Saturday 22 February 2014

Little India Riot COI: Day 3

Riot police not often deployed in Little India due to falling crime
By Walter Sim, The Straits Times, 22 Feb 2014

TROOPS from the Special Operations Command (SOC) - more commonly known as the "riot police" - have not been frequently deployed in Little India due to the area's falling crime rate.

There is also a need to prioritise the deployment of this limited resource, which also performs security and anti-terrorism patrols elsewhere, said Deputy Commissioner of Police T. Raja Kumar yesterday.

Mr Raja Kumar is the first police witness to testify at the public hearing convened to look into the Dec 8 riot in Little India.

He was responding to a question by the Committee of Inquiry as to why SOC troops were being deployed in places like Boat Quay and City Hall, instead of an area like Little India where foreign workers have had a reputation of getting drunk.

The Maria Hertogh riots in 1950 led to the formation of police riot squads, the predecessor of the SOC, to deal with public order disturbances, said Mr Raja Kumar.

But the threat assessment in Little India "suggested that such a forward deployment (of the SOC) was not necessary".

The number of auxiliary police officers deployed in the area have almost doubled as well, from the "high 40s" in 2009 to 81 today.

More manpower had been channelled to Rochor Neighbourhood Police Centre, which serves the Indian ethnic enclave.

There is also a dedicated intelligence team that focuses on Little India, he said, adding that the foreign workers there have "by and large" been compliant.

In the midst of ramped-up enforcement, the crime situation in Little India has improved "quite significantly" in recent years, said Mr Raja Kumar.

He revealed that the number of major crime cases fell 32 per cent between 2009 and last year, compared to the 19 per cent fall nationwide over the same period. "So we are talking about lower crime, and a better crime situation in Little India," he said.

Meanwhile, the number of summonses issued for jaywalking offences rose to 2,000 last year, from the 300 issued five years ago. Still, SOC troops were deployed in Little India for anti-crime patrols on no less than 16 occasions last year, he revealed.

This included events such as Thaipusam, where it was determined that there is a greater potential for public order disturbance.

However, the police do not have the "luxury of resources" to deploy an SOC troop in Little India every weekend.

This was, in part, due to a shifting global security environment after the Sept 11 attacks in the United States.

As such, the SOC, which used to deal solely with public order disturbances, has now also taken on counter-terrorism tasks.

Mr Raja Kumar said that despite these new demands, the force is also facing tighter manpower. "At the peak, the SOC had as many as 12 troops. We are now at eight. The number of persons has also come down in each troop.

"But even if we cut the size of the SOC, we have made an effort to up its capability."

On the issue of deployment, he said it is not just "one location which is pre-eminent".

Citing other "potential problem spots" such as Geylang, he said: "Would we want to deploy troops to Little India every weekend? If we have the resources, we will do it."

Decision to retreat and regroup 'taken after officers assessed risks'
By Walter Sim, The Straits Times, 22 Feb 2014

IN A much-discussed video online, six Home Team officers and two auxiliary policemen were seen running out of an ambulance, seemingly fleeing the epicentre of the riot in Little India.

Circumstances leading to this hasty retreat were raised on the third day of the Committee of Inquiry into the Dec 8 riot, with Deputy Commissioner of Police T. Raja Kumar presenting a timeline of the events that night.

He told the inquiry that the decision to retreat was a "considered one" taken by Station Inspector (SI) Muhammad Adil Lawi from the Traffic Police (TP).

Mr Raja Kumar called SI Adil "a brave officer" for sensing that the officers were in imminent danger and leading them to safety.

As the violence erupted, SI Adil, a TP team leader, was stationed at the junction of Race Course Road and Buffalo Road, the inquiry heard yesterday.

He was directing traffic onto Bukit Timah Road to clear the roads for the arrival of Special Operations Command vehicles even as the unruly crowd threw projectiles at him and other officers.

Mr Raja Kumar said of SI Adil, who will also be called to give evidence at the inquiry: "With the increasing intensity of the projectiles, he assessed it was no longer safe for his men to stay out in the open without shields."

SI Adil therefore told his officers to take his car and regroup at a safer location.

Although he was injured, he remained in the area to ensure that nobody was left behind. He then spotted an injured colleague, Staff Sergeant How Kit Seng, standing near an ambulance.

Four Singapore Civil Defence Force officers were already on board the vehicle and offered the pair refuge from the raining projectiles. They were joined by two officers from Certis Cisco.

Shortly after, a TP motorcycle parked near the ambulance was set on fire. Four minutes after that, a police patrol car just in front of the ambulance was also torched.

Mr Raja Kumar explained: "As there was danger that the rioters might next set the ambulance on fire, SI Adil assessed that they had to evacuate... as soon as the opportunity arose."

The eight officers ran from the ambulance, shielding themselves with blankets as they were pelted with projectiles. "(SI Adil) was the last man to leave the ambulance," Mr Raja Kumar said. A minute later, the ambulance was set on fire, and it later exploded.

"It was a good example of the Home Team working together," said Mr Raja Kumar, adding that the eight officers regrouped at a safer spot some distance away.

"None of the officers left the scene," he said.

Police quizzed about decision to 'hold the ground'
Committee chairman says it reflected 'poor judgment'
By Lim Yan Liang, The Straits Times, 22 Feb 2014

THE police were accused of "poor judgment" yesterday, with the Committee of Inquiry (COI) saying the Little India rioters "had full freedom to do what they wanted".

Committee chairman G. Pannir Selvam told Deputy Commissioner of Police T. Raja Kumar - the Acting Commissioner on Dec8 - that police strategy, coordination and action that night had been found wanting.

A decision was made by Deputy Assistant Commissioner (DAC) Lu Yeow Lim, commander of Tanglin Police Division, for officers stationed at roads around the scene to "hold the ground" and contain the rioters until Special Operations Command (SOC) troops arrived.

But Mr Selvam said this gave the mob "a good protected area" where they could destroy government property with impunity. The former Supreme Court judge also pointed out that there were over 100 police officers along Race Course Road that night and only about 25 active rioters.

Mr Raja Kumar explained that it was "a matter of judgment" by ground DAC Lu, who had decided there were not enough officers at that point to "dominate the ground".

But the retired judge hit back: "It was poor judgment."

He said the rioters "had full freedom to do what they wanted - namely, to burn the bus, burn the vehicles and attack you".

Police riot suppression tactics were also called into question by former police commissioner and COI member Tee Tua Ba.

Besides the lack of training to deal with public-order situations, Mr Tee said the decision to hold the ground, rather than to try to engage or arrest the rioters, showed lessons had not been learnt from three riots in northern England in 2001, where a study showed such a strategy actually emboldened rioters.

"The rioters are watching you: how you behave, how you respond, or if you stand there and wait," said Mr Tee. "They may get a perception that you are not going to do anything so it becomes even worse."

Mr Raja Kumar admitted the force had learnt lessons from the riot in Little India and put in place changes to the protocol involved in activating the SOC.

On the night of the riot, it took 12 minutes to approve the ground commander's request for the specialist troops to be activated. The first troop then took another 38 minutes to arrive at the scene due to traffic congestion.

Mr Raja Kumar also noted that officers had difficulty communicating with base using their radios while phone lines were jammed with members of the public calling with information.

The police are now "fast-tracking" the introduction of mounted cameras for officers and vehicles to improve communication with the operations centres.

Mr Raja Kumar emphasised that the first officers to reach the scene were not trained to deal with large-scale riots. While all officers were armed, they chose not to respond with force - despite being pelted with projectiles - as it was not felt to be a life-threatening situation.

"There were not just rioters, there were many curious onlookers... people having their meals around the restaurants there," he said. "If you open fire at a time like this, there could have been loss of innocent civilian life."

Saving lives was also among the priorities of the police that night. Those first on the scene were focused on shielding officers from the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) who were trying to get Mr Sakthivel Kumaravelu onto an ambulance. The 33-year-old Indian national was killed after he was run over by a bus, sparking the riot.

The SCDF team also did the same for the bus driver and timekeeper. "The officers had a mission focus - they had certain imperatives that occupied them," said Mr Raja Kumar.

He was later asked by Mr Selvam whether harsher policing of drunkenness in Little India could have done "a lot of favours to the residents, and yourself".

Mr Raja Kumar pointed out that auxiliary officers have been empowered to deal with such issues in Little India and should revellers become disorderly, the police would be called in.

When Mr Selvam said foreigners who drink should be sent a message, Mr Raja Kumar replied: "Your Honour, we'll take that on board."

Little India Riot COI: Day 1, Day 2

No comments:

Post a Comment