Can Singaporeans accept police officers who are foreigners, given the manpower crunch the force faces?
Although permanent residents can currently be recruited, the police’s manpower director Tan Hung Hooi said “what kind of numbers, as an organisation and as a society, we are prepared to take in … is something that still needs to be further deliberated on”.
The question came up at the Police Workplan Seminar yesterday, during a dialogue held with about 200 junior-college and polytechnic students.
Asked by the moderator whether they would hire foreigners for the police force should they be put in charge of recruitment, fewer than 10 students raised their hands — in contrast with more than half the students who felt otherwise. Those supportive of the idea said what matters is the “higher authority” that police officers represent and one’s integrity, while those who opposed it cited the need to protect state secrets and the possible signal sent that Singapore lacked commitment as a country and is not doing its best to recruit local officers.
The manpower crunch faced by the police came under the spotlight during the Committee of Inquiry hearing for the Little India riot, with police commissioner Ng Joo Hee appealing for 1,000 more officers to boost the force.
Another panellist, Police Operations director Lau Peet Meng, said that, from an operations standpoint, diversity within the force is good to keep up with changes in society.
“We need, to some extent, some sensitivity to understand our foreign population,” he said. “The danger is if it’s (purely Singaporean), you will lose touch with the people you’re policing.”
He added: “I think it’s very important for the police, operationally, to be aware that we do need some kind of interaction with foreigners, some kind of understanding and some people who actually know those communities well and are able to interact with them, connect with them … Whoever’s living in Singapore, we need to know them well in order to police them.”
Asked about efforts made to change the perception that policing is a man’s job, panellist and deputy police commissioner T Raja Kumar said women currently make up 16 per cent of the force. “I’m very keen in the short term to bring this to 25 per cent for a start … with a view to increase the number even further,” he said.
He added that women officers have progressively broken new ground in the force, citing the Criminal Investigation Department’s deputy director Florence Chua as an example.
There are some roles, however, that are so physically demanding that even many men cannot meet the requirements, he pointed out.
“If a woman officer one day is able to make it up to that level … there will not be any barrier to taking her in,” he said. “We will not reduce the requirements in order for that officer to make it to the elite unit because she has to show she’s as good as the next person.”
In his speech, Deputy Prime Minister and Home Affairs Minister Teo Chee Hean said the SPF should systematically devise operational concepts and new capabilities to tackle emerging challenges such as cyber crime.
He also noted that the authorities have managed to dramatically improve the unlicensed moneylending situation. The number of reported unlicensed moneylending cases dipped from more than 18,000 in 2009 to just over 8,300 last year.