Wednesday 13 April 2016

TCOP: Safer roads for elderly thanks to Traffic Community Policing

Community policing unit helps to address local traffic concerns
By Danson Cheong, The Straits Times, 12 Apr 2016

Elderly residents living around Block 205 Toa Payoh North used to jaywalk to get to the shops on the other side of the road, as the nearest pedestrian crossing is 50m away and at the top of a hill.

But they can now take their time to cross the road or be wheeled across in wheelchairs, after a new raised zebra crossing was built just outside the Xin Yuan Community Care centre at Block 205 last September.

The crossing was the result of the efforts of a new community policing unit from the Traffic Police (TP) set up last June .

Called Traffic Community Policing (TCOP), the unit sends officers to neighbourhoods to engage residents and to find out local traffic concerns.

"Usually people are apprehensive when we come, they will think, 'Is the TP here to summon us for illegal parking? But once they know we are here to help, they open up," said Assistant Superintendent (ASP) Candice Goh, 28, one of five TCOP team leaders here.

The unit has 15 officers covering the entire island. While the unit might seem lean, ASP Goh says they have had a significant impact.

Since the unit was set up in June, it has responded to nine different traffic concerns around the island.

In Ang Mo Kio, road dividers were built at Ang Mo Kio Avenue 6 to stop elderly residents from an eldercare centre jaywalking across the road.

Outside Yishun Junior College, waiting times at a pedestrian crossing were shortened following feedback that students were dashing across the road to get to class.

Another ongoing project has temporary barricades set up near Serangoon Plaza in Little India during weekends to deter jaywalkers.

In the Toa Payoh North case, a TCOP team visited Xin Yuan Community Care last August and found residents concerned that cars were zooming down the slope outside the eldercare centre.

The centre sits at the bottom, near a junction where the elderly and children from a nearby kindergarten cross daily.

"We've been applying so many years for a zebra crossing. But have been unsuccessful," said centre manager Desmond Chee.

With feedback from TCOP, a raised zebra crossing was built by the Land Transport Authority within a month.

It is a big help for seniors such as Madam Ho Yin Heng, 76.

"In the morning, there are many cars, and sometimes with my back pain, it's very difficult to lift my head and check for traffic," said the retiree, one of about 130 members at the centre.

Elderly jaywalkers are an area of concern for the TP. Last year, there were 211 accidents involving elderly pedestrians, about a quarter of which were a result of jaywalking.

ASP Goh said the new unit reflects a more proactive approach: "We want to step in and solve problems before accidents happen."

But engaging the public requires a different tack from being a law enforcer, said ASP Goh, who also manages a team of about 25 patrol officers who attend to traffic accidents and police the roads.

While she takes a strict approach with errant motorists, she adopts a "softer stance" in traffic community policing.

During a follow-up visit to Xin Yuan last month, she and two other TCOP officers chatted with elderly residents.

"They were just telling me about their daily lives... It is nice to be able to entertain and give them attention," said ASP Goh, who is fluent in Mandarin, English and Hokkien, and can sing Cantonese songs.

Sometimes traffic concerns pop up in the chat and this is where her officers take action, she said. They recommend safety measures to the appropriate agency.

"When changes are made, and people are happy that it is safer and more convenient, that is what gives me satisfaction," she said.

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