Singapore

Online alert helps autistic boy

All 35 Neighbourhood Police Centres in Singapore have their own Facebook pages. Officers tell TAN TAM MEI and SHAFFIQ ALKHATIB how they use Facebook to help the community and solve crimes

Sengkang Neighbourhood Police Centre (NPC) is leading the way in reaching out to residents using social media.

Through memes and videos that the Sengkang team created, it managed to garner about 10,700 likes on its Facebook page - the highest among 35 NPCs islandwide.

The online outreach has enabled the NPC to reach out to people and resolve cases they otherwise would not have heard about.

One such case is that of a neighbourhood "terror" who was once loose on the streets of Sengkang.

The Sengkang NPC officers were first alerted by a private message on its Facebook page.

A concerned resident wrote that a teenage boy had been cycling recklessly on pavements and was going round the neighbourhood, harassing and staring at pedestrians as though challenging them to a fight.

It turned out the boy was autistic and his family was in financial need.

Officers from the NPC worked to help him and his family, hooking them up with agencies such the Ministry of Social and Family Development, the Institute of Mental Health and the Family Service Centre in Sengkang.

IMPROVED

Since the incident last year, the boy's situation has improved and officers, who are still in touch with the family, no longer receive any complaints about him.

Inspector Kevin Lee, 42, is the deputy overall in-charge of Sengkang NPC's Community Policing Unit (CPU), which monitors its social media and conducts activities such as roadshows and school assembly talks.

Commenting on the autistic boy's case, he said: "While there was no 'crime' involved, we were afraid that things would get out of hand.

"So we immediately reached out to the community partners to confirm the case.

"We found out that a couple of other residents had faced similar situations before with this particular boy."

Through its grassroots contacts, the team found the boy's home address and it soon learnt that the neighbourhood "terror" was actually a 14-year-old boy with special needs.

CPU officer Peh Chi Siong, 26, said: "At first, his father wasn't willing to listen to us when we told him that we had received feedback identifying his son as quite a character.

"He seemed shocked to hear the news and said that he had no time for us."

The team did not give up and even approached the father, a security officer at his workplace.

The team's continued and heartfelt attempts to reach out to the family paid off when the father started opening up.

Sgt Peh said: "He finally shared with us that his son had autism and that his condition was getting worse. The son would get violent and start throwing things around."

Another CPU officer, Sgt Muhd Safuan Sahul Hameed, 30, said: "The family was going through some financial difficulties as well. When we heard their story, we knew they needed assistance."

Through the team's efforts, the family managed to receive financial aid and additional medical subsidies for the boy's treatment as well as find employment for the boy's mother, who was then looking for a job.

Six officers from the CPU, who were part of the case, were given the PS21 Star Service Team Award at the annual Excellence in Public Service Awards Ceremony last Wednesday.

CPU officer Rosminah Samsuri, 33, said: "We're delighted to know that things have changed for the better for the boy's family.

"In helping the community, we look for the long-term approach. We find out the root of the problem..."

Facebook posts help 
them nab criminals

Posting suspects' images on the Sengkang Neighbourhood Police Centre's (NPC) Facebook page has led to the arrests of several offenders.

Some surrendered themselves while others were arrested after those who recognised them came forward to offer information.

The NPC's commanding officer, Superintendent Chong Chung Meng, 39, attributed these successes to his team's active presence on social media.

Out of 35 NPCs in Singapore, each with its own Facebook page, the Sengkang team gets the highest number of likes at around 10,700.

There are 23 officers in the NPC's Community Policing Unit (CPU) and six of them are tasked to monitor 
the Facebook page throughout the day.

They also create items likes memes and videos to attract more eyeballs.

Supt Chong, who has led the NPC since June 2013, said that when the Facebook page was first set up in December 2012, it had only about 2,000 likes.

He attributed the five-fold increase to the entertaining but insightful material his CPU team creates, which often include pop-culture references.

Assistant Superintendent Iskandar Abdul Kadir, who is in charge of the CPU, said: "Our Facebook page is updated once every few days with different materials like videos, memes and advisories."

INFORMATION

With the Facebook page, more people - mainly Sengkang residents - are coming forward to volunteer information, said Supt Chong.

He recalled how, in 2013, in a case of a man insulting a woman's modesty, a concerned resident offered information to the NPC after the man's photo was put up on Facebook.

Supt Chong said: "The suspect could have known that his picture was online, that's why he decided to surrender two days later."

The man was given a stern warning.

Another case that year involved a woman who illegally used someone else's card to withdraw money from an ATM.

A closed-circuit television (CCTV) footage showed she was with another woman when she committed the crime.

They surrendered soon afterwards when one of them notified the other after spotting their photos on the NPC's Facebook page.

Supt Chong added: "In 2014, there was a shop theft case where the suspect had stolen some groceries.

"We uploaded his photo, taken from a CCTV footage, onto our Facebook page.

"One of his neighbours reported to us after seeing it and we arrested the thief two days later."

WAYS TO CONTACT THE COPS

With advancements in technology, there are now 
ways for people to get in touch with the police other than dialling 999.

  • Facebook: Residents can send messages on Facebook. All 35 Neighbourhood Police Centres have their own pages.
  • Send an SMS to 71999: This works like an alert, so that those hiding during terrorist attacks or in hostage situations can stay silent while informing the police about their predicament.
  • i-Witness: This feature is part of the revamped Police@SG mobile app. With i-Witness, members of the public can forward photos and videos directly to the police. Users can send files up to 20GB in size.

Online outreach 'richly rewarding'

Media consumption patterns have shifted online and the Singapore Police Force (SPF) has adapted, said a spokesman.

The SPF has been using social media to engage the public since 2009.

All 35 Neighbourhood Police Centres (NPCs) in Singapore have their own Facebook pages.

The spokesman added that the SPF's outreach to the public via social media has been "richly rewarding".

Social media has also allowed the police to reach out to members of public more consistently, particularly the younger population.

Top three NPC Facebook pages with the most number of likes

  • Sengkang NPC: more than 10,700
  • Punggol NPC: more than 7,980
  • Ang Mo Kio NPC: more than 4,710

SOURCE: SINGAPORE POLICE FORCE

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