By Andrew Loh
The Singapore Police Force (SPF) keeps Singapore safe. That is its job. But what happens if Singaporeans themselves start losing faith and trust in the force? In recent times, several cases have dented Singaporeans' confidence in the men in blue.
The most famous case was of terrorist suspect Mas Selamat Kastari who escaped from the Whitley Road Detention Centre in 2007. More recently, Romanian diplomat Silviu Ionescu was allowed to leave Singapore even as his case was being investigated by the police.
Ionescu, the highest-ranking diplomat at the Romanian embassy in Singapore at the time of the incident, was reported to have hit three men with his car in the early hours of December 2009. The incident resulted in the death of Malaysian Tong Kok Wai.
Ionescu has since been charged in Romania for the incident. The case is still ongoing.
Closer to home, the police's apparent lackadaisical attitude towards some cases have also raised questions about its competence.
The Suntec City assault incident involving three foreign men is now making the rounds on the Internet after The New Paper reported the assault in 2011, followed by online portals later on.
What frustrates and disappoints the public, particularly, are two things:
1. The police's silence, even to the victims of the assault, in providing updates on the case.
2. The police's seeming disinterest in pursuing the case so that justice is meted out swiftly, and the victims can have closure to the matter. It took more than a year before the assailants were charged in court, and it has been 22 months since the night of the assault.
The Suntec City attack was a vicious one carried out by three foreigners — New Zealander Robert Stephen Dahlberg, Australian Nathan Robert Miller and Briton Robert James Springall — in the evening of April 2010.
So far, only Miller has been brought to justice, with a three weeks sentence in jail. Dahlberg, rather inexplicably, was allowed to leave Singapore in July last year, just about a month after he was charged in court.
Springall too was apparently allowed to leave Singapore in September last year.
Both men have since absconded, leaving the victims of the attack finding the whole process incredulous.
Disbelief and anger
Online reactions too express disbelief and anger at how the two expats could be allowed to leave Singapore so easily.
This is not a case of pickpocketing or littering or something more innocuous. This is a case of a viciously violent assault on three do-gooders whose only intent that night was to come to the aid of a cab driver who was being punched, threatened and harassed by the reportedly drunk men close to midnight.
The three good Samaritans, which were really what they were, put their lives on the line, as it turned out, to help a 57-year old cabby who pleaded with them to help. A passerby who chipped in to assist that night was also threatened by the assailants that he would be killed if he did not get out of their way while they were escaping from the scene. It was a threat which had already been effectively carried out on one of those they had attacked just minutes earlier that night.
To members of the public, it is clear-cut case of assault and causing grievous hurt. One of the do-gooders had his head slammed by one of the assailants into the sharp edge of one of the pillars at the building at Suntec. Blood poured from the wound on his head. He fell to the floor — only to have the assailant then repeatedly and mercilessly kick him on the head, rendering him unconscious.
It is more than fortunate that he was not killed.
Yet, speaking to the two victims, the police seemed disinterested in lending any urgency to pursuing the matter, even though the victims had provided the police with all information to help in the case, and offered themselves in assistance.
It took more than a year before the case finally went to the courts.
And even after this, two of the three men have been allowed to escape.
The authorities cannot fault the public, and especially the victims themselves, if the charge of incompetency is levelled at the police. One might even say the police officers involved in the case are inept, lazy and a disgrace to the rest of their colleagues in the force who are doing good work.
This is a case which should evoke a personal response from the Minister for Home Affairs. This is a matter of public interest. The victims have been trying to obtain information from the police but have been met with a wall of silence.
The Minister for Home Affairs should now take a personal interest in this case and account to the public the behaviour, the performance (or lack thereof), and the apparent disinterest and incompetence of those under his charge.
He should also explain to the public and the victims what his ministry now plans to do with regards to the two assailants who have fled our country.
(Read an account of what the victims have to say about the case here.)
Andrew helms publichouse.sg as Editor-in-Chief. His writings have been reproduced in other publications, including the Australian Housing Journal in 2010. He was nominated by Yahoo! Singapore as one of Singapore's most influential media persons in 2011.