Thursday 6 March 2014

Little India Riot COI: Day 9

Fiery debate between COI and police commander
Committee grills officer for over 4 hours on events and actions taken
By Francis Chan, The Straits Times, 5 Mar 2014

THE actions of the police commander who led the operation to quell the violence in Little India on Dec 8 were the subject of a fiery debate yesterday as the hearing into the unrest resumed.

The Committee of Inquiry (COI) pulled no punches as it grilled Deputy Assistant Commissioner Lu Yeow Lim for more than four hours on the witness stand.

One issue it raised with DAC Lu was his claim that his men were outnumbered by the mob. "Let me ask you again. At the time you arrived, the record says 130 men were on the ground. Car flipped over," said COI member Tee Tua Ba.

"That is not the correct assumption," said DAC Lu, correcting Mr Tee, who is a former commissioner of police.

Although the inquiry had been presented with evidence that showed there were 111 police officers on the ground that night, only 47 were dealing directly with the riot, said DAC Lu.

Most of these officers were also scattered across an area the size of "three football fields", he added. Of the remaining 64 officers, 30 were controlling traffic, 22 were unarmed plainclothes officers, seven were injured and another five were "around the area".

All he had at his disposal were 11 police officers, of which only eight were armed with revolvers and T-batons, said DAC Lu.

The 11 men, who included himself, were also facing two sections of rioters - on one side a group of about 50, and on the other in Race Course Road, rioters "in the hundreds".

Mr Tee also took issue with DAC Lu's strategy of "holding the line" to wait for riot control troops from the Special Operations Command to arrive before engaging the unruly mob. A Traffic Police sergeant had given testimony that he had charged at some rioters earlier that night and a Certis Cisco officer had even "caught" four men, he noted.

Mr Tee also quoted a British parliamentary report on the 2011 London Riots which concluded that holding back police action would only embolden rioters.

DAC Lu, however, disagreed. Quoting from the same report, he said: "I have read the report... The conclusion was not that the tactic did not work, it was that numbers matter. Sufficient numbers were the key to the issue."

Mr Tee had also asked why DAC Lu was not aware that police vehicles were being set on fire even though he had "command and control" of the scene.

DAC Lu explained that his line of sight was blocked by the bus, which was involved in the fatal accident that sparked the riot.

He said he also had difficulties communicating with other officers because the radio airwaves were jammed and hence he did not have an idea of how many of his men were at the scene or where they were located initially.

"As a commander, the first thing you want to know is how many men you have on the ground," said Mr Tee. "You didn't know how many men were on the ground?"

The 48-year-old senior police officer seemed beleaguered at various points yesterday as the committee peppered him with questions, often cutting him off as he tried to answer.

At times, he gave as good as he got, asking at one point: "Is the COI using information gathered over the last three months to evaluate my actions on that night?"

At another, Mr Tee asked him: "Was it a failure of you, or a failure of the whole system?"

DAC Lu replied: "Is the honourable member asking for an opinion or asking a question?"

Pressed on the inaction of his men, he said: "These are not two armies facing off, it was like fighting an insurgency so even if we wanted to shoot, shoot who?

"Stones were coming from behind people in the crowd," he added. "This would have been a totally different COI, asking different questions... (such as) why did you shoot without a clear line of sight?"

The commander of Tanglin Police Division added that if his men had opened fire and shot or killed one of the rioters, "the sentiments would have been inflamed".

"They might have set fire to a building, or attacked people. So my guiding principle that night: Where possible, do not escalate the situation, do no use force unless there is no choice, even if we're legally right in shooting."


Deputy Assistant Commissioner (DAC) of Police Lu Yeow Lim (LYL) faced off with Committee of Inquiry member Tee Tua Ba (TTB) over the actual number of police officers on the ground.

TTB: As a commander, the first thing you want to know is how many men you have on the ground. You didn't know how many men were on the ground?

LYL: No, but that was the first question I asked when I reached the ground.

TTB: So was it a failure of you or a failure of the whole system?

LYL: Is the honourable member asking for an opinion or asking a question?


Was DAC Lu aware of the situation on the ground, asked Mr Tee and committee chairman G. Pannir Selvam (GPS).

TTB: You were not waiting 10 minutes, you were waiting more than half an hour, and you said that five minutes, even five seconds is a long time... All this was happening and you said you did not know. Then I don't think you are aware of the situation on the ground.

GPS: You did not know because you chose not to know.

LYL: That is not correct, sir. If the few of us had gone in and taken a walk... my officers would be walking into a crowd. If you think of the tactics of a commander - to lead his only reserves to find out what was happening - are you trying to make the situation worse?

GPS: That is your imagination, not reality.

LYL: The fact is, this is all conjecture... There is nothing superior about one conjecture or the other. I had very reasonable belief that if I moved to engage, they would surround us.

TTB: Let's put it this way. For half an hour, you were there holding the line. You must look at it from the perception of the rioters.

LYL: I think the COI has rejected the fact that, how do you not make it worse?

TTB: You have somehow made it worse by not taking any action.

LYL: No, it might have precipitated the discharge of firearms.

TTB: You don't know means there must be something wrong with the system.


The committee compared DAC Lu's account to that of video evidence.

TTB: We believe that you have read the crowd wrongly.

GPS: The video I see paints a very different picture from what you tell us.

LYL: Again the committee is using videos...

GPS: That's because you brought up a video.

LYL: The assertion is that I read the crowd wrongly, made the wrong judgment based on the video.

My counter assertion is, I have not seen the video that night, so that information is not available to me.

Now, three months after the riot... it is used to evaluate my decision making on the night of the riot, when I did not have that information.

TTB: Your whole contention is, if you move forward, you'll be overwhelmed, your guns would have been taken from you...

LYL: It is with the benefit of hindsight... I did not see the video that night, I did not have the benefit of hindsight.

What I saw were hundreds of people overturning vehicles. Everything I saw suggested that if we had engaged them, they would have struck back.

The committee is now using the video clip to say we read the crowd wrongly. I read the crowd the way I saw it that night, without the benefit of the video.

'Precious time lost' activating special force
By Lim Yan Liang, The Straits Times, 5 Mar 2014

ON THE night of the Little India riot, deputy director of operations Koh Wei Keong was the officer in charge of activating the special force trained to quell riots.

But when he got the first call at 9.51pm telling him of trouble in Little India and the need for the special force, it did not appear to him that a riot was taking place.

Instead, he asked for the officer in charge on the ground to call him "to discuss other possible tactical measures", Deputy Assistant Commissioner Koh told the Committee of Inquiry (COI) yesterday.

That call came at 10.01pm. It was 10.03pm when he gave the green light for the Special Operations Command (SOC) troops to get into action.

Admitting that "precious minutes were lost", DAC Koh said he himself should have made the call to the ground officer five minutes after the initial notification for a situation update, instead of waiting.

"I was tentative about the request to activate SOC troops. It was not unusual for a crowd to be present in Race Course Road."

The delay on Dec 8 has led to a review of how the SOC can be activated. Instead of having to get permission from the director of operations, land division commanders can now authorise the mobilisation of the special force - shortening the time taken, explained DAC Koh.

This is one of the changes in police protocol that have been spurred by the Little India riot.

During the inquiry yesterday, DAC Lu Yeow Lim also mentioned technological upgrades.

Instead of shoulder microphones, which are vulnerable to ambient noise and which made words harder to understand in the midst of the Dec 8 chaos, the police are now considering microphones with in-ear headphones.

They are also looking into tweaking radio sets to allow commanders to override other signals when giving urgent instructions.

DAC Koh spent about 30 minutes on the stand in contrast to the heated inquisition DAC Lu faced for more than four hours.

Senior State Counsel David Khoo asked DAC Koh, who also deals with policy and doctrine matters, about the protocol ground officers followed the night of the riot - but the line of questioning was brought to a halt by COI chairman G. Pannir Selvam.

The retired judge pointed out: "He was not there."

Ground commander criticised for his actions
By Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh, The Straits Times, 5 Mar 2014

IT WAS not just police tactics in the hot seat yesterday.

The personal conduct of Deputy Assistant Commissioner of Police Lu Yeow Lim came under fire, with the Committee of Inquiry relentlessly scrutinising his actions on the night of the riot.

In one of its opening volleys yesterday morning, the committee repeatedly asked DAC Lu about his decision to go to Little India without first changing into his police uniform which chairman G. Pannir Selvam called a "symbol of authority".

DAC Lu, the overall ground commander on the night of the riot, told the committee he had turned up at the scene in jeans, a shirt and jacket, having rushed out of the house.

"My priority was to go to the scene. (It was) important to be on the ground as soon as possible," he explained, adding that his officers all recognised and "gravitated towards" him.

Mr Selvam and former police commissioner Tee Tua Ba questioned whether officers on the ground could identify him as an authority figure.

"Wearing a uniform is part of the command so that people will know you are at the scene," said Mr Tee.

"A uniform is important if you have to command forces, which include men of other divisions."

DAC Lu said he did not want to spend precious time changing, and stressed that being in civilian clothes did not reduce his authority on the scene that night.

"The facts speak for themselves. The way the riot evolved, everything was in accordance with my instructions," he said. "There was no issue where, because I didn't have a uniform, it somehow hampered my ability to do my job."

But that ability was challenged again by the committee.

DAC Lu said he and his men had held their position at the junction of Race Course and Hampshire roads, hemmed in by two pockets of rioters on either side, until Special Operations Command troops arrived.

Mr Selvam took him to task for that decision, saying it was his duty as commander to move away from safety towards the thick of the action, farther down Race Course Road.

If he had done that, said Mr Selvam, he could have met up with other forces scattered along the way and better handled the crowd.

Mr Selvam chided: "You decided to stay put where you were, a protected place for you, and did nothing."

But DAC Lu stood firmly by his actions that night.

Police doctrine did not allow the commander to enter the heat of battle, but to stay out of the fray to manage his resources, he said.

"If the few of us had gone in and taken a walk... my officers would be walking into a crowd," he said.

"If you think of the tactics of a commander, to lead his only reserves to find out what was happening, are you trying to make the situation worse?"

Debate over protecting lives or property in a riot
By Lim Yan Liang, The Straits Times, 5 Mar 2014

AT WHAT cost should police prioritise safeguarding lives over property during a riot situation?

This philosophical debate came to the fore at the Committee of Inquiry yesterday, after Deputy Assistant Commissioner Lu Yeow Lim was asked why he ordered his men to hold their ground - instead of using force on the rioters who were torching a police car in front of them.

He insisted that police actions in Little India on the night of Dec 8 last year be judged on the outcome of the two hours of violence: no deaths, no shots fired and no serious injuries.

"Properties were damaged, and money was lost but these are things we can buy. If a life had been lost, no amount of money would have brought him back."

However, committee chairman G. Pannir Selvam disagreed. "That is not the philosophy of riot control. The loss of human life was not a priority, not on that day, in the circumstances of everything that had happened."

DAC Lu, however, said that the situation had not become so serious that the police had to consider the use of force.

He said that because the riot had been sparked by a fatal accident, the death of another foreign worker might have pushed the rioters to escalate the violence.

"If they (the rioters) had escalated it, it would have been a different proposition: We would have gone in and used firearms if necessary."

And while the rioters burned vehicles, they had not set fire to buildings or attacked innocent people. Had this been the case, said DAC Lu, "there was no question that we would have gone in".

The senior policeman also noted that when buildings are set on fire "the use (of) deadly force to protect property is well-provisioned", but, there are no such provisions for burning vehicles.

But former police commissioner Tee Tua Ba questioned why the burning of police vehicles was insufficient for police to take action against the rioters, adding that images of cars burning "were all over the videos".

"The public was looking," said Mr Tee. "From their perspective, the impression was that even after police cars were overturned, there was free play (among the rioters)."

DAC Lu later reiterated his argument: "I said this earlier, and I'll repeat it. I think it is morally wrong to prioritise property over human life. The preservation of human life must be paramount."

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

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