How does Singapore stay so safe? It was ranked the second safest city in the world in a study by The Economist Intelligence Unit in 2019. Last year, the city-state topped Gallup’s global index of public perception of law and order for the sixth year in the row.

Having a fleet of autonomous patrol robots, drones, and smart police cars helps. The Singapore Police Force (SPF) and other home team agencies have dabbled in cutting-edge technology to keep the public safe.

GovInsider caught up with Loke Wai Yew, Director of the SPF’s Ops-Tech Department, to find out how the agency is reimagining the future of policing with technology.

Drones, smart police cars and beacons

SPF launched a new smart police car late last year, known as the Fast Response Car, to enhance the response of frontline officers.

The cars are equipped with automated number plate recognition, which helps officers detect “vehicles of interest” on-the-go, Loke says. They also come with a video recording system that captures high-quality 360 degree footage and live-streams it back to the Police Operations Command Centre.

Its boot system is enabled by RFID, which automatically detects police equipment in the boot and eliminates the need for manual inspection. These new cars will be progressively rolled out, and replace the current fleet by 2024.

SPF has been conducting trials for autonomous robots and drones since 2016, and has made “good progress”, Loke says. Drones and robots were particularly useful last year, he notes, as they were deployed to patrol selected Covid-19 isolation facilities.

Its Multi-purpose All Terrain Autonomous Robots, for instance, helped to ensure safe distancing and reduce the exposure of frontline workers to the virus. It also relayed real-time video back to the Police Operations Command Centre to help with decision making, Loke says.

The force has deployed police beacons at two of Singapore’s park connectors as part of a one-year trial to enhance policing in secluded areas. The beacon incorporates several technologies such as CCTVs, floodlights and sirens, and will increase the public’s accessibility to police services in the event of emergencies.

Tackling scams with tech

SPF saw the total number of scams reported last year jump by 65.1 per cent, Loke says. Some of the most common ones include e-commerce and social media impersonation scams. Tackling fraud is “challenging as the scammers and syndicates are often based overseas”, he explains.

The force set up an Anti-Scam Centre in June 2019 to tackle this rising threat. The centre automates repetitive administrative tasks, freeing up officers to follow up on other leads. Officers consolidate scam reports to visualise and make sense of the large amount of data, he adds.

But Loke emphasises that “the use of technology alone is insufficient”. The centre also requires strong support from banks, telecommunications companies, online marketplaces and foreign law enforcement agencies to tackle scams.

Guarding against cyber risks

“Cyber and data security risks are key concerns”, not only for SPF, but also for other organisations, Loke says.

The force has policies and awareness programmes, such as email broadcast and quizzes, in place to raise awareness of these risks and remind officers of their “key roles in safeguarding our data,” he adds.

Loke’s department will focus on harnessing big data this year, he says. While SPF has “made some in-roads in leveraging data analytics”, he hopes to grow a stronger data culture in the agency.

The department plans to level up its officers’ data literacy and invest in data analytics and management tools that are useful and easy to use, he adds.

Data and technology will be crucial in keeping Singapore the safe haven it currently is. With a suite of cutting-edge policing tools under its belt, the force is more than equipped to tackle the public safety challenges of tomorrow.

Images by the Singapore Police Force