SINGAPORE – Security on the public transport network will be stepped up this holiday season, as the number of arrests made at public transport stations hits a three-year-high.

On Wednesday (Dec 6), a police spokesman said there will be patrols at more MRT stations and bus interchanges as the festive season approaches.

She was speaking to reporters on the sidelines of a media tour of Mowbray Camp in Choa Chu Kang to observe how police dogs sniff out explosives.

A total of 688 arrests were made between January and October this year, according to new figures from the Public Transport Security Command (Transcom). This is already higher than the full-year figure of 676 arrests for 2016 and 545 in 2015.

Common causes for arrests include being wanted for existing offences, carrying offensive weapons such as knuckle-dusters or possessing stolen items. Each year, more than 50,000 commuters are checked by officers who don the light grey berets.

Sergeant (NS) Bryant Choo, who has been with Transcom since December last year, said that each security check lasts no more than two minutes if commuters cooperated fully.

He said: “We get people who ask us, ‘Why me? Why are you conducting a check on me?’ Some of them can be very agitated.”

But people do largely cooperate when officers explained that the checks are for security, he added.

During the checks, officers will ask simple questions. They may also search pockets and bags and ask for the commuter’s particulars to see if they are wanted.

At MRT stations and bus interchanges, officers conduct daily patrols in teams of three or four. A team may consist of two Transcom officers accompanied by one or two officers from the K-9 unit under the Special Operations Command, who bring along their dogs to sniff out explosives, as part of the police’s counter-terrorism drive.

Senior Staff Sergeant Wong Wenxiong with his dog Esso, flanked by Sergeant (NS) Bryant Choo (left) and Sergeant (NS) Jemuel Feng (right). ST PHOTO: JONATHAN CHOO

Transcom officers follow alongside or behind the dogs, which are leashed, for about 30 minutes at each MRT station. They look out for suspicious behaviour from avoiding eye contact to running away from officers, Sgt (NS) Choo said.

Sgt Choo noted that some members of the public may be sensitive to the presence of a dog.

He said: “We tell commuters not to be alarmed (if they are) and that this is part of our routine. Sometimes, we use ourselves as a barrier between commuters and the dog.”

The Straits Times understands that the police have had no complaints from commuters about canines on patrol. The dogs have been trained to respond to their handlers’ command and will not approach commuters unless they smell something amiss. Even so, they will “signal” to their handlers and wait for a command before making any move.

Sgt Choo has gone on about five patrols with officers and dogs from the K-9 unit in the past year. They typically patrol high-traffic areas such as Raffles Place, Bayfront and Bugis.

With the approaching festive season, more boots and paws will be on the ground, a police spokesman said on Wednesday.

Ms Jessie Yit, 27, a tourist from Malaysia who was at Bayfront MRT station on Monday (Dec 04), said she feels safer with the police dogs on patrol.

It was her first time seeing a dog on police patrol.

She said in Mandarin: “I’m not afraid of the dogs if they are on leash. It feels safer with them around.”

She added: “But I also wonder whether if there’s something I should be worried about when I see them on patrol because they do stand out.”

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