Checkpoint breach a 'serious error of judgment'

SINGAPORE - A "SERIOUS error of judgment" allowed a Malaysian woman to breach the Woodlands Checkpoint last month and elude the authorities for three days before she was caught, said Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean in Parliament yesterday.

But he put the breach into perspective by pointing out that 50 million vehicles pass through the checkpoint each year, and the woman was one of only two persons who evaded checks in the past three years - or one in "every 75 million vehicles".

The other case involved a car that crashed into a barrier, and the driver was caught within two hours.

Police and Immigration & Checkpoints Authority (ICA) ground commanders had erred by "deciding to treat the intrusion as a less serious immigration offence instead of a serious breach of border security", he said.

They have since been redeployed to non-operational posts pending disciplinary action.

The officers did not follow protocols that are in place for such incidents, Mr Teo added.

The classification meant that an alert, which would have directed patrol cars to mount road blocks immediately, was not triggered.

He said that when the female driver tailgated a car and slipped past, an immigration officer consulted another officer and hesitated.

"If the ICA officer had sounded the alarm faster than the 21/2 minutes she took, it would have triggered a lockdown, which would have stopped the car from leaving the checkpoint," he said.

The second auxiliary police officer tasked with conducting checks and counting vehicle passengers also did not sound the alarm, he added.

The woman was also not pursued by the police at the Police Cantonment Complex after a taxi driver made a 999 call about being tailed.

She was eventually caught three days later at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, after tailgating another car there.

The woman, Nurul Ruhana Ishak, 28, has since been charged with criminal trespass.

While calling the incident and the time lapse in arresting the offender "unacceptable", Mr Teo noted that about 300,000 people and 130,000 vehicles pass through the checkpoint each day.

In response to the incident, the police and ICA will be conducting more frequent drills and joint exercises at the land checkpoints, he said.

ICA will continue to use advanced technology, such as automated clearance and biometric identification of motorbikes, and improve infrastructure design, so as to rely less on officers' reactions.

When asked by Punggol East MP Lee Li Lian on whether manpower is sufficient at the checkpoint, Mr Teo presented numbers.

He said staff at the checkpoint have been increased by 58 per cent since 2008, more than the 36 per cent increase in vehicles and 26 per cent increase in travellers.

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