22 substantiated reports made against safe distancing ambassadors and enforcement officers

SINGAPORE – In the first eight months of this year, the authorities received 75 reports related to the conduct of safe distancing ambassadors (SDAs) and 17 related to safe distancing enforcement officers (EOs).

Of these cases, 22 were found to be substantiated, mostly for rude or unprofessional behaviour, said Minister for Sustainability and the Environment Grace Fu in a written parliamentary reply on Tuesday (Sept 14).

Twenty of these cases involved SDAs and two involved EOs.

Ms Fu said EOs will be progressively equipped with body-worn cameras to record the inspection process when they check homes for Covid-19 rule breaches.

The cameras will be activated before entering homes and only authorised personnel can access the footage for investigation purposes.

The footage may also be used in court as evidence.

All EOs will also need to wear photo ID cards, which will have a serial number, the name of officer, the officer’s organisation and the organisation’s contact details.

This is to provide greater assurance and to prevent impersonation, Ms Fu added.

Explaining the differences between SDAs and EOs, Ms Fu said only the latter have enforcement powers and are authorised to enter premises, including homes.

These officers are trained on the code of conduct and rules of engagement when dealing with the public.

They must adhere to a set of protocols when deciding whether to enter homes and check for potential safe distancing breaches.

Ms Fu was responding to questions filed by Leader of the Opposition Pritam Singh, Mr Zhulkarnain Abdul Rahim (Chua Chu Kang GRC) and Mr Liang Eng Hwa (Bukit Panjang).

Last month, the powers given to EOs were thrown into the spotlight after actor Nick Mikhail posted videos on Instagram complaining about the behaviour of three enforcement officers from the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) and three policemen who had inspected his home on July 31.

Actor Nick Mikhail had posted videos on Instagram about URA officers and police officers entering his home on July 31, 2021. PHOTO: SCREENGRAB FROM NICK MIKHAIL/INSTAGRAM

Mr Mikhail had questioned why the officers could enter his home at night without a warrant or a court order.

URA had said in response that EOs could enter, inspect and search various premises, including residences, without a warrant, but the officers will calibrate their approach based on each case.

Ms Fu said EOs do not enter homes randomly or proactively, given the sensitivities.

This is also often not necessary.

She said enforcement officers entered homes fewer than 30 times between April last year and August this year.

In that time, the authorities had received more than 5,100 complaints of Covid-19 rule breaches.

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In all, there have been 16 cases where enforcement action was taken for rule breaches in homes, with two more cases pending further investigation.

Ms Fu said enforcement officers will ask to enter homes if there are repeated or substantiated feedback, or if there are telltale signs from outside the home.

Ms Fu said when inspecting homes, EOs will follow the lead of the occupants and avoid physical contact with them.

She added: “The Government treats any allegation of misconduct seriously and will investigate and take the appropriate action if any case is established.”

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