Andrew Loh

Less than two months after a security breach at the Woodlands Checkpoint, a second breach took place on 8 March, Saturday.

This time, a Singapore-registered Mercedes-Benz took off while it was going through customs checks after having cleared the immigration check. The incident happened at 4.05pm.

An officer then attempted to stop the vehicle from leaving but the vehicle “crashed through the security barrier that was activated and entered Singapore”, according to local news reports.

The Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) said on Sunday that it is the first time that the crash barrier has failed to stop someone from driving through.

After the breach, the alarm was sounded, with the police putting out an immediate alert to through its channels, including taxis which were requested to help to locate the Mercedes-Benz. The Criminal Investigation Department was also activated.

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It was reported that it took almost five hours before the car was found, and police located the man about 45 minutes after that, and took him into custody.

In a statement on Saturday, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Home Affairs, Teo Chee Hean, said “measures to make Singapore’s checkpoints more secure will be put in place as soon as possible.”

He has directed the Commissioner of ICA to look into this, DPM Teo said.

It is understood that the police are investigating the 65-year old for various offences, including evasion of custom clearance and vandalism.

There is a video of the breach, taken apparently from security cameras at the checkpoint but is unable to be shared due to the police’s investigation on violations of the Official Secret Act.

On 17 January, a Malaysian woman drove through the same Woodlands Checkpoint without proper immigration clearance, and by tailgating another vehicle.

It took 3 days before she was located and arrested – when she trespassed the compound of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) in Singapore.

DPM Teo had then described the incident as a “serious security breach.”

He also said the breach was “a serious error of judgment” on the part of the ICA officers on the ground, “in deciding to treat this intrusion as a less serious immigration offence, instead of a serious breach of border security, as required in the protocol”.

This error was “a major reason” for the subsequent inadequate response, he said. It resulted in the vehicle and driver not being detected and arrested much earlier, he added.

DPM Teo said disciplinary action would be taken against the officers involved.

Existing standard operating procedures would be “thoroughly reviewed” to ensure officers act faster and effectively to deal with such situations, he added.

He said the authorities will now treat all checkpoint security breaches as “high-level security threats” and take all necessary steps to locate the intruders.

In Parliament on Thursday, 6 March, Workers’ Party MP, Sylvia Lim, raised concerns of the quality and cost-effectiveness of Home Team operations being compromised as the authorities outsources more such services.

“I am concerned about many Home Team uniformed services turning to outsourcing as a response to increasing demand for services and manpower shortages,” Ms Lim said.

“At the Woodlands checkpoint, APOs make up 20% of officers,” she added, referring to Auxiliary Police Officers. [See here.]

“Will the trend of outsourcing of police, security and emergency functions to private operators increase further?  If so, where is the line to be drawn before we see the quality of functions compromised and cost-effectiveness eroded?”

Of Saturday’s intrusion, DPM Teo said police will study whether further improvements need to be made, but he said measures to make Singapore’s checkpoints more secure “will be put in place as soon as possible.”

The alarm and barrier systems at the checkpoints “are inadequate and they need to be improved and strengthened considerably”, he added.