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SPF explores avenues to prevent suicides among offenders after 20-year-old died before court charging

SPF explores avenues to prevent suicides among offenders after 20-year-old died before court charging

File photo of the State Courts in Singapore. (Photo: Calvin Oh)

SINGAPORE: The Singapore Police Force (SPF) is exploring additional avenues to help offenders at risk of suicide, according to the findings of a coroner's inquiry released this week, after a 20-year-old man was found at the bottom of a block opposite the State Courts on the day of his formal charging.

Such avenues include providing suicide prevention and intervention brochures and posters at police divisions, and including information that may help an offender, such as what to expect when he goes to court.

The coroner's findings detailed how the deceased was investigated for offences including cheating, forgery and impersonating a public servant. It was his first brush with the law.

He reported at Clementi Police Division on the morning of Mar 10 this year with his stepsister and was served five charges, before being told to attend court the next day.

On Mar 11, the man went to the State Courts and took his seat in the charge courts. His stepsister, who was also present, was directed to the public gallery a floor up.

A short while later, the man approached the security officer and said he was stepping out to use the washroom.

Instead, he went to a block opposite the State Courts building. Police camera footage showed he took the lift and stairs up Block 51, Chin Swee Road.

He borrowed a stranger's mobile phone to call another sister and told her: "Take care mummy. Bye bye."

His sister was alarmed and told him to return to his stepsister in the court, but the call ended abruptly.

At about 11am, a worker at a shop located at the block heard a loud sound and found the deceased's body on the pavement.

He had a faint pulse when the paramedics and police arrived to take him to the hospital, but died less than two hours later.

Investigations revealed that the deceased had learning difficulties as a child, feared going to school and was bullied by his classmates.

He was diagnosed with learning disability, and his IQ was in the extremely low range.

POLICE STATION

During the coroner's inquiry, the deceased's stepsister testified that he had looked disappointed and kept looking at the floor after emerging from the interview room at the police station on Mar 10.

When they got home, the deceased cried and talked about the possibility of going to prison. He apologised for causing trouble, and his family consoled him and said they would support him.

His stepsister said he appeared to be avoiding going to court. She also testified that she "rushed down" to look for him when she saw him stand up to leave the courtroom on Mar 11. She "panicked" when she could not find him, and was later told of his demise.

TESTIMONY BY THE INVESTIGATION OFFICER

The investigation officer assigned to the case testified that the entire interview process with the deceased took about 40 minutes.

Assistant Superintendent of Police Koh Soon Long said that he would have notified the man's bailor, who was his stepsister, if he had displayed any sign of distress or indication that he posed a danger to himself or others.

IO Koh elaborated that the police have established procedures to manage people who are identified as suicidal or at risk of self-harm.

An "appropriate adult" would be activated to assist with the interview if the person was assessed to have a mental disability or mental health issue.

IO Koh said he was trained to handle suicidal subjects, and had also attended courses on basic victim care skills at the Home Team School of Criminal Investigation.

Testifying on behalf of the SPF, Deputy Superintendent of Police Zulkarnain Sameian said those who are assessed to be at immediate risk of self-harm may be referred to the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) for immediate psychiatric treatment.

The police may also make a referral to IMH for outpatient treatment, before handing the person to their relative or caregiver.

DSP Zulkarnain explained that all regular police officers and police full-time national service officers posted as ground response force officers are trained to handle suicidal subjects.

IOs are also equipped with basic victim care skills, and on interview techniques to ensure fair and objective interviews without any pre-conceived notion of guilt or innocence.

When handling young offenders - those aged 18 and below - the police adopt additional measures to conduct interviews discreetly, DSP Zulkarnain said.

SPF TO EXPLORE ADDITIONAL AVENUES TO HELP AT-RISK OFFENDERS

DSP Zulkarnain said SPF recognises "the importance of providing
appropriate support to offenders and have put in place various measures to refer offenders who require support and intervention to professionals for help". These measures are continuously reviewed and updated, he said.

After the deceased's suicide, SPF began exploring additional avenues to provide assistance to offenders at risk, he said.

For example, brochures and posters on suicide prevention and intervention, with helplines and support services, will be made available at police divisions.

"SPF will also consider including other information which may be helpful to the offender, such as what to expect when he goes to court and access to legal aid," said DSP Zulkarnain.

"All of these resources will collectively help the offender mentally prepare himself for his court case. SPF is committed to preventing a similar incident from happening again."

Where to get help:

Samaritans of Singapore's hotline: 1800 221 4444

Institute of Mental Health's helpline: 6389 2222

Singapore Association for Mental Health's helpline: 1800 283 7019

You can also find a list of international helplines here. If someone you know is at immediate risk, call 24-hour emergency medical services.

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MORE THAN HALF OF SUICIDES OCCUR ON IMPULSE, WITHIN 24 HOURS: SOS

The head of core services at Samaritans of Singapore Ms Charlene Heng testified that there are three typical ways a person in distress transmits messages: Verbal, non-verbal and the tone in which they transmit the message.

There appeared to be none of these from the deceased, she said. She said more than half of suicides happen on impulse, with the act itself typically taking place within 24 hours from the time the person thinks of doing so.

About 10 to 20 per cent of cases take place within hours of the thought, she said, adding that there are limits to what can be done unless the individual chances upon resources or helplines or decides for himself to reach out.

Touching on court hearings, she said that it can be a "nerve-wracking experience" for offenders attending court for the first time. She suggested one way to normalise feelings of anxiety was for the IO to close off the session by saying it is natural to be anxious about court hearings, and to provide resources and helplines.

Coroner Kamala Ponnampalam ruled the man's death a deliberate act of suicide. She said it was clear he intended to end his life, which was likely triggered by his criminal case.

She conveyed her condolences to his family for their loss.

Source: CNA/ll

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