Thursday 27 February 2014

Little India Riot COI: Day 5

'Not enough officers' to carry out early arrests
Police focused on protecting woman, extricating accident victim, says officer
By Walter Sim, The Straits Times, 26 Feb 2014

THE police did not have enough officers on the ground to effectively make any arrest when the riot first broke out, said a senior officer who was at the scene of the violence in Little India last year.

Instead, they were focused on two main tasks: forming a human barrier to protect rescuers so they could extricate an accident victim pinned under a bus, and evacuating a woman who seemed to be the target of the angry mob.

These were the two missions Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP) Jonathan Tang had set when he first arrived at the site of the accident where a private bus had run over and killed a 33-year-old Indian national.

"It's not that we didn't want to deal with these fellows," he said, referring to the rioters. "But in order to deal with them we would have to split our manpower, and I only had so many people then."

ASP Tang, 28, was one of the police officers who first arrived at the junction of Race Course Road and Tekka Lane.

Testifying on day five of the public inquiry into the riot yesterday, he said the death of their countryman seemed to rile up the emotions of the foreign workers gathered nearby.

They then turned on rescuers and police officers who were responding to the traffic accident.

Two auxiliary police officers (APOs) had told the Committee of Inquiry (COI) on Monday that the violence might not have spun out of control had there been more police officers on the ground making arrests earlier.

ASP Tang, however, disagreed, as he believed that any action to arrest the rioters would risk agitating them further.

A third APO, Constable Srisivasangkar Subramaniam, who had earlier arrested four Indian foreign workers for throwing bottles during the riot, was also instructed to stop, the committee heard.

"My ground supervisor told me that what I was doing was brave but dangerous and told me to stop, said the Certis Cisco officer.

The limited number of officers at ASP Tang's command at the time also meant he would not be able to adhere to the protocol of ensuring that all suspects in custody were escorted by a required number of officers.

He would also have to sacrifice men who had formed a cordon around the rescuers who were still extricating the accident victim. "If there was no barrier... the crowd would have gotten to the body. Who knows what would happen next," he said.

Therefore, leaving the victim while deploying manpower elsewhere was not an option, because it would have been disrespectful and might agitate the crowd.

Facing what was a 400-strong crowd, ASP Tang said it was a fast-changing environment and he had to be constantly assessing the situation and calibrating his actions. It was thus a "considered decision" that arrests were not made, rather than out of fear. "I don't think there was so much time, to even think about being frightened," said the team leader from the Kampong Java Neighbourhood Police Centre.

The committee heard that ASP Tang achieved his mission objectives within 38 minutes of his arrival on the scene.

And despite being "grossly outnumbered" by a crowd that included "about 150 to 200 active rioters", he then sought to ensure the safety of other officers. They included injured Staff Sergeant Mak Chung Kit and Senior Staff Sergeant Mydeen Sahul Hameed, who were among the first to the scene, having been conducting spot checks in the vicinity.

ASP Tang was also the officer who logged a request to activate troops from the Special Operations Command at about 9.45 that night, having sensed that officers with specialised training to deal with large-scale public order incidents were needed.

Even after he had achieved his objectives, ASP Tang went back in and started traversing the area for other officers who were hurt, when he was hit by a rock on his left temple. Still, he managed to help evacuate a group of Home Team and Certis Cisco officers in an ambulance from the chaos.

While agreeing with the committee that this might have given the public the impression that they were fleeing the scene, it was "never his intention".

He said he and his officers had later regrouped, forming a human barricade near Bukit Timah Road to prevent a spillover of the riot.

COI chairman G. Pannir Selvam later commended the officer: "You did a wonderful job in the situation you were in. If I had the power I would grant you a medal."

Officer explains why he did not use firearm
By Lim Yan Liang, The Straits Times, 26 Feb 2014

THE first senior police officer at the scene of the Dec 8 riot decided against firing a warning shot to disperse the crowd for fear of agitating them further, the Committee of Inquiry heard yesterday.

Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP) Jonathan Tang, testifying at the public hearing, said shooting into the mob to ward them off was also not "feasible" as there were curious onlookers among the rioters and nearby.

"It was not a situation where just because we had firearms, we would have won the war," said the 28-year-old, one of the first officers who responded to the incident in Little India last year.

He said possibly a fifth of what he estimated to be a 400-strong crowd were bystanders. "We were not going to fire our firearms indiscriminately - it was a situation where the revolvers were out of play," he said.

ASP Tang, who is based in Kampong Java Neighbourhood Police Centre, was responding to what had initially been reported as a road traffic accident in Race Course Road.

He arrived at 9.40pm after being alerted to the case 13 minutes earlier, the inquiry heard.

This was within the 15 minutes response time stipulated in police service guidelines for emergency cases. Road traffic accidents are not classified as emergencies.

While ASP Tang did consider firing off a warning shot as the situation spiralled out of control, he said doing so might have further incited the rioters, who by then were fast growing in number.

"Second, discharging my firearm would remind the crowd that the police officers were armed and I was concerned that the crowd might attack the officers and seize their firearms," he said.

"That would be the worst-case scenario."


I arrested four Indian foreign workers for throwing bottles by grabbing them from behind, one at a time, and handing that person over to the police officers. After handing over the fourth person, my ground supervisor told me that what I was doing was brave but dangerous and told me to stop.
- Certis Cisco constable Srisivasangkar Subramaniam, 22, one of the first responders at the scene. He added that he did not know how the police dealt with the four people, prompting Committee of Inquiry (COI) chairman G. Pannir Selvam to ask the investigators to check


It was a situation where we are surrounded by the crowd all around us. This should not be the case. We should be the ones to surround them, why are we putting ourselves in the centre of all of them?
- Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP) Jonathan Tang, on why the decision was made to regroup

Mr Selvam: I'm not criticising you (ASP Tang). You did a wonderful job in the situation you were in. If I had the power I would grant you a medal.

State Counsel Sharmila Sripathy: You can always make the recommendation, sir.

Mr Selvam: Unfortunately that's not the recommendation I'm required to make in this COI.

Police were 'very, very outnumbered'
By Lim Yan Liang, The Straits Times, 26 Feb 2014

THOUGH there were about 200 law enforcement officers on the scene in Little India on Dec 8, fewer than 90 were from the police force and dealing directly with the rioters before troops from the Special Operations Command arrived, the Committee of Inquiry was told yesterday.

The rest were auxiliary officers mainly from Certis Cisco, and Traffic Police and plainclothes officers.

The question of how many police officers there were compared with rioters on Dec 8 came up when former police commissioner Tee Tua Ba asked Assistant Superintendent of Police Jonathan Tang why he had not "engaged" the crowd when he reached the accident site.

Why, for instance, had ASP Tang not arrested the main instigators while the rioters had yet to turn on the police, he asked.

The three preceding witnesses, all Certis Cisco auxiliary officers, had argued that government vehicles would not have been burned if a small group of "active" rioters had been rounded up early.

But ASP Tang told State Counsel Sharmila Sripathy that the police were "grossly outnumbered". When he arrived, he had four auxiliary police officers (APOs) and two police officers, against "a rowdy and increasingly boisterous crowd" of about 200.

The crowd soon swelled to about 400, he added, with 150 to 200 throwing projectiles, shouting and instigating others. The rest were mainly curious onlookers and workers waiting to board buses back to their dormitories.

ASP Tang said he later managed to connect with other police officers, bringing his total manpower to nine police officers and four APOs. But as much as he wanted to start arresting the rioters at that point, the crowd still outmatched his small force.

"With this number of officers, we would not have been able to take decisive action to restore the peace," he said. "Yes, we were very, very outnumbered."

When asked later if he knew that there were actually some 90 police officers dealing with the rioters that night, he replied that he was not aware of these other officers as overloaded police radio and mobile networks had made communications with colleagues difficult.

"It definitely didn't feel like there were 90 police officers," he said, noting that even with that number, he would still consider the force outnumbered by rioters.

Carry a 'lathi' instead of T-baton, says COI chief
By Lim Yan Liang, The Straits Times, 26 Feb 2014

INSTEAD of being armed with a T-baton, policemen here in a riot situation should carry a lathi, suggested the chairman of the Committee of Inquiry (COI) into the Dec 8 riot yesterday.

"The T-baton is not good enough for use (in a riot situation); it is a defensive weapon," said Mr G. Pannir Selvam. "When you go to a riot, you should not just have a defensive weapon."

Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP) Jonathan Tang brought the police T-baton to court yesterday at the behest of the committee and demonstrated how it was an effective defensive weapon, such as against knife attacks at close range.

When asked by Mr Selvam if the T-baton could be used offensively, he said it was designed to be a defensive tool, at which point the retired judge asked if he knew what a "lathi" was.

A lathi is a long, heavy wooden stick used by riot police in South Asian countries such as India and Bangladesh. To show the policeman what he meant, Mr Selvam handed to ASP Tang a copy of an Indian newspaper showing pictures of the lathi being used by Indian riot police to successfully put down a recent protest march outside the Indian Parliament.

"Although you have a gun, you don't normally use it (and) this might be more useful," said Mr Selvam.

ASP Tang said he was aware that Special Operations Command troops already use long sticks.

The use of the lathi to quell riot crowds has been brought up by the COI chairman on at least three occasions since the public hearings began last Wednesday.

On Friday, Mr Selvam recommended to Deputy Commissioner of Police T. Raja Kumar that the Singapore police force should procure the instruments.

Little India Riot COI: Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4

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