Wolves at the door

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 09 November, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 09 November, 2004, 12:00am

It is all too easy to fall into a false sense of security when living in Singapore. With a low crime rate, locals and expats alike think nothing of leaving a bag unattended or hanging loosely on the back of their chair. Bag snatches are almost unheard of, house break-ins are few and far between, and in the first half of the year, police reported only 12 murders. Indeed, cheating and related offences made for the majority of notable offences.

While Londoners' or New Yorkers' senses might immediately be raised by an unattended bag on a bus, that was not the case the other day on a bus that I boarded. As I gave the bag to the driver, he merely gave it a shake, before setting it aside.

Was I worried? Not really. Although police officers are practically invisible in downtown Singapore, there is a general feeling that the authorities are watching. Indeed, taxi drivers are always concerned about dropping you at an 'unauthorised' place because an officer could be lurking anywhere.

But now the unthinkable has happened: the murder of an eight-year-old child, here to study, hit the headlines last week. The little girl was said to be very independent and was often left to fend for herself around the market where her mother had worked. At the time, she had been left in the care of friends while her mother was back in her native China. She disappeared - and a nationwide search by volunteers drew blanks. It was only following the detention of a suspect that police finally found her body.

It was a reminder that even in gentle Singapore, bad things can happen. Many people choose to live here because of the feeling that it is about as safe as anywhere can be today. The belief was that children were safe from the menace of guns in school or drug-pushers hanging around the school gates.

Yet, in a recent incident, the arrest of several well-to-do Singaporeans and expats served to remind people that drugs are part of local life here, just as they are elsewhere.

It has also been announced that every school in Singapore will be patrolled by security guards and fitted with closed-circuit TV cameras as part of enhanced security measures. This came after the news last week that armed officers would be randomly patrolling commercial and residential areas with machine guns, similar to the ones used by troops patrolling Changi Airport. Although there is no specific security threat, the authorities said, the aim is to project an even stronger police presence on the ground and to 'reassure' the public.

Clearly, another piece of Singapore's Disney-like image is about to disappear.