The Singapore Police Force (SPF) has reviewed its policy regarding cases involving racial slurs or casual racism among its officers. Such cases will now be investigated as “possible misconduct” and “a disciplinary breach”, according to Home Affairs and Law Minister K Shanmugam.
Warning: This article discusses sensitive topics, including suicide. Reader discretion is advised.
This change aims to ensure that there is a record of the incident, appropriate disciplinary action is taken, and the subsequent behavior of the involved officer is closely monitored.
Minister Shanmugam made this announcement Feb 6, 2024 while delivering a ministerial statement in parliament regarding the death of Sergeant Uvaraja Gopal last year.
The 35-year-old officer died by suicide on July 21, 2023, after he was found lying motionless at the foot of a Housing Board block in Yishun. Sergeant Gopal had served with the police for over 10 years and was last stationed at the Ang Mo Kio Police Division.
The tragic incident shed light on allegations made by Sergeant Gopal himself in a now-deleted Facebook post. He claimed to have been bullied by his superiors and subjected to ethnic slurs by his teammates. He also alleged that some officers’ misconduct was being covered up, that his performance appraisals were unfair to him, and that he was ostracized at work.
In response to these allegations, SPF stated that Sergeant Gopal had already made similar complaints in 2015, which were investigated and found to be unsubstantiated.
They further stated that any complaints made by Gopal against his superiors and peers over the years had been thoroughly investigated and addressed.
However, following his tragic death, Minister Shanmugam requested SPF to conduct another investigation into the matter and for the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) to review the findings.
AGC Determines No Further Actions Needed in Investigation of Police Officer’s Allegations
Minister K Shanmugam announced that the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) has reviewed the findings of the Singapore Police Force’s (SPF) latest investigation and has determined that no further actions were needed. The investigation was carried out in response to allegations made by Sergeant S Uvaraja.
During the course of the investigation, witnesses, including both current and former officers, were interviewed, and past documentation and records were examined. The investigation found that some of the allegations made by SGT Uvaraja were indeed true, and appropriate disciplinary action had been taken against the officers involved at the time. However, it was also concluded that some of the allegations were false.
Minister Shanmugam expressed his reluctance to divulge the specific details of the investigation’s findings out of respect for SGT Uvaraja’s memory and consideration for his family.
However, he emphasized the necessity of addressing the allegations in the interest of the public.
The minister said “would have preferred not to go into the details” of the investigation findings out of respect for SGT Uvaraja’s memory and in consideration for his family, but it was in the public interest to deal with his allegations.
Minister Shanmugam highlighted the importance of conducting a thorough investigation to ensure accountability and maintain public trust in the police force.
He stressed that if any wrongdoing is uncovered, it must be dealt with and officers responsible must be held accountable. Failure to do so could result in a loss of public trust over time.
On the other hand, if allegations are unfounded, it is essential to publicly defend the police force and set the facts straight to preserve morale and public trust.
“If this is not done, and untruths are allowed to fester, morale in SPF will go down, and public trust will be eroded. We have seen this, and many other things, happen – in the US, UK and other countries”, the minister added in his statement.
In his Facebook post, SGT Uvaraja, alleged that he was ill-treated and bullied by his superiors and colleagues, including the use of racially inappropriate language against him.
Internal investigations conducted in 2015 found that the officers involved were engaged in casual conversation among themselves, and the remarks were not specifically directed at SGT Uvaraja.
However, Minister Shanmugam said that such remarks were “not acceptable” under any circumstances.
“We cannot tolerate racism. Nor can we tolerate casual racism, snide remarks, jokes which are racist.”
“It doesn’t matter whether they were directed at Uvaraja or they were not directed at Uvaraja. They were and are not acceptable, period,” the minister added.
“Uvaraja’s superiors made that clear to the team that such language cannot be used even as a joke. The officer who made the remark apologised to Uvaraja immediately in front of the whole team.
“If he had not apologised, he would have been made to do so. Disciplinary action would also have been taken against him.”
Uvaraja’s superiors “continued to monitor the situation” to prevent further recurrences, said Mr Shanmugam in parliament. After being informed of the outcome, SGT Uvaraja declined his deputy commander’s suggestion to lodge an official complaint.
“Since the incident, the police conducted a review of their policies, and there is a framework of approach for these cases.
“Cases involving racial slurs or casual racism will be investigated as possible misconduct, as a disciplinary breach. This is to ensure that there is a record of such an incident and that disciplinary action would be taken and the officer’s subsequent behaviour will be closely monitored.”
The police will “also continue to engage officers, shape culture, and engage in frank discussion” on such issues around racial slurs or casual racism through platforms like the annual ethics seminar, Mr Shanmugam added.
If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts, please reach out to a helpline or contact a mental health professional.
- Samaritans of Singapore Hotline: 1767
- Institute of Mental Health’s Helpline: 6389 2222
- Singapore Association for Mental Health Helpline: 1800 283 7019
VAPING, SMOKING, PERSONAL CHALLENGES & SUPPORT
Sergeant Uvaraja Gopal was facing three ongoing criminal and disciplinary investigations.
Prior to his death, he made allegations against the Singapore Police Force (SPF) in a Facebook post, claiming workplace bullying, cover-ups of police misconduct, unfair treatment, ostracism, and racial discrimination. At the time of his death, Sgt Uvaraja was under investigation for criminal offences and two internal disciplinary investigations for disobedience. He had also previously mentioned that a significant portion of police officers are from minority races.
In 2023, he reported officers smoking within a different police compound, according the minister.
Investigations found evidence of this, and the officers involved were referred to the Internal Affairs Office. They have since been disciplined, he added.
Sgt Uvaraja had been supported by the Singapore Police Force (SPF) due to his personal issues, including health problems and psychological stresses. He frequently took medical leave for extended periods of time and had a history of anxiety and depressive symptoms. From 2014 to 2023, he took an average of 120 days of leave annually.
Additionally, Sgt Uvaraja had a strained relationship with his wife and family, as evidenced by multiple police calls made against him between April and July in 2023. His wife accused him of preventing her from leaving their home, his brother alleged that he was assaulted by Sgt Uvaraja over a financial matter, and his mother expressed fear for her safety.
SGT Uvaraja had applied for discretionary time-off without the need for a form. Despite sending the application last minute, his superior approved it, although this was not the first time SGT Uvaraja had inconvenienced his team with his leave requests.
On previous occasions, his teammates had to be recalled to cover the manpower shortfall.
During a conversation with his superior, SGT Uvaraja maintained his request for time off and asked the superior to end their conversation.
The superior then shredded the leave form and uploaded a recording of himself doing so on the team chat group, stating that the form was not required and contained personal information. Mr Shanmugam, the Law and Home Affairs Minister, criticized the superior’s conduct, saying it was unprofessional.
“The superior’s conduct was not professional. He should not have done that, even though one can understand his unhappiness”.
“Uvaraja raised this matter up the chain of command, and the superior was then reprimanded. Uvaraja was temporarily reassigned to a different unit so that both officers could have some time to cool off”, Mr Shanmugam said.
As a result, the superior was reprimanded and SGT Uvaraja was temporarily reassigned to a different unit. SGT Uvaraja also made allegations that other superiors used abusive language against him.
However, investigations did not support these claims. Mr Shanmugam stated that SGT Uvaraja often communicated with his superiors directly, and they responded to him professionally.
Regarding SGT Uvaraja’s claims of a cover-up of officers’ vaping and smoking misconduct, Mr Shanmugam clarified that this was untrue. When SGT Uvaraja reported officers vaping within police compounds, his commander directed an independent superior from a different unit to conduct a surprise check.
The officers were interviewed, and the complaint was not substantiated. Similarly, when SGT Uvaraja reported other officers for smoking within a different police compound, evidence was uncovered during investigations, and the officers were disciplined.
Mr Shanmugam addressed the allegations that SGT Uvaraja was unfairly held back in his career and received unfair performance appraisals, stating that these claims were untrue.
“These are untrue,” Mr Shanmugam said.
He highlighted that SGT Uvaraja was given opportunities to apply for postings and was transferred to different work units upon his request.
“Uvaraja was given opportunities to apply for postings, like his colleagues in the Police Land Divisions. When Uvaraja asked to be transferred, his superiors had facilitated and acceded to his requests, wherever possible.”
Investigations found that his performance grades were a fair assessment of his work contributions, and he was even awarded the COVID-19 Resilience Medal.
RESPONSE TO OSTRACISM CLAIM MADE BY SGT
Regarding SGT Uvaraja’s claim of ostracism, Mr Shanmugam stated that it was untrue.
SGT Uvaraja only invited his officer-in-charge to his wedding, who could not attend due to illness. The commanding officer also congratulated him in front of his teammates.
Mr Shanmugam then detailed the professional support that SGT Uvaraja received from the Singapore Police Force (SPF) amid personal challenges with his family and health.
SGT Uvaraja faced psychological stresses, attended multiple psychological consultations for chronic insomnia, and displayed anxiety and depressive symptoms. The police provided him with professional support, including time off, psychological counseling, and coaching. SGT Uvaraja’s performance was assessed as below average, and his superiors guided him through face-to-face engagements and set achievable targets.
“One officer who had partnered Uvaraja shared that she had encouraged him to start afresh when he was given a new posting, despite his past unhappinesses. But she was disappointed when he frequently did not show up for work,” the minister said.
“Another officer recalled how he had spent efforts to arrange one-on-one chats and meals with Uvaraja and sending him well wishes on his birthday to motivate him.”
SGT Uvaraja’s colleagues made efforts to help and support him, covering his shifts when he was absent and arranging one-on-one chats and meals with him. Despite all the support provided to him, SGT Uvaraja externalized his issues onto his colleagues and the SPF, causing sadness among the officers.
Image from Facebook
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