The police could show more compassion and finesse in dealing with teenagers

By Yoong Siew Wah

The tragic suicide of a 14-year-old teenager Benjamin Lim has struck a raw nerve among Singaporeans about questionable police methods of interrogation of teenagers. The manner in which Benjamin Lim was hauled from his school by five burly plainclothes police officers for a suspected molestation offence for interrogation could not but cause consternation to the public by the display of excessive intimidatory tactics by the police. The question uppermost in the public mind is whether it was necessary to send such massive police manpower to the school in the first place to deal with a minor? Was it not a clear case of wasteful use of resources when a single police officer would have been more than adequate.

At the police station, Benjamin Lim was subjected to more than three hours of interrogation without any of his guardian being present. He was released after interrogation and went straight home, only to jump out of his window to his death. The only conclusion that could be drawn was that he was over-traumatised by his traumatised experience at the hand of the police. An innocent life has been tragically lost at such a young age.

The million dollar question is who is to be blamed for this tragedy? The public could not be blamed if they point their finger at the police. They cannot understand how the police, with all their expertise, could deal with a minor as if he was a hardened criminal. The police will find it hard to defend themselves and whatever statement issued by them would not be able to calm the public.

So what is the best course for them to regain public confidence? It is natural to be wise after the event and the police will be found wanting if they could not be doing this. To begin with, it is obvious that their procedure in dealing with teenagers is defective and it is incumbent upon them to revise thoroughly their current procedure to do away with the unpalatable aspects such as the massive use of police manpower and the interrogation of minors without their parents or guardian being present. There should be the application of more common sense in implementing the procedure. They should always bear in mind that minors are a vulnerable class and should be treated compassionately and decently.

If we can henceforth see significant improvement in the police procedure in dealing with minors, the tragic death of Benjamin Lim will not be in vain. But then it is very sad that his parents will have to live with the pain of his premature death for the rest of their lives.

Republished from Singapore Recalcitrant, a blog of Mr Yoong Siew Wah, a former director of the Internal Security Department in the 1970s.