Written Reply by Ms Grace Fu, Minister for Sustainability and the Environment, to Parliamentary Questions on Safe Distancing Enforcement Officers and Home Inspections
Mr Zhulkarnain Abdul Rahim: To ask the Minister for Sustainability and the Environment in light of the powers granted to safe distancing enforcement officers to enter, inspect and search various premises without a warrant to check for compliance with COVID-19 regulations (a) under what circumstances are such powers exercised; (b) what procedures are in place during the exercise of such powers; and (c) what measures and safeguards are in place to ensure the safety and protection of enforcement officers and premise owners during such checks.
Mr Liang Eng Hwa: To ask the Minister for Sustainability and the Environment (a) what are the operating procedures and protocols that the safe distancing enforcement officers observe when they enter and inspect residential premises; and (b) what are the feedback received from the public on the conduct of safe distancing enforcements.
Mr Pritam Singh: To ask the Minister for Sustainability and the Environment (a) what training is provided to safe distancing enforcement officers operating under the auspices of the COVID-19 (Temporary Measures) Act before deployment; (b) whether this pre-deployment training includes calibrating their response to unverified reports of safe distancing infractions; and (c) to date, how many complaints or feedback has the Government received about the conduct of (i) safe distancing ambassadors and (ii) safe distancing enforcement officers, respectively.
1 Safe Distancing Enforcement Officers (EOs) are empowered under the COVID-19 (Temporary Measures) Act and Infectious Diseases Act to enter premises, including residential homes, shops, food and beverage establishments and offices without a warrant to check for possible COVID-19-related infringements. Only EOs have enforcement powers and are authorised to enter premises; and Safe Distancing Ambassadors (SDAs) do not have such powers. For residences, EOs do not randomly or proactively enter and check for potential breaches, given the sensitivities. They adhere to a set of protocols to guide them in deciding whether to enter homes and check for potential breaches.
2 Entry into homes is not necessary most of the time. EOs typically engage occupants at home entrances and can identify tell-tale signs of possible breaches from outside. For larger residences, EOs will request to enter for checks, based on a reasonable level of suspicion or repeated feedback that COVID-19 regulations may have been breached. From April 2020 to August 2021, out of more than 5,100 cases of feedback received for potential breaches in homes, EOs entered residences on less than 30 occasions. There have been 16 cases of enforcement action involving breaches in homes, and two cases pending further investigation.
3 EOs will request to enter residences if there are repeated or substantiated feedback, or by the presence of tell-tale signs from outside the residence. EOs will engage the occupants and identify themselves with both their EO and corporate staff passes, and explain their intent. To verify their identities, residents may request to see their Letters of Appointment from the Ministry of Health, which authorise them to perform their roles as EOs. To provide greater assurance and prevent impersonation, all EOs will wear a photo identification card, which will include new features like a serial number, name of officer, the officer's organisation and its contact details.
4 All EOs are trained on the code of conduct and rules of engagement when dealing with members of public. This includes pre-deployment training, on-the-job training, where new officers are paired with experienced officers, as well as regular updates in protocols and processes. When performing home checks, EOs follow strict protocols. EOs will follow the lead of the occupants and avoid physical contact with them. At least two EOs are deployed to perform the checks and may also be accompanied by Police Officers during joint operations or if law and order issues are encountered. If there appears to be a sole occupant who is a woman, child or a person with disability, EOs will exercise reasonable measures to ensure the well-being and safety of the occupant, such as to ensure that a female EO is involved in the checks.
5 EOs will also be equipped with body worn cameras progressively. These cameras will be activated prior to entering the residence to capture the inspection process. Only authorised personnel will be allowed to access the footage for investigation and the footage may be used in court as evidence.
6 From January to August 2021, we received 75 and 17 cases of feedback related to the conduct of SDAs and EOs respectively, of which 20 and 2 cases were found to be substantiated, mostly for rude or unprofessional behaviour. The Government treats any allegation of misconduct seriously and will investigate and take the appropriate action if any case is established.