Thursday 27 March 2014

Little India Riot COI: Day 22

1,000 more cops needed to boost force: Police chief
Goal is to raise additional tactical unit, have more patrols in key areas
By Francis Chan, The Straits Times, 26 Mar 2014

TO BEEF up the anti-riot capability of the police while keeping Singapore safe, Commissioner of Police Ng Joo Hee wants to recruit 1,000 more officers.

The police chief made this passionate plea at the end of his testimony yesterday before the Committee of Inquiry (COI) into the Dec 8 riot.

The extra manpower will let him raise an additional tactical troop specialised in tackling riots and police hot spots, and increase the number of officers who patrol the streets and neighbourhoods. It would also allow the police to train its front-line officers better.

The COI, led by retired judge G. Pannir Selvam, had over the course of the public hearing, questioned why police patrolmen were not adequately trained to deal with the unrest.

The 47-year-old - who was testifying at the COI for the first time since it was convened - said that a move to train officers to deal with the "initial moments" of a riot more effectively is now being considered. But that will involve "large and persistent investments in manpower and in training".

Already, front-line officers work a four-shift system lasting 12 hours each, leaving them with very little time for training of any sort. That is why Mr Ng feels that training these officers to fight riots under the current shift system is "quite impossible".

"If we were a football team, we would be a team that spends most of our time playing matches and very little time training," he said.

"And in my view, that is quite incredible and not a desirable situation... I think we have to rethink the system and we have to certainly get more resources if we want to do that."

A key reason for the manpower crunch in the force, added Mr Ng, is because its ranks have not kept pace with Singapore's population growth over the years.

In 1994, there were 222 officers for every 100,000 residents here. Now there are 163.

This also affects the size of anti-riot squads, better known as Police Tactical Troops (PTT) under the Special Operations Command.

The first time these specialised units were restructured was in 1983, when 12 troops of 63 men were cut to just eight troops, each with 46 men. In 2004, the number per troop was cut to 35.

As of last December, the Singapore Police Force has just under 8,800 regular officers, supported by about 3,700 full-time national servicemen and 2,000 volunteer policemen.

"If you look at cities of comparable sizes like Hong Kong, Tokyo, New York, London, you will find that they typically operate with two or three times more police officers than we do per resident in Singapore," said Mr Ng.

"So there is some truth in the common refrain that one hardly comes across police officers on the streets of Singapore. But at the same time, we are able to deliver safety from crime that is still the envy of the world."

Mr Ng told the COI that the way to "increase police robustness before the next disturbance comes around is to build up rather than to cut down on our contingency forces.

"My intention, if I have the resources, is to raise an additional PTT to be on standby at any one time. If we are able to do this, we can increase our rioting fighting capability by 50 per cent and create the ability to bring a far larger force to bear to an incident."

In addition to augmenting the PTT, Mr Ng said it is critical to project a stronger police presence in areas where there is a congregation of foreign workers and that "pose a clear and present danger to public order", aside from Little India. "Today, despite the riot in Little India, I worry more for Geylang," he said. "If Singaporeans are irked by the littering, the noise and the jaywalking in Little India, they'll certainly and quickly sense that there exists a hint of lawlessness in Geylang."

A deployment of 300 pairs of boots on the ground should bring noticeable police visibility to both locations, added Mr Ng. But efforts to maintain law and order in Geylang and Little India have "already stretched police resources to near breaking point".

"My planners tell me that police presence is defined as a police patrol passing a point once every 15 to 20 minutes... This is a useful benchmark, but one which we cannot come close to achieving in either Little India or Geylang on present levels of resourcing."

Police didn't use deadly force to quell riot
Commissioner points out that there were no deaths or serious injuries
By Lim Yan Liang, The Straits Times, 26 Mar 2014

COMMISSIONER of Police Ng Joo Hee is "proud and gratified" by the restraint his officers showed in the face of violence in Little India on Dec 8, the Committee of Inquiry (COI) heard yesterday.

Defending the actions of front-line officers during the riot, the police chief commended his ground commander, Deputy Assistant Commissioner Lu Yeow Lim, who had come under fire for holding his position when he was greatly outnumbered, and waiting for reinforcements to arrive.

Mr Ng said it was the right and sensible thing to do, as he clarified the reasons behind the police's doctrine on use of force, and addressed the criticisms that had been levelled against police action on the night of the riot.

To the main criticism that they did not act early enough to quell the rising violence, Mr Ng stressed that the men on the front line had neither the right equipment nor training to deal with a riot. "It will, I think, be irresponsible for us to ask them to do so," he said.

While patrol officers can deal with a "gamut of incidents", including violent individuals, a situation such as a riot requires greater police expertise or capability.

Also, the helmets and vests worn by front-line officers were to protect them against bullets in the event of a shootout and were not specifically riot gear, he said.

While they improvised and used their ballistic shields to protect the bus driver and timekeeper in the initial fracas, they correctly assessed that they had to retreat and regroup when the situation intensified, he added.

Mr Ng also drew parallels with a riot that occurred between Korean and Thai workers in 1985, the last time foreign workers had clashed here. Riot police had exercised restraint until they could dominate the ground, a posture adopted by the force both then and now, he said.

But the situation was not escalating then, countered COI member and former police commissioner Tee Tua Ba. "Time was on our side: they had stopped fighting," said Mr Tee, who was then police director of planning. "After the show of force... (the workers) were as tame as rabbits."

Mr Ng agreed a projection of force was necessary to quell a riot, but the reality on Dec 8 was that the police were outnumbered by eight to one, with 54 policemen at best, against 400 rioters.

"The last thing you want to do when you are outnumbered is to advertise the fact that you are outnumbered," he said. "We have to wait for force to come before we can show it."

To another criticism that the police should have fired a warning shot to scare off the rioters, Mr Ng said this would have been done if the cops had judged doing so would end the violence immediately, but it was "highly improbable", given the situation that night. Reiterating a point made by DAC Lu, he said it would have been "outright illegal" if the police had fired upon rioters who torched police cars that night.

"So I'm glad, and I'm also proud and gratified, that our officers that night all decided without exception that they do not have to resort to deadly force," he said.

Wrapping up, he said the silver lining had to be considered: Besides some damaged vehicles, there were no deaths or serious injuries to anybody and the violence was put down within two hours.

"I think many of my counterparts in the other side of the world would have taken this riot any time," he said.

'Too long' to activate squad
By Walter Sim, The Straits Times, 26 Mar 2014

IT TOOK too long for the police to activate their anti-riot squad when the Little India disorder broke out, police chief Ng Joo Hee admitted yesterday.

Addressing the Committee of Inquiry (COI) into the riot, the Police Commissioner said the 18 minutes that it took to give the Special Operations Command (SOC) the green light to respond to Dec 8's mayhem was "unacceptably long".

He also highlighted a second key failing on the night. Police officers could not talk to one another due to jammed airwaves that made walkie-talkies ineffective, while their phones were affected by a lack of mobile signals.

Communications were "totally screwed up", explained Mr Ng, saying they were "non-existent".

In response, the police have made key changes to protocol, including a new command and control system and trimming some "cumbersome" red tape needed to activate SOC troops.

Instead of needing headquarters' permission, the divisional commander can now give the go-ahead.

On Dec 8, Deputy Assistant Commissioner Koh Wei Keong gave the approval for the use of anti-riot troops at 10.03pm, as it was not unusual for a crowd to be present at Race Course Road.

This was 18 minutes after the request was made by Assistant Superintendent of Police Jonathan Tang, who was one of the first officers at the scene, at 9.45pm. Due to traffic conditions that night, it also took 42 minutes for the SOC to reach the scene of the riot from City Hall, where anti-terrorism patrols were being carried out.

The commissioner, who has been in the force's top job since 2010, said the lengthy transit was beyond the troop's control. "This delay was not due to the troopers being deliberately tardy," he said. "In all fairness, the troop did its best to get itself into position as fast as it could."

Still, when pressed by COI chairman G. Pannir Selvam that the 42 minutes could have been cut had the troops been better deployed, Mr Ng said: "I concede that if the troops had come earlier, certainly we would have quelled the disorder earlier."

Mr Selvam also pointed out how the troops spent another 15 to 20 minutes discussing their next move when they arrived. "Unfortunate thing is, during this delay and the discussion, almost all the damage was done," he said.

The COI, which began on Feb 19, has also heard testimony from ground officers that communicating with one another was difficult during the riot.

Mr Ng said a new command and control system - a "large technological enhancement" that has taken years to develop - will be installed by year-end. The system, he promised, will resolve communication issues encountered in the riot.

New camera technology is also being fast- tracked, to be worn by officers and installed on vehicles to enhance surveillance. Over 100,000 cameras with playback capability are being installed around the island, allowing police to monitor live footage from different cameras at different times.

"I would readily admit our failings of that night," said Mr Ng. "Our performance in Little India has not been perfect, but I contend it is far from inadequate."

Little India Riot COI: Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4, Day 5, Day 6, Day 7, Day 8, Day 9, Day 10, Day 11, Day 12, Day 13, Day 14, Day 15, Day 16, Day 17Day 18Day 19, Day 20, Day 21

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