Friday 7 March 2014

Little India Riot COI: Day 10

SOC men 'equipped to deal with mob'
Risky for regular cops to engage rioters head on: SOC commander
By Lim Yan Liang And Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh, The Straits Times, 6 Mar 2014

THE Committee of Inquiry (COI) into the unrest in Little India was yesterday given a live demonstration of the difference between anti-riot police and regular officers.

A Special Operations Command (SOC) trooper in full tactical armour hardly flinched as a riot baton was swung with full force at his arm by Deputy Assistant Commissioner of Police (DAC) David Scott Arul.

In contrast, many of the regular police that DAC Arul saw on the ground during the Dec 8 riot were unprotected - with some even in plainclothes. They were also outnumbered, and lacked the anti-riot training and tools such as tear gas to disperse the rioters.

For these reasons, engaging the rioters head on would have been very risky for them, he explained.

"I am of the view that there would have been a risk to these officers... just simply (because of) their numbers," said DAC Arul, the deputy commander of the SOC. The inquiry has so far been highly critical of the perceived lack of action by the police during the early part of the riot.

The senior police officer described the scene that greeted him when he arrived as "violence at a level I've never witnessed before". Small groups of police officers in different locations were being pelted with projectiles even as police vehicles burned around them.

"Drain covers were being thrown like frisbees," said DAC Arul, explaining why they were ill-suited to deal with the mob compared to SOC officers, who knew how to defend themselves and the steps needed to disperse a crowd.

But committee members did not agree with his risk assessment, pointing to evidence given last week by a young Traffic Police sergeant who had single-handedly charged at and dispersed a group of rioters. They also pointed out that only a minority of the crowd were rioters, and that some others had actually assisted police in containing the violence.

"The assessment you made, and the suggestions and advice you gave to commander Lu were based on your mental picture of the crowd around there, rather than... the actual presence of the rioters, am I right?" asked COI chairman G. Pannir Selvam.

The retired judge added that the decision of the police to hold the line emboldened the crowd, and made them "sitting ducks".

The day before, DAC Lu Yeow Lim, who was the ground commander in Little India, was subjected to a four-hour grilling over his handling of the riot. He was repeatedly questioned on his decision to hold the ground instead of engaging rioters, who had set fire to a police car in front of him.

But Mr Selvam's comments yesterday were rejected by DAC Arul, who insisted that his assessment was based on what he saw and reports from intelligence officers on the ground.

While the actions of the Traffic Police officer were "undeniably courageous", he said that the young sergeant himself had noted that his actions further agitated the crowd, who re-formed each time after they scattered.

He added that the one SOC trooper injured that night was dealt "a deliberate, targeted blow", and that 37 police officers had been injured, even without confronting the rioters head on.

"(If rioters) succeeded in taking down an officer... I can envision the crowd then surging forward and being emboldened," he said. "I fear that if they (the police) had engaged the crowd, we would have seen greater injuries, more severe injuries."

He also pointed out how the regular police officers had few options besides charging with their shields, and if that failed, resorting to their revolvers. "If you go in with less, there's a chance that you may escalate the violence."

Besides baton and armour, the committee was also shown two kinds of tear gas canisters that SOC troops could use, as well as two different-sized shields.

Together with their training which "allows us to deploy without much instructions", he explained, SOC troops were more likely to disperse the crowd, instead of being forced into a situation where shots had to be fired.

The COI enters its 11th day today. Representatives from the Migrant Workers' Centre and Building Construction and Timber Industries Employees' Union, as well as two foreign workers who witnessed the riot, are expected to testify.


Deputy Assistant Commissioner (DAC) David Scott Arul, the deputy commander of the Special Operations Command (SOC), was questioned by Committee of Inquiry chairman G. Pannir Selvam over his assessment of police tactics during the Dec 8 riot in Little India.

DAC Arul: We (the SOC) have a higher chance of de-escalating and stopping the violence. When you go in with less, there’s a higher chance of escalating the violence.

Mr Selvam: What you have said appears to be the official template of what happened... There was a Traffic Police officer who took out his baton and went against (the rioters)... He was a young chap, all alone.

DAC Arul: I want to make it clear, I am not trying to sell an official line. This is my assessment.

Mr Selvam: No, I’m not saying you are selling an official line.

DAC Arul: Our troops came in, and we dealt with the situation. In the days that followed, there was a lot of praise... but when I heard the reports of (front-line) officers on the ground, I was quite proud of the fact that they managed to hold the line without being overrun.

My biggest concern was that if they had made an attempt (to engage the mob) and failed.

We use the Traffic Police officer as an example.

According to his own statement, he agitated (the rioters) more (after he charged at them).

Big drain covers were being thrown like frisbees across the road.

I watched that video and that’s a very brave officer, undeniably a courageous officer.

But from a tactical perspective, that is not a very tactically sound way to address the situation.

SOC troops 'cleared to use tear gas'
By Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh, The Straits Times, 6 Mar 2014

TROOPS from the Special Operations Command (SOC) have the discretion to use tear gas when the need arises, said Deputy Assistant Commissioner David Scott Arul yesterday.

He was responding to a question from the Committee of Inquiry asking why troops had to defer to higher police management not at the scene of the Dec 8 riot, for permission to use the lachrymatory agent that night.

DAC Arul, who commanded the SOC during the unrest, said that although clearance was sought from Acting Commissioner of Police T. Raja Kumar to do so, his men could deploy the gas if there was a "threat to life".

This came after a flurry of questions from panel member Tee Tua Ba over the logic of looking to senior officers not at the scene for the green light to use the gas in a "dynamic situation" where "every second counts".

DAC Arul explained that higher management should be informed because tear gas - also known as CS gas - affects areas outside the target zone as well.

The wind, for instance, could send the chemical agent wafting in the direction of innocent bystanders. "But I think it is very important that we have the ability to make the decision (to use the gas) when required," he added.

DAC Arul told the committee that his troops were ordered to stick to either a 400ml fogger - which has a maximum range of about 6m to disperse crowds more sweepingly - or a 65ml spray, which can dispense tear gas up to 4m ahead.

Committee chairman G. Pannir Selvam also wanted to know why SOC troops did not have pepper spray at their disposal.

DAC Arul said tear gas is more effective at dispersing crowds, which was the objective of the SOC that night.

"Pepper spray has a much more debilitating effect... it forces your eyes shut," he said. "CS (gas) causes a choking sensation, burns the eyes, burns the skin, but it's not as debilitating... we want people to disperse and they must be able to see to run away."

There was, however, no use for tear gas that night.

Debate over police strength on the ground
By Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh, The Straits Times, 6 Mar 2014

THE number of police officers on the ground during the Little India riot was again an issue of contention at yesterday's Committee of Inquiry (COI) into the unrest.

This after panel member Tee Tua Ba asked Deputy Assistant Commissioner (DAC) David Scott Arul if he was aware there were already 190 officers on the ground before troops from the Special Operations Command (SOC) arrived.

When the deputy commander of the SOC replied that he did not know, Mr Tee said: "I'm telling you this was collected from investigations."

The issue over how many police officers were at the scene on Dec 8 took prominence after several of them said they did not move in on the rioters because they were outnumbered by an angry mob of hundreds of men.

One of the senior officers, Deputy Assistant Commissioner Lu Yeow Lim, was grilled on Tuesday by Mr Tee, who said records show that there were 130 men on the ground when a police patrol car was flipped over that night.

DAC Lu, however, corrected Mr Tee, who is a former police commissioner. He said that while records show there were 111 officers on the ground, only 47 were dealing directly with the rioters.

The number of officers at different points during the riot were collected by the investigation team appointed by the COI, he added.

The investigators had extrapolated the number of police officers on the ground from GPS data of police vehicles sent to the scene. But the officers are not individually tracked, he added. Hence it was not an accurate reflection of the strength of the police during the violence.

Many of the 47 officers responding to the riot, for instance, were scattered over four different points along Race Course Road.

There were also others who were injured and were on the way to hospital, said DAC Lu.

Several other witnesses pressed by the COI to provide a number for the officers on the ground also could only offer estimates.

The chaos that night made it impossible to get an accurate headcount, they testified.

Yesterday, the committee heard from DAC Arul that smoke and flames from burning vehicles at the scene obscured his vision.

Jammed airwaves as the violence ravaged Little India also made communicating with other officers at the scene difficult, DAC Lu had said on Tuesday.

When Mr Tee put it to him that "there were a hundred over men" at his disposal, DAC Lu disagreed.

"Maybe on paper in the courtroom," said DAC Lu. "The reality is I did not know how many men there were that night because communication was bad."

Second foreign worker charged with burning property
By Hoe Pei Shan, The Straits Times, 6 Mar 2014

ANOTHER foreign worker has been charged with burning property during the Little India riot.

Indian national Sarangan Kumaran, who was among the 25 accused of rioting, was read the extra charge of "mischief by fire with intent to cause damage" in a pre-trial conference yesterday, his defence counsel Sujatha Selvakumar said.

This makes the 35-year-old the second man to be identified as having been involved in the torching of property.

The first was Arumugam Karthik, 24, who was charged last Dec 27 with setting fire to a police car with one other unidentified person, in addition to throwing pieces of concrete and overturning a police car with others.

Karthik's case was also mentioned yesterday.

His lawyer V. Ramesh said that the mischief by fire charge still stood.

Under Section 435 of the Penal Code, anyone who commits mischief by fire or any explosive substance with intent to cause damage to any property can face imprisonment of up to seven years, and shall also be liable to a fine.

Rioting carries a maximum penalty of seven years and caning.

Karthik's bail was set at $60,000 last December, but no bail was posted.

Kumaran, who is married and has three children in India, is in remand.

Both cases are set for another pre-trial conference later this month.

The Little India riot on Dec 8 was the worst case of public destruction here in more than four decades. It left 49 Home Team officers injured and 23 emergency vehicles damaged, five of which were burned.

Five of the 25 accused - all of whom were from India - pleaded guilty last month to amended charges of failing to disperse despite being ordered to do so.

They were sentenced to between 15 and 18 weeks in jail. At least two have served their time and returned to India.

Cases against the rest are still pending.

Little India Riot COI: Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4, Day 5, Day 6, Day 7, Day 8, Day 9

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