Data, robots and video analytics are making up the new face of public safety in Singapore.

The Ministry of Home Affairs’ approach to tech can broadly be summarised into the “three Ds and three As” concept, explains Allan Loi, Deputy Director of the Science & Technology Strategy Office. Technology can be used to automate dull work; allocate dangerous work to robots and machines; and augment officers to do demanding work.

He shares Singapore’s vision to use tech in national security, and how this will cut across departments.

Automation, allocation, augmentation

First, the Central Narcotics Board (CNB) will use robots to collect evidence for analysis, Loi says. He will be lending a hand in the project, which will use robots to handle urine samples and automate the process of registering and administering urine tests.

“It is basically to make the process more seamless and less labour-intensive,” he explains, adding that once collected, urine samples will securely stored and entirely managed by a robotic system. This initiative is targeted to be operational by 2021.

“For this project, I will actually be roping in robotics experts,” continues Loi, who is also the new Director for Corrections & Drug Control Capability Development in the Science & Technology Group.

“Our frontline officers essentially will be able to screen the drug suspects while they carry on their enforcement.”
At the same time, the CNB wants to augment officers to handle the demands of case work. The bureau is trialling a system that will integrate information on suspects, cases and investigations, and makes them available on officers’ mobile phones. The next step would be to use analytics to link past cases, explains Loi. “Our frontline officers essentially will be able to screen the drug suspects while they carry on their enforcement,” he adds.

Video analytics to improve patrols is another example of automation. Prisons are trialling video analytics systems to enhance perimeter security. “Although we have a prison officer standing there, the field of vision of a human is pretty limited,” Loi explains.

The system will be able to identify fights between inmates, or if a person has suddenly collapsed. It will help alert officers to cases much faster too. “It’s not possible for an officer to stare 24/7 at a CCTV,” Loi says. “With the use of analytics, we hope to alleviate some of these more laborious tasks, so officers’ concentration can then be used to respond to the actual cases.”

He also shares how the Singapore Civil Defence Force allocates dangerous tasks to firefighting robots, which firefighters started using in trials last year. “Where possible, if we can save officers from being too near to the fire, and can move them backwards, it will help,” Loi points out.

Linking up engineers and experts

This is a “landmark year” for tech in the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), according to Loi, as the science and tech units of all home affairs departments, including police, civil defence and internal security, will be combined into one by year’s end. “As threats become more complex, we need to have our own engineers that can develop and customise capabilities to deal with them,” he tells GovInsider.

He hopes that the new innovation hub will create “greater synergy” between the science and tech teams across all home affairs and public safety agencies – or the Home Team as they are collectively called. It will serve as a point of contact between the agencies and the Science and Technology office, helping to coordinate and link up the right people and experts for transformation projects like the ones mentioned above.

Agencies share their operational requirements and needs with Loi’s team, who will then “rope in the necessary experts from the different parts of the Home Team to support them”. “If they are unsure of who to approach, they need not go around knocking on doors. We serve as a one stop centre,” he explains.

For instance, police officers could share their challenges in collecting evidence from crime scenes. Loi will help to facilitate discussions with forensics experts to design a customised solution – perhaps to “detect the drugs more accurately or quickly”, he shares.

Loi believes that the engineers in this hub should have a greater understanding of the challenges that various home affairs departments face on the ground, which will help them devise better solutions. “We recognise generally in the Home Team, having engineering knowledge is good, but it’s not sufficient.”

He intends to expose engineers to the public safety departments’ operations and “have them work alongside officers, and maybe even go on scene”. This way, engineers and officers can learn from each other, and generate more ideas. “If they get to do some of these tasks, in a real setting, they might be able to appreciate what kind of technology works for them,” explains Loi.

This move is part of a major ongoing organisational transformation across public safety agencies. Beginning last year, police, CNB, Singapore Civil Defence Force and Immigration and Checkpoints Authority officers are now clustered together at the Police Operations Command Centre. And by end-2023, all departments’ operations centres will be housed under one roof at the Home Team Operations Centre in a new complex.

From robots and automation, to video analytics and drug screening on-the-go, law enforcement is getting a boost to keep up with the security challenges of today.