Credit: Edwin Anthony

On Singapore Police ‘spotchecks’ on citizens in the Mass Rapid Transit stations

The following is a statement by the Singapore Police Force posted as a reply to a citizen. My response, as posted as a reply to it on their Facebook site, follows.

SPF : “Police officers from the Public Transport Security Command (TransCom) conduct regular spot-checks on persons in the public transport system based on certain descriptive profile that are deemed to be suspicious. Such checks are necessary to ensure that our public transport system remains crime free, and help to deter would-be-criminals from committing criminal offences and terrorist acts in our public transport system. Our officers do not take joy in stopping people to check them but their job is necessary to ensure that there is a certain level of deterrence against people committing crime in the public transport system.

We would like to assure you that our officers are impartial in their checks, and are taught to carry them out professionally. They also do not target anyone in particular except for those who appear to be suspicious. Security within the public transport system is very important to us and we take it very seriously. All it takes is one terrorist attack in our public transport system to take away what we have worked so hard to build. We therefore urge for your understanding and thank you for your cooperation with the Police.”


As you stated, you stop people in accordance with a, ‘descriptive profile that are deemed to be suspicious’.

I’m sorry, but that can be purely arbitrary and can be based on whether they ‘like your face or not’. For starters, do you actually think that people with criminal intent are going to stand out knowing full well that they will be checked by your young officers? They are going to be taking the bus or take to outfits that are the norm in the CBD area.

And what, pray tell, is a ‘suspicious’ outlook or appearance? Not defining that enables the officers you send out to stop people simply because they stand out or look different.

And this is further exacerbated by the officers you send out being teenagers or young adults with little education. To be honest, quite a few middle aged people i’ve encountered in coffee shops over the past couple of years have complained about being checked, in their own words, ‘by these young punks’ for no rhyme or reason other than your-stated ‘suspicious descriptive profiles’. This was when i came back for holidays, and before i got checked myself. These people who spoke to me said that they have now resorted to taking the bus so as to avoid being harassed for being, according to them, minorities in race or style.

Like i told some of the young officers who accosted me for my IC and who claimed that their checks are ‘random’, “yes, you might check 2 people out of 10 usual-looking people, but you stop 10 out of 10 when it comes to people who stand out in style and race, and especially if these two coincide. That isn’t random. It is gross bigotry and harassment”.

I get checked pretty often now since my return, simply because i look different. Are your criminalising or demonising difference now? I am an ex-probation officer, hold an upper second honours degree in sociology and psychology, and am also responsible for introducing the watch-sized electronic tag into singapore more than a decade ago thus cutting down the need for sending juvenile delinquents into homes. But you can’t tell all of that by appearance alone. So appearance cannot be a determinant of intent to commit a crime.

The Police Force is sending out a clear message to everyone passing by that if you look different, you are very likely of criminal intent and tendencies, which is a grossly discriminatory form of profiling. It’s strange. I lived in the UK for close to a decade, and never once got checked by the police in public or customs even though they had actually suffered terror attacks and have a higher crime rate. But in singapore, it can be a daily event.

How is checking a person supposed to deter anything? If a person is en route to committing a crime, having his IC checked doesn’t do a thing in deterring it. The only thing that deters crime is social education, addressing social inequalities, and the presence of police, whom are only heard when a crime is in progress.

Stating that crime-rates are low in MRT stations because of checks is correlational, not causation. In other words, one cannot scientifically claim that the checks lead to lower crime rates because just the presence of police alone, without checks, can keep crime rates as low.. How much crime has the Police Force been able to deter through checks that might have been committed without these checks? These are questions that have to be answered if the Police Force is going to be adamant about continuing with its current policy.

The police can easily be accused of racial profiling, being averse to difference of any sort, and, like teenagers or young adults, just do not like anyone standing out other than themselves. The only way the police can protect themselves from allegations of racism, being unreasonably bigoted to difference, or wanting to be the ‘top dog’ in public in appearance, is by being able to prove that the person who is being stopped is ‘suspicious’. That can only be done if a crime is in the process of being committed. If not, the police can plausibly be viewed as not ‘keeping the peace’ but ‘disturbing the peace’.

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