Enough reserves to react to situations

Officers from the Singapore Police Force arriving at Biopolis, One-North to combat a simulated terrorist attack held as part of Exercise Heartbeat

The Home Team has enough reserve forces to handle emergencies, and will adapt its deployment posture accordingly for operational needs, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean said on Thursday.

This way of structuring the force has also allowed for a "tiered response", he added after MPs raised questions about the Home Team's ability to handle such situations in the light of the Little India riot.

Mr Teo said: "You may not get an optimal 100 per cent response which comes from a dedicated high alert force that is ready to do it all the time, but you could get a very good response."

Mr Teo, who is also Home Affairs Minister, noted that it was not possible to predict "to the last detail" what could happen, nor was it viable to keep separate, dedicated squads from the Home Team on high alert all the time.

But the unit had organised its forces so that sufficient back-up was on hand to help it adapt and respond to whatever situation arose, he added.

Different situations - whether a street parade, an international sporting event or a civil disaster - required different deployments, depending on the level of the security threat, said Mr Teo.

All Home Team officers are trained to handle all kinds of situations, such as riot control and other public order and security threats, on top of their core work.

The minister noted that the ongoing Committee of Inquiry into the Little India riot was examining "how the response forces managed" the Dec 8 incident.

Mr Teo said officers' testimonies at the inquiry showed they had to take into consideration many factors during the "fluid and fast-moving incident", adding that this is what should be done before arriving at any decisions.

The Home Affairs Ministry and the police and civil defence forces will study the committee's recommendations as part of a review of public order management and response capabilities, he added.

Several MPs, including Ms Sylvia Lim (Aljunied GRC) and Mr Hri Kumar Nair (Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC), also asked about the use and training of auxiliary police officers. These officers featured in recent high-profile incidents involving the Home Team, such as the riot and a security breach at the Woodlands Checkpoint in January.

Second Minister for Home Affairs S. Iswaran said auxiliary officers received basic training and specialised training in their specific tasks.

All of them are required to pass a basic course.

As the Home Team's operational needs had grown over the years, the auxiliary officers were needed to complement and support the force, said Mr Iswaran.

Although more Home Team officers have been hired - manpower has risen from about 19,000 to 24,000 over the past decade - there were limits to how much it can grow without compromising standards, he added.

Mr Iswaran explained that auxiliary officers are used only in very specific areas such as facilities protection, inmate escort and provision of emergency ambulance services.

"This allows Home Team officers to focus on duties and situations requiring more specialised skills or a higher level of judgment and decision," he said.

This echoed a point made by Mr Teo earlier, that the authorities had to be realistic.

He said: "Can we continue to recruit good men and women of high quality to train them to do all the general purpose work that is required... and then we deploy them to do very simple mundane duties?"


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