Routine check by police officers of an migrant worker at Chinatown (Photo - Terry Xu)

The police are not just enforcers but public servants too

The Singapore Police Force (SPF) seem to be on a public relations drive to present a heroic image. From the recent recruitment drive posters to the awards it is handing out to heroic policemen are but a few examples of this. While I am all for recognising those who have done a good job, the SPF has also got to address its errors in order to build up public confidence.

The SPF has suffered a few knocks to its reputation in the last few years. From the gaffes made at Little India Riots to the tragic death of teenager Benjamin Lim after allegations of an overly intense police interrogation, it is no wonder that the SPF are keen to project the image of upright hero to rehabilitate its image.

However, to what extent has the police addressed the wrongs that it has perpetuated in any of these incidences? While a Commission of Inquiry (COI) was held after the Little India incident, have there been systemic changes within the police force and its standard operating procedures or any of its training methodologies for police officers? While a few hapless foreigners have been charged for participating in the riot and alcohol banned in the vicinity, what measures have been taken to get to the root of the problem? Have the police attempted to build greater rapport within the community to build trust and grassroots respect which will in turn gain them the authority they seem to be hankering? I have not read a single report detailing how the police are attempting to build a relationship with the people they are tasked with protecting. In trying to project an authoritative demeanor, the police have failed to understand that authority stamps not just from fear but also from respect and trust. If the public do not feel comfortable talking to you, there will never be effective policing.

The police are ultimately public servants, here to maintain and uphold the law for the benefit of society. While part of the image is as enforcer, a key component is also as public servant. This second part seems to have been completely ignored by the police.

Its posters and awards all highlight how the police have subjugated the “baddies”. While that is important, equally important is its ability to build trust and rapport with society – this part has been completely left out.

Have the officers in the Benjamin Lim case been reprimanded and/or punished? If so, to what extent? Have the police force reformulated its policy on dealing with minors? Have their officers received adequate training in handling minors? Are there police officers who specialise in talking to children and minors? Clearly, the Lim family do not feel that they have received adequate support or answers from the police force and that is ultimately a big failing on the part of the police.

I have nothing against the brave policemen who have been recognised for their good work. They deserve it. But from a holistic police force standpoint, the SPF has to take ownership of its mistakes in order to be considered heroic. The posters and awards are only half the picture of an effective force.

Without facing up to its mistakes openly, it can never be more than a paper hero.

Editor’s note – Speaking with a former ASP from SPF, one thing she does not agree with the police force is that the police officers are taught at the police academy to think of themselves as a class above the common citizens. Of course, SPF is more than welcome to dispute this point because if it is taught in school, yet publicly it is saying no, tells a lot to the cadets what the system is about.

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