Bill offers protection for police officers from legal liability, when actions are carried out in good faith & with reasonable care

However, officers may still face disciplinary action or be charged with criminal offences if found to have acted inappropriately.

Jane Zhang | July 05, 2021, 05:23 PM

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On Monday (Jul. 5), the Police Force (Amendment) Bill was introduced for its First Reading in Parliament by Minister of State for Home Affairs Desmond Tan.

One of the bill's goals is to "enhance the Singapore Police Force's operational capabilities and readiness".

Some of the proposed amendments include equipping police officers with some powers that they do not currently have, and codifying protections from legal liability when actions are carried out "in good faith and with reasonable care".

Ability to make forced entry to protect people from injury or death

Currently, police officers' powers to make forced entry are restricted to very specific circumstances, such as to execute a search warrant, investigate an arrestable offence, or make an arrest.

However, police officers are unable to make forced entry to protect people from injury or death, if they were to arrive at the scene before the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF).

Under the Civil Defence Act, SCDF officers are able to make forced entry to protect the life, health, or safety of individuals.

Under the bill, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) will create a new provision that empowers police officers to make forced entry to protect people from injury or death in the case of a medical emergency.

This including reasonably suspected cases of injury, such as if an officer heard calls of distress from a person who fell in their room, but who is out of sight.

Protect officers from legal liability when actions carried out in good faith and with reasonable care

MHA said that its officers sometimes have to take drastic actions in time-critical and dangerous situations, in order to save lives and property. For example, an officer may need to break down the door of an HDB flat if a person is physically abusing their family member.

Currently, officers can rely on the defence of necessity under common law. The proposed amendment will codify the protection, so that officers can "carry out their lawful duties with greater assurance".

The officers protected by this amendment include police officers, Special Police Officers, Commercial Affairs Officers, intelligence officers, and forensic specialists.

They will be protected from liability for acts and omissions done in "good faith and with responsible care" under the Police Force Act, or under any written law, MHA said in a press release on Jul. 5.

Nevertheless, if officers are found to have acted inappropriately, they may be taken to task and face disciplinary actions or be charged for criminal offences.

Commissioner of Police can retain police officers in times of crises

Also under the bill, MHA will provide the Commissioner of Police with the levers to retain police officers in times of crises, such as a terrorist attack.

This is because in order to overcome a crises, the police may require more officers to continue their service.

Currently, the Police Force Act allows the police to retain Special Police Officers and require them to perform police duties. However, this power does not extend to retaining regular police officers.

This means that regular police officers are allowed to resign in the middle of a crisis, which could limit the police's ability to function as effectively, said MHA.

Thus, the bill includes a new provision in the Police Force Act that states that during times of crises, regular officers of any rank may only resign with the approval of the Commissioner of Police.

A crisis will be defined as a state of emergency as proclaimed by the President, or an activation order in response to terrorist incidents, acts of serious violence, and acts causing large-scale public disorder, as made by the Minister for Home Affairs under the Public Order and Safety (Special Powers) Act.

The Commissioner of Police may only refuse a notice of resignation if they are of the opinion that the service of the regular police officer is necessary for the securing of public safety and the defence and security of Singapore.

Enhanced powers for Special Police Officers and Commercial Affairs Officers

Currently, Special Police Officers — who consist of Police NSFs, Police NSmen, volunteer ex-NSmen, and Volunteer Special Constabulary — have the same duties and responsibilities as regular police officers.

However, they currently only have the powers of investigation and don't have other "proactive" powers of policing where there are no suspected offences, such as setting up roadblocks, performing crowd dispersal, and assisting in cases of attempted suicide.

Under the bill, Special Police Officers will be given the same powers as regular police officers.

To ensure enough safeguards, Special Police Officers will receiving training before they are allowed to exercise any powers, and if someone is deemed unsuitable, police can administratively prevent them from exercising any powers.

Special Police Officers who misuse their powers will be subjected to strict disciplinary action.

The proposed bill will also provide Commercial Affairs Officers, who investigate commercial and financial crimes, with more powers to execute their duties, such as the power to arrest people who possess stolen items.

They currently only have the powers of investigation.

The Second Reading of the Police Force (Amendment) Bill will be in August.

More from the Police Force (Amendment) Bill:

Top photo via Facebook / Singapore Police Force