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Police must not be caught in social divides such as race, religion or political issues: Shanmugam

The Singapore Police Force (SPF) has one simple task, according to Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam. 

And that is to enforce the law, and not be seen as taking sides, attacking particular ethnicities or particular demographics, he shared at the Police Workplan Seminar and Exhibition at the Singapore Expo on Friday (May 12).

"We must not let the Police be caught in social divides, such as race and religion, or in political issues," Shanmugam said, adding that the obligation to deal with the fault lines in society have to be dealt with by the Government.

The minister cited the Hong Kong protests in 2019, where "some socio-political issues - such as housing and cost of living - were not resolved".

This then set the stage for unhappiness among certain groups.

"In such a situation, [when] the police are called to restore law and order, it becomes very difficult," Shanmugam said, adding that the "people versus police" situation is a vicious cycle.

Shanmugam also cited the January 2020 riot at Capitol Hill.

Thousands of rioters, who were supporters of former president Donald Trump, stormed the seat of the US government after Trump had lost the election to President Joe Biden.

Shanmugam said that while more than 140 officers were injured and over 1,000 people arrested, some in the media and politics tried to downplay the insurrection for their own gain.

The minister said that political moves like these drag the police into the middle of political debates.

"We support the police to be neutral and independent, not to be used for political purposes. Neither should the police be made a victim of politicking," he added.


Confidence in the police remains high, Shanmugam said.

But he added that if real allegations and concerns of wrongdoing within the force are not acted upon, the Police will quickly lose trust with the public.

Describing how his ministry has initiated about 78 disciplinary proceedings a year in the past few years against potentially errant officers, Shanmugam said: "We investigate all allegations seriously. If any wrongdoing is uncovered, we are the first to take disciplinary action.

"Misogyny, sexist remarks, sexual harassment - all these have to be stemmed out. A culture of tolerance and professionalism have to be seriously inculcated."

Attacks against police will be more complex: Shanmugam

Attacks against the police will get more complex, Shanmugam said, attributing to the prevalence of deepfakes and artificial intelligence.

The minister cited a recent viral photo of an elderly man being restrained violently by riot police in France.

The photo of the man, battered and bloody from nationwide pension reform protests, was later found to be generated from AI.

"But you can imagine the kind of sentiment that will be generated, how angry people will get. Many alleged police violence and criticised the police," Shanmugam said.

He shared that legal frameworks, such as Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act, will counter such attacks.

"Our officers know that when there are false or unfair allegations, we will act quickly and decisively to tell the truth and stand by the officers," Shanmugam said.

"We will stand by our officers and defend them."

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