COMMUNITY POLICING IN THE CONTEXT OF SINGAPORE Jarmal Singh* I. INTRODUCTION Singapore has grown in many ways over the last 40 years to become a city-state that enjoys a high level of economic growth, political stability and most importantly, a sense of safety and security. It was not a smooth journey, as the country experienced its turbulent periods in the 1950s and the 1960s, characterised by problems of political instability, communist insurgency, secret societies, unemployment and communal riots. Today, Singapore’s crime rate is low by international standards and has declined successively for 9 years from 1989 till 1997. Crime rate has only edged up slightly by 5.2% in 1998 when the entire South East Asia region plunged into financial and economic crisis. The rise was mostly attributed to theft of handphones and cash cards, and immigration offences. Amidst the rapid modernisation of society, much of the transformation from the old crime-ridden town to a safe city today can be attributed to the Singaporean government’s tough stance towards criminals and criminality in the form of strict laws and heavy penalties. Apart from the strict laws and rigorous enforcement, the improvement of the social and economic situation helped to control crime. Over the past 15 years, the Singapore Police Force (SPF) has made two significant innovations in the area of policing in light of social and economic changes. The first being the introduction * Deputy Director Operations, Police Headquarters, Singapore Police Force, Republic of Singapore.
of a community-based policing strategy through the Neighbourhood Police Post (NPP) system in 1983 and the shift towards community-focused policing through the creation of Neighbourhood Police Centres (NPCs) in 1997. Prior to 1983, policing strategies were reactive in nature. Police services were dispensed centrally, mainly through the 8 police stations existing at the time. Each police station served a very large area and these areas were patrolled by cars. Impacted by urbanisation, social and economic transformations, the police were faced with rising crime and a loss of public contact and support. The SPF then realised the importance of fostering closer police-community relations in an effort to prevent crime. By re-orienting a patrol strategy that was skewed towards the motorised mode to one that was community oriented and emphasised foot patrol, it is felt that the police could create a heightened sense of presence and visibility to deter crimes. The Neighbouhood Police Post (NPP) system, adapted from the Japanese Koban System, was introduced in 1983. Eight NPPs were set up as a pilot in a constituency, with a view to assess the impact and success of the system in Singapore’s environment. The trial was a success. By 1993, the entire set of 91 NPPs was set up throughout the island. This was accompanied by falling crime and increased sense of safety and security amongst the public. However, in view of rising expectations of both the public and police officers, and the need to address new challenges arising
RESOURCE MATERIAL SERIES No. 56 IV. SPF’S ADOPTION OF THE COMMUNITY POLICING STRATEGY The key strategic driver for the SPF’s adoption of the community-oriented policing model was to establish and leverage community support for our own law enforcement policies and strategies in the face of a changing operating environment. The key changes in the operating environment were as follows. A. Increasing Crime Trend (1974 to 1983) Firstly, although the crime rate in Singapore was low by world standards, there was a disturbing trend of an overall increase in all types of crime (except violent property crimes) for the period 1974 to 1983. Analysis revealed that 70% of such crimes were house-breaking, theft of vehicles, and robbery which could have been prevented. The promotion of community-oriented policing would help the SPF to battle crime, as improved...