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Giving “senior approved persons” powers to conduct frisk searches of public transport passengers raises concerns: WP MP Sylvia Lim

The Workers’ Party (WP) Member of Parliament (MP) for Aljunied GRC Sylvia Lim on Tuesday (11 May) expressed concern about allowing “senior approved persons” to conduct frisk searches of bus and train commuters, considering that they may not have “the requisite training” to be given such powers.

She was speaking during the debate on amendments to the Road Traffic Act that allows police officers and other “senior approved persons” to conduct “frisk search” – which defined in the Bill as “a search of an individual by quickly running the hands over the individual’s outer clothing”.

Senior approved persons include auxiliary police officers, security officers engaged by bus or rail operators, and outsourced enforcement officers appointed by the Land Transport Authority (LTA).

Ms Lim pointed out that the term “senior approved persons” may be “a misnomer” as it is unclear whether there is any requirement of seniority in the categories mentioned.

“This sensible demarcation is a recognition that a bodily search is an intimate security check which should only be performed by highly-trained persons. This Bill today marks a departure from that approach.

“Concerns naturally arise. Are auxiliary police, security officers and the outsourced enforcement officers suitable to perform frisk searches? Do they have the requisite training, not only on how to perform the physical act, but also to handle any confrontations that may arise?

“Another concern would be about searches on female commuters – where are the precautions on how searches on women should be conducted, in order to have strict regard to decency?” she asked.

The Bill also states that refusing to comply with requests or orders of a police officer or an approved person without a reasonable excuse is an offence that carries a fine of up to S$1,000.

It also states that a police officer in plainclothes or an approved person must declare his office to the person before he or she is required to comply, and that the only category of officers who are required to produce identification cards to the public are outsourced enforcement officers.

But Ms Lim stressed that officers should instead be easily identifiable, as commuters would have to comply with requests and orders.

“May I ask why it is not provided that all police officers and approved persons must show their warrant cards or identification cards if asked by the public? This Bill seems to be a lowering of standards set by the RTA itself, as Section 128 of the RTA currently requires police officers not in uniform to produce the identification card to the public when asked.

“In my opinion, requiring plainclothes officers to merely declare their office is not sufficient, and cases of impersonation of police officers happen all the time. I am concerned about what these provisions mean for safeguards for the commuter,” she explained.

Ms Lim also urged the Government to step up detection and enforcement efforts on illegal racing, as thrill-seekers will still try their luck unless there is a greater certainty of being caught, even though the penalties for illegal racing are increased.

“Earlier the Minister of State mentioned that there are 300 cameras nationwide to detect such offences. To this end, could the Ministry confirm if law enforcement is stepping up further its capacity and operations to increase the likelihood of detecting illegal racing on our roads?” she asked.

The Bill also proposes to change the law regarding the offence of giving false information to police about the identity of the driver who committed an offence, and increases the penalties to a maximum fine of S$10,000.

Ms Lim highlighted that the maximum fine had previously been raised from S$1,000 to S$5,000 in just four years, and now it has been doubled.

To this, she asked: “Could the Ministry clarify why there is a need to do so, in particular is there any indication that drivers are not deterred by the current levels of fines?”

Senior Minister of State Amy Khor’s response to Sylvia Lim

In response to Ms Lim, Senior Minister of State for Transport Amy Khor noted that frisk searches of bus and trains commuters will be conducted only in areas with video surveillance, and that only authorized female officers are allowed to conduct searches on female passengers.

Dr Khor said authorised officers carrying out security searches would have to undergo proper training and must complete the necessary Security Workforce Skills Qualifications (WSQ) courses, approved by the Singapore Police Force, before their deployment.

“In their training, the authorised officers are taught how to spot anyone displaying suspicious behaviour, without bias against any race or religion. Upon completion of the training and certification, only can they be considered as ‘Senior Approved Persons’,” she explained.

All authorized officers conducting frisk searches have to be in uniform, whilst police officers who are not in uniform will also have to identify themselves, said Dr Khor.

“Our authorised officers have a duty, responsibility and obligation to ensure that they do this in accordance to protocols,” she added.


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