Stopped by the Singapore Police For Spot Checks, Etc: What to Do
Ever been on a night out past 10pm? If you have, chances are that you probably have seen roadblocks being set up and vehicle spot-checks being conducted by police officers. Maybe you have even seen police officers stopping people during the day for spot-checks. Don’t be alarmed by all of the above – this is one of the many ways in which police officers conduct routine checks on the civilian population primarily to crack down on drunk driving, drug use, and suspicious people, as a matter of routine procedure. Police officers also conduct security screenings to guard against terrorism.
This article seeks to delve deeper into the common types of contact members of the public might have with the police in Singapore, what to expect, and what one should do when faced with such situations. It will also discuss how can one identify a legitimate police officer (see below).
What are Some Examples of Police Encounters in Singapore?
Here are two common scenarios in which members of the public might encounter police officers:
Security screenings and spot-checks at MRT stations
One of the most common instances of police encounters happens in broad daylight. For example, it is common to see police officers conducting security screenings at the gantries of MRT stations. These are reflective of the tightening of security measures surrounding inland locations which could be “attractive terrorist targets”.
The primary aim of security screenings is to enable police officers to search for any weapons or dangerous items you may potentially be carrying. That being said, these security screenings are performed minimally. For instance, at Kembangan MRT station, only 5 commuters were screened throughout a 20-minute window out of the countless commuters that passed through the station gantries.
Should you be approached for such a security screening, here is what to expect:
- You may be asked to place your belongings through a metal detector; and
- You may be asked to step through an X-ray detector.
But that’s not all. Past the security screenings at the station gantries, one can also observe armed uniformed officers pacing about the station, as well as in train carriages. These officers are from the Public Transport Security Command (TransCom) – a specialised police unit of the Singapore Police Force (SPF) – and have been trained to spot suspicious people and behaviour. They conduct high-visibility patrols at bus interchanges and MRT stations and engage in spot-checks when necessary.
Transcom Officers do not excessively or arbitrarily conduct spot-checks. Rather, spot-checks are conducted on passengers who appear to be behaving in a suspicious manner to ensure the safety of public transport networks for all commuters. It is therefore very uncommon for a TransCom officer to conduct a spot-check on the average everyday commuter.
Nevertheless, in the event that a TransCom officer conducts a routine spot-check on you, here’s what you may potentially face:
- TransCom officers may ask for a form of your identification (e.g. your identity card);
- TransCom officers may enquire about your purpose for being at the location you are at, or where you intend to go; and/or
- Further and beyond that, TransCom officers may request to search your belongings or conduct a body search if they have reason to believe you are behaving in a suspicious manner.
It is advisable to comply with the police officers’ demands, as failure to do so may constitute an offence, and you may be liable on conviction to a fine up to $2,000 or to imprisonment for a term up to 12 months, or to both.
Should you fail the spot-check, you may be subject to detainment and potential prosecution. This may occur if the police officers have found contraband in your possession.
Roadblocks at night
Roadblocks are another common way in which you may encounter a police spot-check. Police officers are statutorily empowered to erect or place barriers on any public place (including roads and streets) and to prevent any vehicle from crossing said barriers.
Police officers typically set up roadblocks to catch drunk drivers and cars with illegal modifications. Most often, they do so late at night to ensure that you are not driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. The likelihood of roadblocks occurring is significantly higher between 10pm to 6am.
During a roadblock, police officers are statutorily empowered to:
- Instruct drivers to proceed towards the barrier and stop their vehicles at or near the barrier;
- Instruct drivers to remain in the vehicle and keep the vehicle stationary until permitted by a police officer to proceed;
- Instruct pedestrians to proceed towards the barrier and stop at or near the barrier;
- Instruct pedestrians to remain there until permitted by a police officer to continue.
Notably, if a police officer puts up any notice or sign notifying drivers of the barrier ahead, the Police Act equates this notice or sign to an order for drivers to proceed to the barrier and stop the vehicle at or near the barrier. Thereafter, drivers are to remain in the vehicle and keep it stationary until police permission to proceed has been given. This applies to drivers who are travelling in the direction of the barrier and who ought reasonably to have seen the notice or sign.
Police officers may also engage in a conversation with you, usually to enquire where you are going and to check for tell-tale signs of alcohol consumption (e.g. a strong alcohol smell, red eyes). If you are found to be suspicious, the police will conduct a more thorough check. This includes a vehicle search for any illegal substances and a breathalyser test, in which the police will measure your blood alcohol level. If you fail the breathalyser test, you will be arrested for drink-driving.
Likewise, should you fail to comply with any of the above, it would constitute an offence, and the police officer will be empowered by law to arrest you without a warrant. You will be liable to a fine, an imprisonment term, or both. For drivers, you will be fined up to $10,000 and/or imprisoned for up to 7 years. For pedestrians, you will be fined up to $2,500 and/or imprisoned for up to 3 months.
Identifying a Legitimate Police Officer
That being said, it is important that you know who has the authority to conduct spot-checks on you, and who does not.
All Singapore police officers are issued with a Singapore Police Force Warrant Card. This serves as proof or verification of their identity as a police officer even if they are in plain clothes. A genuine warrant card will have identification features such as the police crest and the holographic word “POLICE” below the photo of the police officer. An example of such a card can be found here.
In summary, though there are many different varieties of situations in which you may encounter police officers, the ordinary citizen will primarily encounter them in MRT stations and while on the roads. It is important to remember that these encounters are not targeted or malevolently motivated. Rather, it is part of police officers’ duty to perform such checks and screenings. However, it is equally vital that you are able to identify genuine police officers to avoid falling prey to any potential scams.
If you are currently under investigation by police officers following such encounters, or you have committed an offence throughout such encounters (e.g., failing to stop at a roadblock), it is advisable to reach out to a criminal lawyer to discuss your next steps.
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