The police are already “very stretched” said Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam during his ministerial statement in Parliament on 4 November.
He was delivering a statement regarding the case of Indonesian national Parti Liyani who was acquitted on four theft of charges in September for which she was originally convicted and sentenced two years ago. Her former employer, ex-Changi Airport Group Chariman Liew Mum Leong and family accused Parti of stealing about S$50,000 worth of items.
Public and political discourse regarding the case eventually led to Workers’ Party (WP) MP Sylvia Lim putting forth a motion on Singapore’s criminal justice system which called for, amongst other things, a review of the system to ensure fairness and justice for all.
The High Court judge, Justice Chan Seng Onn, made several observations which led to his decision to acquit Parti, including about how the investigated was conducted by the police. Issues raised include the absence of a Bahasa Indonesia interpreter in four instances whereby the investigating officers (IO) took statements from Parti, and a five week delay between the police report being filed and the police looking at the allegedly stolen items.
In his speech, Mr Shanmugam said he was told by the police that the IO involved that was dealing with several other ongoing prosecutions, arrest operations as well as a very personal matter.
“He seems to have been under a lot of pressure,” Mr Shanmugam added. “He was in a predicament. It is a situation many Home Team officers find themselves in. It is a reality of what our officers go through.”
However, we indicated in a previous report that the police didn’t know that the items were actually still at the Liew’s house until after they arrested Parti when she came back to Singapore in December 2016.
Now, when MP Louis Ng asked during the debate of the motion if foreign domestic workers and other work permit holders can be accompanied by non-legal personnel, similar to the Appropriate Adults scheme, for police interviews.
Mr Shanmugan replied: “I have earlier said the Police are already very stretched, let’s not stretch them further. It will be a very difficult exercise.”
Speaking on the workload of the Singapore Police Force (SPF), Mr Shanmugam went on to cite statistics showing that there are currently 13,200 police officers, including National Servicemen, in the SPF for a population of approximately 5.69 million.
The Minister went on to compare the ratio of police officers to population in other cities.
“New York at 0.42 per cent, London at 0.34 per cent, Hong Kong at 0.39 per cent, Singapore at 0.23 per cent including full-time National Servicemen,” he cited.
“If we were to have the same numbers as Hong Kong, we will have to have 9,000 more officers. If we were to have the same numbers as London, we’ll need 6,000 more officers. If we were to have the same numbers as New York, we’ll need 11,000 more officers”
“My concern is that there is a limit to how much our officers can do, with increasing workload and increasing expectations, but without a proportionate increase in manpower,” he added.
Slight drop of population to police ratio since Little India Riot 2013
Now, as Mr Shanmugam eluded to, this issue is not new. In fact, the Commissioner of Police in 2014, Ng Joo Hee, said the same thing during his testimony at a Committee of Inquiry (COI) hearing which was looking into the Little India Riot in December 2013.
Commissioner Ng said he needed more manpower, another 1,000 officers, so that the police can “acquire a much needed strategic depth” and better police hotspots around the country.
At the time, there were a total of 12,472 officers—regular officers and police national servicemen—for a population of 5.4 million. That’s about 423 civilians for every officer, or 0.230 percent. The Commissioner described the figure as being “way below international benchmarks”.
“The truth is that the Singapore Police Force has not grown significantly in size, while Singapore’s population has grown by two million in the space of two decades,” Commissioner Ng said.
Comparing the numbers from 2014 to the 2020 figures quoted by Mr Shanmugan in his recent ministerial speech, the Law Minister said Singapore’s current police to population ratio is 0.23 percent.
However, if we look at the absolute numbers, in 2014 it was 423 people per office while in 2020 it is 443 people per officer. In terms of percentage, the 0.23 percent quoted by Mr Shanmugan was rounded up to two decimal points from 0.227 percent, meaning there was a slight drop of 0.003 percent from 2014.
This is still way below international benchmarks.
Sylvia Lim has consistently raised similar concerns
In her maiden parliamentary speech in 2006 as a Non-constituency Member of Parliament (NCMP), Ms Lim raised concerns about the demands on the Singapore Police Force from “a more crowded Singapore.” She was speaking on the government’s immigration and population plans then.
“[The] prospect of a more crowded Singapore should be carefully planned,” she told the House. “Every new person fights for resources, takes up space and disposes of waste. The demands on healthcare services, public transport and the police will increase.”
Eight year later following the COI on the Little India riots, Ms Lim once again raised her concerns on the shortage of police manpower and resources in Parliament. This time, however, her speech was focused on the concern “about many Home Team uniformed services turning to outsourcing as a response to increasing demand for services and manpower shortages.”
Since then, Ms Lim has consistently flagged this police manpower issue in Parliament.
So the question is, if the government cannot manage the ratio of law enforcement officers to population, why is it still pushing to increase the number of residents in Singapore with a target of over 20,000 new citizens and 30,000 new PRs each year? Isn’t that just going to further overburden the already “very stretched” police force? Will the ministry point to manpower issues as an excuse whenever a lapse occurs?
Or does the government have a plan on how to increase the number of police officers as the population continues to grow?