From 2011, grassroots leaders at Bukit Panjang will be involved in the orientation programme of secondary one students.

This is part of efforts to increase youth engagement following a spate of gang-related attacks in the community - which gripped headlines in 2010.

The newsdesk looks ahead to 2011 at measures to ensure a safer community.

32-year-old Desmond Lim was recently put in charge of the Citizens On Patrol programme in Bukit Panjang.

This after seven people were attacked by a gang there in November.

And he says residents want to be part of maintaining a safe community.

"They want to be part of the COP team because they feel that they are the residents here, and they should play a part as a volunteer. It's good to have them so that we can be more vigilant, with more eyes and more ears to help us out in the COP."

The number of volunteers for patrols has nearly doubled, from 68 to 115. 

The frequency of patrols has also gone up from once a month to three times a week. 

One of the new volunteers is 46-year-old Sailesh Peter. 

"I'm worried about safety and security in my neighbourhood. It's natural for parents to be worried. So, I thought in a small way, if I can help the neighbourhood and my family, by taking part in this COP in my area, it would somehow help the community."

In October, a 19-year-old polytechnic student was killed at Downtown East in another gang-related attack.

A total of 11 youths have so far been rounded up, all charged with murder.

Such incidents raised awareness about the issue of youths-at-risk, leading grassroots leaders to step-up their engagement programmes.

Mr Liang Eng Hwa is the MP for Holland-Bukit Timah GRC. 

"To that extent we're working with the schools with various things, one of which is that we want to participate in the school's secondary one orientation programme. We want our grassroots leaders to  welcome them to our community and also instil in them that they should really see this neighbourhood as part of their environment"

Others believe there's a need to collaborate with Voluntary Welfare Organisations. 

Hong Koh GRC MP, Dr Amy Khor. 

"We need to work with some of the VWOs like Perdaus, and Teen Challenge and so on who have their expertise also to see how we can bring these youths on board on useful, meaningful programmes."

Voluntary Welfare Organisations also experienced an increase in the number of parents seeking help.

Teen Challenge saw a 20 per cent rise in calls and referrals, says its director, Joyce Chan. 

"One of the understanding that parents now have is that if their kids are hanging out late into the night, doesn't want to go to school, sleep in until late and they don't really see them. These are signs that parents pick up and whenever they see such signs they are more concerned and they start calling us to see what we can advice them."

Efforts are also being made to strengthen enforcement.

The Government is studying how police powers can be enhanced to prevent youths-at-risk from getting involved in gangs.

Sentencing options will also be re-examined. 

The aim is to allow the authorities to intervene early, and deal with young people who need help in gangs, but have yet to commit criminal offences. 

Some changes may include - requiring gang members to register and report regularly at police stations. 

Places where a sense of brotherhood is fostered, like LAN gaming centres may also be regulated.

Neighbourhoods are also faced with other common crimes like loan shark harrassment activities. 

Since stiffer penalties kicked in this year, illegal moneylenders have a tougher time recruiting Singaporeans to be their runners. 

But, it seems loan shark syndicates are turning to foreign workers. 

In recent times, at least eight foreigners have been involved in illegal moneylending activities. 

The GPC Chair for Law and Home Affairs, Alvin Yeo, says it's disturbing. 

"If the runner isn't apprehended while he's in Singapore, and goes back to his native country, it's going to be even harder to get hold of him and to get any information. Also, the foreign born runners might be more willing to bend the law because they would feel they have more of a chance to escape, because they're going back home."

Going forward, the National Committee on Youth Guidance and Rehabilitation is expected to release its recommendations in 2011.

The revised Criminal Procedure Code also takes effect on the 2nd of January.

Among other things, it will give judges the discretion to pass lighter, community-based sentences on young offenders or those who commit minor offences. 

This feature was filed by Saifulbahri Ismail

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