In July 2023, Singaporeans islandwide had been shaken when news broke out that an officer of the Singapore Police Force (SPF) had taken his own life at 36 years of age.
Before he prematurely left the world however, the man, identified to be Sergeant Uvaraja Gopal, had left behind a Facebook post that revealed the chilling alleged reasons of his suicide.
In his post, he had made allegations against his workplace and colleagues at SPF, citing misconduct, abuse and even racial discrimination, sending Singapore citizens into deeper shock as the trust they had placed in the police force was put into question.
Around half a year later on 6 February 2024, Minister for Home Affairs and Law K. Shanmugam delivered a ministerial statement regarding Sgt Uvaraja’s suicide during a Parliament sitting.
Addressing Sgt Uvaraja’s Allegations
In his now unavailable Facebook post, Sgt Uvaraja had made numerous accusations and allegations pointing towards the abusive behaviour and misconduct of SPF officers, including mistreatment, misconduct cover-ups, unfair appraisals, and workplace ostracism.
Some of the allegations had been addressed by SPF in a statement on 24 July 2023, but Mr Shanmugam had stepped up to further clarify doubts and shed more light on the situation, with deepest respects given to the bereaved family.
Given Singapore’s reliance on public trust in law enforcement for safety and security, a thorough investigation is warranted to address these allegations transparently, said Mr Shanmugam. If wrongdoing is found, it must be addressed to maintain trust.
Conversely, if the allegations are baseless, a clear defence is necessary to prevent damage to both morale within the force and public confidence in the Singapore Police Force.
Throughout the course of investigation, interviews with witnesses, from current to ex-officers, were conducted, and past documentation and reports were looked at.
Name-calling Allegations and Use of Racial Slurs
Police records have shown that Sgt Uvaraja had made this complaint in 2015, where it was found that his colleagues involved had been using said inappropriate language while talking amongst themselves.
It is to be noted that none of the remarks had not been targeted specifically at Sgt Uvaraja.
However, Mr Shanmugam emphasised, directed at Sgt Uvaraja or not, the remarks were not acceptable at all, and cases involving racial slurs or casual racism is considered as a disciplinary breach.
The culprit had reportedly apologised to Sgt Uvaraja in front of his whole team, and the superiors closely monitored the situation to make sure that it does not repeat again.
Superior Allegedly Shredded Sgt Uvaraja’s Leave Form
Another allegation was made involving a superior of Sgt Uvaraja shredding up his leave form and uploading a video of said action into a group chat. This incident took place in 2019.
According to Mr Shanmugam, Sgt Uvaraja had applied for discretionary time-off, which did not require the submission of the leave form.
The request for time off had been made at the last minute, but it was still approved by his superior despite prior approvals for other officers’ leave.
It was not the first time that Sgt Uvaraja had done so, with previous instances leading to manpower shortages. The superior ended up speaking to Sgt Uvaraja personally about his actions inconveniencing the team.
However, when Uvaraja insisted on his request during a personal chat, his superior had shredded the leave form, which was not required in the first place.
The superior’s conduct, while maybe somewhat understandable, was deemed unprofessional and inappropriate, resulting in reprimand after Uvaraja escalated the matter up the chain of command.
Following the incident, Uvaraja and his superior were temporarily reassigned to different units to allow both parties to cool off.
Officers’ Misconduct were Allegedly Covered Up
Sgt Uvaraja had also claimed that his fellow officers were vaping within Police compounds in 2021 and the illegal act had been allegedly covered up.
Responding to Uvaraja’s concerns, his Commander initiated an impartial inspection by an independent superior from another unit, conducting thorough checks of all lockers and personal belongings within the Police compound.
Despite the complaint targeting specific officers, all individuals were interviewed during the process. However, investigations concluded that Uvaraja’s complaint was unsubstantiated.
Uvaraja’s identity as the whistleblower also remained confidential throughout the investigation.
In a separate incident in January 2023, Sgt Uvaraja had previously reported officers smoking within another Police compound, leading to successful investigations and subsequent disciplinary actions against the involved officers.
Said Mr Shanmugam, “So when the complaint is made out, disciplinary action was taken. When the complaint was not made out, he was told that a complaint was not made out, no cover up.”
Sgt Uvaraja was Allegedly Unfairly Held Back
Sgt Uvaraja also claimed that he was given unfair work performance appraisals, and was held back in his career.
These were found to be untrue, said Mr Shanmugam, as Uvaraja’s superiors had provided him with opportunities to apply for various postings within the Police Land Divisions, accommodating his requests for transfers whenever feasible.
Over a span of nine years, Uvaraja was transferred to six different work units, a notably higher number compared to standard practice within the Police force.
Two of these transfers were directly linked to Uvaraja’s whistleblowing activities regarding smoking offences, as he was uncomfortable working with colleagues he had reported against.
Investigations into his performance appraisals also concluded that his grades accurately reflected his contributions. He was also the recipient of the COVID-19 Resilience Medal.
Sgt Uvaraja also said that he felt like “an outcast” amongst his fellow officers, citing an incident whereby none of his colleagues showed up to his wedding despite his invitation.
To this, it was found that Sgt Uvaraja had invited his Officer-in-Charge (OC), who was unable to attend the wedding due to illness and had subsequently apologised to Sgt Uvaraja.
Sgt Uvaraja had also informed his Commanding Officer (CO) about his upcoming wedding, but a formal invitation had not been extended.
Ultimately, it was confirmed that some allegations were indeed true, and disciplinary actions and punishments were promptly taken.
However, other allegations were found to be untrue.
Personal Challenges Experienced by Sgt Uvaraja
Mr Shanmugam acknowledged that Sgt Uvaraja had been dealing with a number of personal issues, such as familial and health problems, throughout the course of his career as a police officer.
Sgt Uvaraja grappled with psychological strains and chronic insomnia, seeking numerous consultations for his condition since 2017. Alongside insomnia, he exhibited symptoms of anxiety and depression.
On top of that, Sgt Uvaraja’s relationships with both his wife and family members, including his parents and brother, were fraught with tension and conflict.
In the months leading up to his suicide, multiple police interventions were sought in both Sgt Uvaraja’s and his parents’ residence over disputes and alleged assaults.
As a result, Sgt Uvararja faced up to three ongoing criminal and disciplinary investigations at the time of his passing, including charges under the Penal Code and the Protection from Harassment Act, as well as internal disciplinary probes for disobedience of orders.
Professional Help was Indeed Extended to Sgt Uvaraja
Mr Shanmugam had noted efforts to aid Sgt Uvaraja through these issues, including professional assistance and extended leave.
Sgt Uvaraja frequently requested medical leave, sometimes extending for several months on end annually.
On occasions when his paid leave entitlement was exhausted, he applied for unpaid leave to address his health concerns, which the Police had granted.
From 2014 to 2023, Sgt Uvaraja took an average of about 120 days of leave every year.
On top of granting Sgt Uvaraja his requested leaves, the Police also helped with arranging counselling and psychological assistance since 2016.
In January 2023, Uvaraja reported work stress, leading to the assignment of a para-counsellor.
Upon his transfer to a new unit on 16 February 2023, Sgt Uvaraja exhibited signs of instability and received immediate counselling from a para-counsellor, followed by attention from a psychologist from the Police Psychological Services Department.
Sgt Uvaraja’s superiors had also offered him guidance through face-to-face interactions, reviews of his plans, and the establishment of attainable goals.
These measures were implemented to support Uvaraja in enhancing his performance and meeting the expectations of his role within the organisation.
Sgt Uvaraja’s passing and the allegations he made have left a profound impact on his colleagues within the police force.
According to Mr Shanmugam, many officers who had interacted with him across various assignments and were aware of his circumstances expressed sadness over his tragic death.
However, they also harboured disappointment regarding the false claims and accusations he directed towards the Police Force.
“They tried their best to help him, to care for him. They covered his shifts when he was absent from duties, sometimes even when they had made prior leave plans,” said the Minister.
Despite the collective efforts of many officers to assist him, there is a prevailing sense of sadness and disappointment that a colleague had decided to prematurely end his life.
A six-hour debate was also conducted during the Parliament sitting regarding mental health and what can be done to advance it.
Suggestions include implementing regular mental health check-ups in schools to identify and address mental health distress among young people early on and providing increased support to parents and caregivers of individuals with mental health conditions to create a supportive environment at home
Employers should also consider granting paid medical leave to employees who require time off for seeking medical assistance during work days.
As for the officers of SPF, officers have access to comprehensive support services including MHA’s Psychological Services, peer support programs, a 24/7 helpline, and external agency-administered services.
Confidentiality is maintained for those seeking help. Workshops and courses are provided to help officers cope with operational stress and mental health issues.
Annually, a month-long campaign raises awareness about mental health and self-care, reflecting their ongoing commitment to supporting officers’ well-being.
These initiatives have been in place for years and are regularly reviewed to ensure relevance and effectiveness.
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