HOME TEAM’S MANPOWER STRATEGY

Murali Pillai
6 min readMar 1, 2024

In the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) Committee of Supply Debate held on 29 February 2024, I focussed on the tight manpower situation that the Home Team is facing. I suggested that the issue be looked at sooner rather than later for a number of reasons including ensuring the wellbeing of the Home Team officers and providing the bandwidth to take on extra work. I also suggested higher recruitment of volunteers to complement its force. My speech is set out below.

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Mdm Chairperson, I beg to move. “That the total sum to be allocated for Head P of the Estimates be reduced by $100.

Madam, thanks to the dedicated service of the officers of MHA & the Home Team, past and present, Singapore continues to be one of the safest countries in the world with relatively low crime rates.

They ensure the safety and well-being of Singaporeans in a more dangerous, risky world. The demand for their work has gone up — but the number of those who do this important, and often hazardous work has not.

In October 2023, I sought to understand the impact of the increased white collar crime caseload of investigators from the hon Minister. I filed this question after noting that the exponential rise of the sheer number of e-documents that these investigators have to parse through for each case.

In his characteristic direct manner, the hon Minister shared some stark facts. He said:

a. Over the past 5 years, scam cases went up 400%.

b. The number persons arrested increased by 100%.

c. The number of police investigators increased only by 7%.

The rise in white collar crime is an important sign of how the operating environment as a whole has become more difficult.

The workload of the Police has shot up tremendously with the explosion of tech-related crime and scams all over the world, including Singapore. Criminals, enabled by technology are getting smarter too.

With the transnational nature of most crime, solving cases and recovering stolen proceeds has become much more complex. Dark webs provide safe havens to conduct illicit transactions without being detected. It is therefore no wonder that the dollar value of crime is continuing to shoot up. From a response to a PQ I filed, I noted that between 2017 and 2021, the subject matter value of cases investigated by SPF was $4.49 billion. My understanding is that the subject matter value of the cases for 2022 and 2023 continue to be high.

Against this backdrop, our officers will naturally have to be better resourced to match not just these operational challenges but to deal with future threats.

How does the Home Team plan to do so?

When giving the figures above, the Minister frankly admitted that this is not a sustainable situation. He also said that the performance and effectiveness of the force may deteriorate as a result. Should that happen, there will have an impact on our criminal justice system. Coming from the Minister, this is a red flag.

Earlier this month, on 6 Feb 2024, the Hon Minister, in response to a question posed by the Hon Leader of Opposition in this House candidly admitted that whilst Police Officers have strong esprit de corp, the Police Force is facing a severe manpower shortage, and this would ultimately have an impact on morale.

When he shared his view, it brought back memories of my service as a regular in the Police Force in the investigation branch of a division in the early 1990s. Then, we faced a manpower crunch. Investigating Officers (“IOs”) had 24-hour shifts which often means that they are on duty for about 36 hours at a stretch. The next day, they report for work during office hours and then this cycle repeats itself every 3 days. I believe hon Members who also served around the same time as I such as Ms Sylvia Lim, Mr Ang Wei Neng and Mr Patrick Tay would have undergone similar experiences. I have seen officers who could not cope with the high demands of their jobs. They accumulated more than 100 Investigation Papers per person and just got bogged down. Certainly, their morale and wellbeing suffered as a result. We should not return to those days.

I recently had a chance to speak to an ex-colleague who retired as a Station Inspector. His daughter is serving in the Police Force. I recalled how proud he was when his daughter decided to follow his footsteps to join the men and women in blue. Now, unfortunately, his views have changed. He shared that almost every day, for a long period of time, his daughter has been working feverishly, often well beyond midnight. This has gone on to an extent where he is now actively advising his daughter to resign because, as a father, he is concerned about her mental wellness. Coming from a decorated retired police officer, this is significant.

I looked at the Police turnover figures. Whilst they are still relatively small, the numbers are trending up and have almost tripled from 2.06% in 2020 to 5.78 % in 2022. Anecdotally, I understand that the turnover figure for 2023 remains elevated. I would be grateful if the hon Minister could share the latest turnover figures.

Part of the reason is because the private sector is able to attract these officers with higher pay and better work conditions.

I accept that Home Team officers are a special breed. They are not drawn by salary alone. Home Team officers also know that, as uniformed officers charged with the responsibility of keeping our country safe and secure, they are expected to make sacrifices in the discharge of their duty to our country.

Nonetheless, the combination of high workload of the Home Team officers and the lure of the private sector constitutes, in my view, a warning sign on the ability of the Home Team to attract and retain talent. It would be prudent to tackle these issues sooner rather than later.

I wish to ask the hon Minister how does the Home Team intend to address its manpower constraints?

Given the tight manpower situation across all sectors in Singapore, I accept this is not an easy to resolve but we have no choice but to double down our efforts on this front. Our security and safety as a nation depends on ensuring that our Home Team has an adequately sized force. We also need to ensure the wellbeing of our officers and not to overload them.

Can the Minister please give some details about the efforts to recruit and retain officers in the past few years?

Since 2015, the Home Team has invested heavily in technology to enhance its operational effectiveness and productivity. Much of the innovation was driven by HTX, the Home Team Science and Technology Agency, which was set up in end 2019.

The technology card, however, should not be overplayed.

The Home Team, on a daily basis, interfaces with our community. How can it ensure that it retains its human touch when interfacing with the community?

How will the Home Team enhance its service delivery to make these services more accessible, efficient and convenient for members of the public?

Finally, may I please ask how the Home Team can better tap on volunteers and community partners to achieve its mission?

In this regard, I have reviewed the figures that the Ministry provided to me on the recruitment number of Citizen on Patrol volunteers as well as Voluntary Special Constabulary officers pursuant to my PQs.

It seems to me that they are on the downtrend generally. I would like to understand the reasons for this.

I also look forward to hearing the plans that the Home Team may have to strengthen its partnership with volunteers.

Madam Chairperson, I beg to move.

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Murali Pillai

Member of Parliament, Bukit Batok SMC, Advisor to Bukit Batok SMC GROs.