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Rethinking Singapore’s approach to mental health in law enforcement

Op-ed: Singapore’s proposed law will grant law enforcement more power to arrest those with mental health issues, raising concerns about fairness and the need for a more compassionate approach.



by M Ravi

A new law in Singapore will give law enforcement agents greater powers to arrest persons with mental health conditions.

This is an example that the Ministry of Home Affairs gives to justify the Law Enforcement and Other Matters Bill:

The Police receive a call for assistance about a person who had threatened to kill his family members, but did not say that he would do it immediately. The person making the threat was traced in Police’s records to have a history of mental disorder. The complaint appears to be credible, the threat of physical harm appears reasonably likely to occur and likely attributable to a mental disorder, even though it does not appear that the person would be carrying out his threats immediately or in a matter of hours.

First, if someone threatens to kill his family members, why should it matter if they have a mental health condition or not? Is the MHA saying that if he didn’t have one, the police would just wait and see if he killed his family?

Second, why is there a need to draw a line between persons with mental health conditions and those without? Does the new law implicitly assume that people with mental health conditions are more dangerous? Studies show that this is not true.

Third, why is conventional arrest and detention used in dealing with persons with serious mental illnesses? A recent post by Sabrina Ooi, who has bipolar disorder, shares how the police in Singapore used to arrest people who’d attempted suicide, send them to jail, and handcuff them whilst in the psychiatric hospital.

The way that we treat people with bipolar disorder is damaging and unhelpful. In some US jurisdictions, when responding to a person with mental health issues, police officers will be accompanied by a social worker.

In Canada, if someone with mental health issues is charged with a crime, he may go to a specialised mental health court. There, instead of conventional punishment, the goal is to create a compassionate solution that incorporates treatment and rehabilitation. Such courts reduce recidivism and are more affordable than simply arresting and throwing people in jail [3].

It’s sad that the Singaporean criminal justice system responds to mental illness with so much punishment. Punishing people for factors outside of their control is not an effective way to prevent crime, and it does not benefit society.

As Singaporeans, we have a democratic right to choose how our country is run. If you don’t agree with the upcoming amendment, please share this with your friends, contacts, and Members of Parliament.

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Hello. People don’t join the PAP for nothing!

The benefit of PAP’s membership is for police protection!

Law was passed to allow police to breakdown your doors without warrant, allow them to act like gangster of the bygone years.

Now another law for the police to be doctors. Allowing them to decide who is crazy or not!

I am not sure, below this law, was police allowed to arrest any crazy people or not? So what’s the difference now?


this island is going to the dogs and those whom continue to belief that all’s well.. even the blu uniform are not bred Singaporeans but have all the powers to taunt, bully as well throat one’s down with a vibrator of abuse…such is the becoming.. well, the majority breathing is well receiving such treating well till their coffin nailed.

The onus should be to stop the tragedy from happening by the Police.I agree with Ravi that mentally ill persons should not be meted the same punishment and should have specialised doctors advising the Court on the punishment.