MHA proposes higher penalties for evading road blocks, expanding scope of forced entry by police

MHA proposes higher penalties for evading road blocks, expanding scope of forced entry by police

traffic police stop
The Traffic Police conduct checks during an anti-drink driving islandwide operation on Jan 4, 2019. (File photo: SPF)

SINGAPORE: The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has proposed increasing penalties for evading road blocks and criminalising the breach of police cordons under proposed amendments to the Police Force Act.

The amendment Bill, introduced in Parliament on Monday (Jul 5), also seeks to empower police officers to make forced entry in more situations, and more clearly protect officers from liability when carrying out lawful duties.

Under the changes, some police officers will face stiffer fines for committing disciplinary offences, while operationally ready police national servicemen (PNSmen) will not be able to claim loss of salary when recalled for disciplinary proceedings.

The proposed amendments are aimed at improving the police's operational capabilities and disciplinary processes, MHA said in a news release on Monday.

"The amendments will enable the Singapore Police Force to continue to keep Singapore safe and secure in an increasingly complex operating environment," MHA said.

INCREASED PENALTIES FOR EVADING ROAD BLOCKS

For the offence of evading police road blocks, MHA is proposing a maximum jail term of seven years and/or fine of S$10,000, up from a maximum jail term of 12 months and/or fine of S$5,000.

The new penalties take reference from the offence of voluntarily causing hurt to deter a public servant from his duties, which carries a similar level of harm and intent.

For instance, police have encountered motorists who evaded road blocks and endangered the lives of officers and other road users in the ensuing car chase.

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Police will use discretion when recommending charges for these types of offences, based on how much the offender is at fault and the physical elements involved.

The highest penalties will only apply to the most serious cases, like when a motorist intentionally drives through a road block and causes grievous hurt to a police officer.

MHA will also expand the definition of evading a road block to include methods like alighting and escaping, making a U-turn or reversing before the road block. Currently, the offence only provides for motorists who drive through the road block without stopping.

CRIMINALISING BREACH OF POLICE CORDONS

MHA will make it an offence for people to cross barriers and cordons set up by the police to control human traffic.

Those who do so could be jailed up to three months and/or fined up to S$2,500, taking reference from the offence of obstruction of a public servant in the discharge of public functions.

MHA will also formally set out in law the police's power to set up cordons and barriers to control human traffic, including preventing entry to crime scenes or secure areas. The law already empowers officers to do the same to control vehicular traffic.

MAKING FORCED ENTRY IN MORE SITUATIONS

MHA will empower police officers to make forced entry to protect persons from injury or death, including if they reasonably suspect a person has been injured.

Currently, forced entry is restricted to specific circumstances like executing a search warrant, investigating an arrestable offence or making an arrest.

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With the proposed changes, police officers can, for instance, forcibly enter a home if they hear someone calling for help from inside, even though the person cannot be seen.

They can also make forced entry before the arrival of responders from the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF), which already has similar powers.

GIVING SIMILAR POWERS TO POLICE NSFs AND NSmen

MHA will empower police full-time national servicemen (PNSF) and PNSmen to carry out policing duties when there are no suspected offences. This includes dispersing crowds and preventing an offence from being committed.

Those who volunteer with the police under the Volunteer Special Constabulary and former PNSmen volunteers will also be granted the same powers.

Currently, these officers have the same duties and responsibilities as regular police officers, but are limited to the powers of investigation, creating an operational gap.

To ensure sufficient safeguards, these officers will be trained before being allowed to exercise the new powers. Officers deemed unsuitable will be prevented from exercising these powers and those who misuse them will be subjected to strict disciplinary action.

READ: SCDF officers get more legal protection for rescue operations

Commercial Affairs Officers, who investigate complaints of serious commercial and financial crimes, will also be given more powers, including arresting suspected offenders, entering a place to investigate an arrestable offence, and requiring suspects to attend court.

Currently, these officers are only empowered to investigate and must rely on other police officers to carry out the other actions. Similar safeguards will apply to the use of the new powers.

PROTECTING OFFICERS FROM LEGAL LIABILITY

MHA will more clearly protect officers from legal liability when carrying out lawful duties in good faith and with reasonable care by formally stating this protection in law.

These duties include taking drastic actions to save lives and property, like breaking down a door to check if someone is physically abusing a family member.

Currently, officers can rely on the common law defence of necessity when carrying out these duties, but MHA intends to formally set it out to let officers operate with greater assurance.

STIFFER FINES FOR DISCIPLINARY OFFENCES

For regular police officers who commit disciplinary offences, MHA will make the fines more consistent. Specifically, officers below the rank of inspector will face the same fines as inspectors and assistant superintendents.

These officers can be fined an equivalent of up to two years' increment of their salary. Previously, officers below the rank of inspector could be fined a maximum of S$200.

For exceptionally serious cases like misconduct or convictions, these officers can be disciplined under a different scheme with no maximum fine. Officers above the rank of assistant superintendent are immediately subjected to this scheme.

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MHA will also make the fines for Volunteer Special Constabulary officers consistent with those for PNSFs, PNSmen and former PNSmen volunteers.

The aligned maximum fines range from S$1,500 to S$10,000 depending on rank, up from S$200 to S$400 for Volunteer Special Constabulary officers previously.

For PNSmen who are recalled to report for disciplinary proceedings due to their own wrongdoings, MHA will amend the law to prevent them from claiming a loss of civilian remuneration.

This includes disciplinary proceedings for failing to turn up for the individual physical proficiency test without a valid reason. Currently, PNSmen can claim a loss of salary when attending proceedings for these scenarios.

Similar provisions for SCDF and Singapore Armed Forces NSmen exist in the Civil Defence Act and Singapore Armed Forces Act.

"Singapore Police Force officers are expected to uphold the highest standards of integrity and professionalism," MHA said.

The second reading of the Police Force (Amendment) Bill is in August.

Source: CNA/hz(ac)

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