in News Analysis

We do not arrest people who punch others on the street: Police

Punched in the face and slammed twice onto two cars, Singaporean manager Mr Ho was infuriated to find that his American attacker will not be arrested by police here. The Straits Times wrote:

The suspect was taken away by officers from the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS), a group of [American] law enforcement officers who ‘protect’ members of the United States Navy and Marine Corps

… The police said they questioned the suspect but did not arrest him because the alleged offence – voluntarily causing hurt – is not a seizable one.

A police spokesman said: ‘The complainant was advised to lodge a magistrate’s complaint should he wish to pursue the case against the defendant.’ — Straits Times, “Punched, slammed onto cars by drunk US sailor”, December 16, 2007

According to our police:

The key difference between a seizable and a non-seizable offence is that for seizable offences (such as murder, rape, voluntarily causing grievous hurt or causing hurt with weapons), police officers are legally empowered to arrest without a warrant. For non-seizable offences (such as misappropriation of property and mischief), police require a warrant of arrest or an order from a magistrate to make an arrest. — Asst Director, Police, Audrey Ang, 2006, from

Because Mr Ho was only hurt — but not grievously hurt — by his attacker, he would have to make a complaint with one of this form before any action could be taken against his attacker. While Mr Ho’s case is not strictly one of road bullying, it is worth noting that road bullying is a criminal offence in Singapore and bullies are frequently jailed and caned:

There can be no place on our roads for road bullies. Such persons must be made aware of the severe detestation the law expresses in regard to such crimes. They must not be allowed to go away thinking that they can beat up somebody else on the slightest provocation for the price of a few thousand dollars. If this sort of incidents occur, when they get out of their vehicles and assault others who may have aggravated them by their driving or for any other reason, prison sentences must now follow… — Magistrate Gilbert Low, 2004, from

Whether the lack of action is a result of bureaucracy (such as when our police decided not to do anything when a person was beaten up by a gang of hooligans) or because the offender in question is an American sailor, Singaporeans will sure miss the resolve Singapore had when it decided to continue with the caning of Michael Fay — despite pleas and opposition from then President Bill Clinton.