Concerned over more outsourcing of Home Team services: Sylvia Lim

Madam, I am concerned about many Home Team uniformed services turning to outsourcing as a response to increasing demand for services and manpower shortages. For example, in October 2013, the SCDF added only four more emergency ambulances to increase its fleet to 50 vehicles, but doubled the number of private ambulances to 20. Today, the number of Auxiliary Police Officers stands at 6,000 officers, compared with over 8,000 regular officers in the Singapore Police Force. At the Woodlands checkpoint, APOs make up 20% of officers. Recently, the Prisons Act was amended to expand the role of APOs to allow them to conduct inmate escort and patrols within prison premises.

Will the trend of outsourcing of police, security and emergency functions to private operators increase further? If so, where is the line to be drawn before we see the quality of functions compromised and cost-effectiveness eroded? Should the issues be dealt with not by outsourcing, but instead by allocating more resources and support for recruitment and retention to the Home Team? And instead of outsourcing with its limits, should we not focus on ‘best-sourcing’ instead?

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I would like to point out three problems.

First, APOs do not have the same level of training as regular officers. Regular officers go through a six-month basic training course at the Home Team Academy, while auxiliary officers attend a much shorter in-house training course offered by Aetos or Certis-Cisco. Police officers also attend continuous training to keep their skill up to date with societal and criminological developments. The esprit de corps of belonging to the Home Team also instills a greater sense of purpose, pride and discipline.

Second, best sourcing is about choosing a provider, be it a public agency or a private sector provider, who could deliver the services most efficiently and effectively. Here we have a paradox. To maintain standards, private operators have to comply with equivalent deliverables and ensure their staff are just as competent in those functions. If the public officers also have to conduct constant auditing and supervision to ensure the outsourced entity is up to mark, as in the case of emergency ambulance services, wouldn’t it be more cost-effective to increase the regular services?

Third, best sourcing is targeted at non-strategic functions of public agencies, so as not to compromise public health and safety. But what are considered non-strategic security functions to be outsourced to auxiliary officers? As the recent breach at Woodlands Checkpoint suggests, the secondary security check by the APO is very important and has implications on public safety. With 300,000 people and 130,000 vehicles passing Woodlands checkpoint each day, co-ordination between ICA (Immigration and Checkpoints Authority), SPF (Singapore Police Force) and APOs is a huge challenge. Likewise, prison inmate escort within the prisons is not merely a security function but requires proper training to ensure the prisoner’s rehabilitation is not compromised. Furthermore, injuries or death of an inmate resulting from improper handling can be disastrous for the services. In today’s complex policing environment, every police officer requires strong situational awareness and adaptive leadership skills, and foresight in exercising discretion.

Outsourcing clearly has its limits. Should the focus instead be on Home Team manpower recruitment and retention, and ensuring they have the best resources on hand to protect our Home?

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