SINGAPORE: A new initiative called the Home Team Community Assistance and Referral Scheme (HT CARES) will be introduced to police investigations, Minister for Home Affairs K Shanmugam announced on Friday (Mar 2) in Parliament.
“When our officers deal with individuals who have committed offences, they become aware of the other problems and the complex circumstances surrounding them. Some … have medical issues too. Some are struggling to make ends meet. Others have problems with the family,” he explained.
“We will have CARES officers stationed at every Police Division. Investigators will deal with the ‘crime-solving’, the CARES officers will assess whether social interventions are needed to address underlying issues ... in the form of counselling, mental health assistance, financial assistance.”
The CARES officers - contracted staff from a Voluntary Welfare Organisation (VWO) - will then refer the offenders to a suitable agency for help, and continue to follow up.
“We are studying this in detail with MSF (Ministry of Social and Family Development), and we will try to pilot this at a Police Division this year,” said Mr Shanmugam.
ON THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM
The Law and Home Affairs Minister also provided updates on other impending shifts in Singapore’s criminal justice system.
The Penal Code is due to be amended this year, with a two-year review to be completed “in a few months’ time” after which the public will be invited to give feedback.
“A significant focus of the Penal Code Review would be enhancing protections for vulnerable persons - children; people with mental disabilities; domestic workers,” said Mr Shanmugam. “Our punishments ... are generally stiff. We will nevertheless review the punishments, and what is the level of proof that is needed.”
He also said the Vulnerable Adults Bill will be tabled in Parliament soon. The controversial issue of marital rape is also under review.
“Let's be clear. Violence against women is wrong. No ifs, and no buts on that,” Mr Shanmugam declared. “Removal of immunity for marital rape is being studied.”
Elsewhere the Appropriate Adults scheme - where independent volunteers are trained to provide emotional support to interviewees - for young suspects will be rolled out in April to more Police and Central Narcotics Bureau units, and will include Customs and Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau.
The Reformative Training regime for young offenders is also set to be further enhanced.
“One of these changes is to reduce the minimum detention period from the current 18 months to either six or 12 months. This is in line with the more targeted approach we want to take, because different individuals may require different intensities of intervention and different lengths of rehabilitation,” said Mr Shanmugam, who added he will elaborate on the regime during the second reading of the Criminal Procedure Code amendment bill later in March.
PREVENTING RELIGIOUS EXTREMISM
Mr Shanmugam also reemphasised the importance of preventing segregationist teachings from taking root in Singapore.
“Even a small number of persons propagating radical, segregationist beliefs can be dangerous,” he said. “We work closely with community groups, religious organisations to try and better inoculate our community from such influences.”
“For example, the Religious Rehabilitation Group has produced online videos to explain why ISIS’s ideology goes against Islamic teachings.”
Mr Shanmugam also reiterated how foreign preachers - across all religions - who are known to have advocated violence, or spread ill-will towards other religions whether in Singapore or elsewhere, will not be allowed to speak here.
He pointed to the banning of two two foreign Christian preachers in September 2017 and two foreign Muslim preachers in October.
“Some have said that the government over-reacted; what is wrong with Ismail Menk saying that wishing non-Muslims 'Merry Christmas' or 'Happy Deepavali' is the biggest sin and crime that a Muslim can commit?” he commented. “Our decisions are carefully considered.”
Singapore is also not immune to Islamophobia, Mr Shanmugam admitted. “There have been a few incidents ... we need to keep close watch on this. We must not allow the threat of terrorism on the other side to breed fear, suspicion and distrust of each other.”
“Our community leaders have done much to foster respect and understanding between communities. The Inter Racial and Religious Confidence Circle (IRCCs) is one example. The Inter Religious Organisation (IRO) is another.”
He praised local religious leaders for leading by example, mentioning Mufti of Singapore Dr Mohamed Fatris Bakaram, Anglican Bishop Rennis Ponniah and late President of the Singapore Buddhist Lodge Lee Bock Guan.
“It is the respect of different faiths, the willingness to share in each other’s lives, that nurtures a harmonious common living space,” he concluded.