More cultural sensitivity training for Home Team

More cultural sensitivity training for Home Team

The police will review and tailor the training and equipping of their frontline officers at a level appropriate for first responders and their mission, said Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean.

This includes, among others, plans to improve their capabilities in handling large-scale public order incidents and introduce cultural sensitivity training.

DPM Teo, who is also Home Affairs Minister, told Parliament this yesterday, as he laid out his ministry's response to recommendations by the Committee of Inquiry (COI) into the Dec 8 riot.

This point was picked up by opposition MP Sylvia Lim from the Workers' Party, who posed questions about the COI report.

Ms Lim, who is MP for Aljunied GRC, asked if the Government "should allow more peaceful protests" in Singapore so that the police can "test their policing capabilities" in dealing with public order incidents, typically dealt with by the police Special Operations Command (SOC).

DPM Teo, looking amused, replied: "You don't really need to deliberately allow protests to take place in order to give the SOC practice. Typical football matches and other events like that already provide the SOC with quite a lot of activity... I don't think many Singaporeans will want to see more chaos, demonstrations on the streets disrupting their lives."

Of all the MPs who rose to question the Government's response to the report, which was set out in two ministerial statements, Ms Lim had the most queries.

In one of her six questions, she noted that the COI report had highlighted "a misperception by the crowd that they were being discriminated against by the (first) responders".

She asked DPM Teo if it was "important for us to look at the way we do our law enforcement on our foreign workers".

"There may be an impression created that there's a certain stereotyping, for example, by the police in their actions," she said.

In his reply, DPM Teo said the issue of improving interaction between the authorities and foreigners "is an important and valid consideration", which was also addressed in the COI report.

The committee noted that some witnesses had cited instances when they felt a "lack of sensitivity" on the part of the officers dealing with foreign workers.

The COI had recommended basic training for service providers and law enforcement officers in cultural sensitivity, including basic language skills and an appreciation for the role played by foreign workers, to create a "friendlier environment" for foreign workers.

Echoing these recommendations yesterday, DPM Teo said the Government "will provide more cultural background orientation for officers, including auxiliary police officers (APO) who have to deal with and interact with people from different cultural backgrounds on a regular basis".

Mr Pritam Singh, also an MP for Aljunied GRC, asked DPM Teo if the police would be "amending the training programme for officers who patrol areas frequented by foreign workers".

The minister said yes, but added that such training "will have to be tuned for each different group" of foreigners, and include elements such as cultural attitudes and language training.

He said it was also important to have "culturalisation training for foreign workers who come to Singapore so that they also understand our social norms".

In her questions, Ms Lim also touched on the potential complications of patrol boundaries, specifically the two that run through Little India - the Tanglin and Central police divisions - and if a single division for "such hot spots" would be better.

DPM Teo replied that boundary issues "did not seem to figure very prominently" in the riot response, as both division commanders were able to coordinate and call in forces from the two camps.

The Ministry of Home Affairs, responding to queries from The Straits Times yesterday, said APOs and security officers deployed for foreign worker management duties are already trained to deal with the common scenarios that they may encounter in the course of their work, such as public nuisance and drunkenness.

"The police will look at how this training can be further improved and augmented with experiences from the ground to benefit the officers, especially those who are newly deployed," said a spokesman yesterday.

This article was first published on July 08, 2014.
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