Seven key takeaways from the debate on police powers on arresting dangerous mentally ill patients.  


Will the amendments to the Law Enforcement and Other Matters Bill likely give police officers more power to arrest a person experiencing mental health crisis? Will the amendments change how police can detain people with mental health conditions? Will the amendments lead to wrongful apprehensions and overreactions, further stigmatising mental health patients? 

In Parliament on April 2, Second Minister of Home Affairs Mrs Josephine Teo addressed misunderstandings that have arisen from amendments to the Law Enforcement and Other Matters Bill. She also responded to concerns raised by Members of Parliament. These include whether police officers have sufficient training under the changed law.       

#1 Police will not get involved unless called to prevent harm from happening 

Mrs Teo stressed that police officers will only intervene in situations involving people with mental health conditions when the person poses a danger to himself or others.

She noted that under the Mental Health (Care and Treatment) Act (MHCTA), which has been in place since 2008, the Police can apprehend a person who is suspected of having a mental health condition and poses a danger to himself or others. The Police will bring the person to a medical practitioner for treatment. This is as opposed to arrest under the Penal Code, where he will be taken to a lock-up. 

She said: “Police will not get involved unless called to prevent harm from happening. And the idea that Section 7 of the MHCTA is being used for mental health management is entirely mistaken… I would also urge members to help clarify this mischaracterisation and put the minds of mental health patients themselves and their families at ease.”   

Currently, police can detain mentally ill individuals only if they pose an “imminent” danger. The amendments allow police to intervene in a timelier manner, when there is danger, even if the timeframe of the danger is unspecified or is not imminent. 

During the debate on the Bill, Nominated MP Dr Syed Harun argued that the bill grants police “some latitude” to act quickly before a suicide attempt becomes imminent, allowing them to intervene sooner when rescue may be riskier for both the distressed individual and those attempting rescue. 

#2 Vast majority of individuals with mental illness would not fulfil the threshold set out in the Bill 

Dr Harun also pointed out that majority, most individuals with mental illness would not meet the threshold set out in this Bill for apprehension by the Police. 

Mrs Teo agreed with him and added that the Police would have no knowledge of who the patients are unless told previously. In the circumstances warranting Police intervention, she said that Police are mindful to calibrate their responses and hand them over to medical professionals as soon as practicable. 

#3 Not practical for Police officers to be accompanied by mental health professionals or community first responders 

Louis Ng (Nee Soon GRC) and NMPs proposed for police officers to be accompanied by mental health professionals or community first responders when responding to cases involving persons with mental health conditions. 

Mrs Teo explained that for this to work, they would need enough such professionals available 24/7 to immediately respond with police to all cases islandwide, which would be difficult. 

“The practical approach is for the Police, after dealing with the danger, to refer such persons to mental health professionals for treatment. Or as we discussed earlier, to other community support organisations.” 

#4 Police will refer eligible persons with mental health conditions to the CREST teams 

Edward Chia (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC) suggested the Police could collaborate with the Community Outreach Teams, also known as the CREST teams, established by the Agency for Integrated Care (AIC) to assist these individuals. 

Mrs Teo said the Police will refer eligible persons with mental health conditions to the CREST teams in the region or to AIC, which will send these cases to other relevant mental health service providers when appropriate. 

“Keeping in mind that some of these individuals may well prefer to maintain their privacy and not have whatever action that they’ve taken be made known so widely. I think the Police are also mindful of that, and they will have to decide whether it is appropriate for them to make a referral,” she added.  

#5 Police regularly update their training to ensure it remains relevant 

Several MPs expressed concern over the training that police officers receive. Dr Harun stated that structured training for police officers on how to apprehend individuals attempting suicide would be important to guide officers handling such situations. This training could be combined with input from care professionals and specialists in the field. 

Mrs Teo highlighted the importance of training, stressing that the Police regularly update training conducted by qualified professionals to ensure relevance. For example, Police officers undergo a mental health awareness course designed by the AIC. This helps officers identify and respond to people showing signs of mental health conditions.  

“Apart from training, officers are also guided by a specific set of internal Standard Operating Procedures, which are regularly updated,” she added.  

#6 Police will not condone officers abusing their powers or acting inappropriately 

In response to Yip Hon Weng’s (Yio Chu Kang SMC) question on safeguards against police officers overstepping their authority when arresting individuals, Mrs Teo noted that the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Police do not tolerate officers abusing their powers or behaving improperly.  

“Police ground response force officers don body-worn cameras which ensure accountability and transparency. Their actions can be audited very easily because it’s recorded. If the officers have breached the law and committed criminal offences, the Police will refer the matter to the AGC for criminal prosecution.”  

Mrs Teo added that if officers are guilty of misconduct, but it does not constitute a criminal offence, the Police will conduct internal investigations and take disciplinary action as needed. In serious cases, officers are dismissed from service.  

#7 PAP Government recognises the social stigma and challenges faced by persons with mental health conditions  

Several MPs expressed concern about the stigma facing mental health patients. Mrs Teo reiterated the PAP government’s commitment to do more to improve mental health and wellbeing, as Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong has set out in February. 

She said ground officers, who are familiar with friends and family struggling with mental health issues, understand the importance of treating people with empathy and respect.  

“I want to reassure members that the Government is mindful of the social stigma and challenges that persons with mental health conditions face. Section 7 of MHCTA is not meant to place additional burdens on such persons or their families. Instead, our goals are to prevent danger from materialising and enable persons with mental health issues to access medical care in a timely manner.”