ICA may take over security at checkpoints

A MAJOR review of checkpoint operations is likely to result in the immigration authority taking charge of not just passport matters but the overall security and integrity of these premises as well, The Straits Times has learnt.

Currently, border duties are typically split between the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) and police, with two separate teams reporting to two different bosses. This can result in poor coordination and communication which has led to security breaches, said security experts.

In a major lapse in January, which sparked the ongoing review, a Malaysian woman drove through Woodlands Checkpoint without being checked, by tailgating a car.

Due to poor response and misjudgment by both ICA and police officers, as well as a lack of coordination between the two authorities, she managed to get away and was arrested only three days later.

In March, a second checkpoint breach was reported.

The plan for ICA to be the overall authority in charge of border operations, with police support, should minimise the risk of such breaches, security experts say.

This is also timely, given existing global security threats, they add.

The Straits Times understands that the operational changes will take effect some time next year and may be introduced progressively, starting with the Woodlands and Tuas land borders.

When asked if it was the plan for ICA to take on a bigger role at the checkpoints, a spokesman for the Ministry of Home Affairs would not confirm this but said that the various Home Team agencies work together at the land, air and sea checkpoints to maintain security and carry out the necessary checks on incoming and outgoing persons, vehicles and goods.

The spokesman added: "The Home Team is finalising its plans on how to strengthen the coordination within the Home Team and with other agencies at the checkpoints.

More details will be provided at the appropriate time."

At Changi Airport, the Airport Police division could end up being effectively split into two, with one group ensuring the airport remains crime-free and the other working with ICA, under a single commander, to oversee other aspects of airport security.

This would include passenger screening and ramp security, for example, which means ensuring that only authorised people are allowed to be on the tarmac and in other restricted areas.

Said an airport insider who asked not to be named: "On a day-to-day basis, we do not expect major changes on the ground or an overhaul of the current security procedures or processes.

"But in the long term, it makes complete sense for a single authority, instead of two groups which may have different priorities and focus, to oversee all aspects of airport security."


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