Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Little India Riot: Govt accepts COI recommendations

MHA to beef up police anti-riot force
Its plans also include placing more cameras and officers in hot spots
By Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh, The Straits Times, 8 Jul 2014

ALL eight recommendations of the Committee of Inquiry (COI) into the Little India riot to minimise the likelihood of similar incidents in the future have been accepted by the Government, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean told Parliament yesterday.



Certain measures such as beefing up police presence in the popular ethnic enclave and a faster way of activating anti-riot troops in a large public order incident, are already in place, he added.

Other recommendations to strengthen the Home Team and improve the management of congregation areas, are being studied and will soon be implemented.

DPM Teo, who is also Home Affairs Minister, was setting out the ministry's response to the COI report in detail for the first time since it was released last week.

He said the inquiry's analysis of the riot will be useful for the police as the force reviews its doctrines and procedures for public order incidents. The findings would also help hone the incident management skills of officers and commanders who "did the best they could in the circumstances they faced, with the information they had" on Dec 8, he added.

"Although there was destruction and damage to emergency vehicles, the riot was fully brought under control within two hours of the initial accident, contained within the immediate location, without loss of life or serious injury, and without the use of lethal force including firearms," said DPM Teo. "The area was reopened to people and traffic by early next morning."

The COI's recommendations, he added, address weaknesses and areas his ministry has "to improve on, provide validation of several of our ongoing plans which address the COI's concerns, sharpen our focus on what the priorities should be, and provide impetus for us to do more in certain areas and to implement them sooner".

A key plank of the MHA's plans in the wake of the most serious public order incident here in 40 years, is to add 300 more officers to the police anti-riot force. This would double the strength of units in the Special Operations Command. Others include installing more closed-circuit television cameras and adding boots on the ground in hot spots like Little India. "A riot on the streets of Singapore is unacceptable. We have to take preventive action to minimise the likelihood of such a riot occurring, and improve our capability to deal effectively with a riot if one does occur," said DPM Teo. "Anyone who takes part in a riot must know that he will be dealt with firmly in accordance with our laws."

Moulmein-Kallang GRC MP Denise Phua, who oversees part of Little India, was one of several MPs who commended the Home Team in Parliament yesterday.

"I just want to officially thank and salute the Home Team for its contribution, including the ground commander from Tanglin (Police Division) who I believe has done what he could in the heat of action and without the benefit of hindsight."





Strengthening the Home Team
By Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh, The Straits Times, 8 Jul 2014
- ANTI-RIOT teams in the Special Operations Command (SOC) will be beefed up by 300 more police officers over the next two to three years.
- Police land division commanders are now able to activate the SOC directly, instead of having to seek the approval of the director of operations to do so.
- By the end of this year, the police will have a new command, control and communications system to provide better situational awareness, and a new combined operations room to improve incident management.
- All police fast response cars will be equipped with cameras by the end of next year.
- A trial of mounting cameras on police vehicles and officers using body-worn cameras is under way.
- Since the Dec 8 riot, the number of police CCTV cameras in Little India has more than doubled to 250, with 88 more set to be added by December next year. The police will install 252 more cameras in Geylang, another hot spot, by the end of 2016.
- Lessons learnt during the Dec 8 riot will be included in the review of training for front-line officers and how they are equipped.




Manpower and capability boost for riot police
Move is a change from previous shifts in focus away from riot control
By Hoe Pei Shan, The Straits Times, 8 Jul 2014

SINGAPORE'S riot police will double in strength, with 300 more officers to be added in the next two to three years.

These members of the Police Tactical Troops within the Special Operations Command (SOC) will also be better armed to deal with a wider range of situations and crowd size.

Other changes include increasing the size of each troop and the number of troops for round-the-clock standby duty, said Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean.

DPM Teo, who is also the Home Affairs Minister, set out these new measures in Parliament yesterday in a ministerial statement, responding to the report of the Committee of Inquiry (COI) on the Dec 8 riot in Little India.

One key measure is the 300 more officers for front-line riot duty. This will allow the police to increase the number of troops on standby duty round the clock from eight to 12.

The additional troops "will be configured for rapid deployment on lighter and more mobile platforms", said DPM Teo.

Within each troop, there will be more officers as well: 44 instead of 35. They will also get "additional equipment to improve their sense-making and operational capabilities".

The boost will help them be more effective in dealing "with a wider range of situations and crowd size". "Given the riot, police must re-assess the likelihood of having to deal with large-scale public order incidents and strengthen the ability of its forces to do so," he added.

The beefing up of the riot police is a change from past moves, in which the police shifted its focus and resources from riot control to such priorities as crime prevention and community policing.

That followed a sharp drop in the number of public disorders from the mid-1970s, said DPM Teo. By 1983, the number of riot control troops was cut from 12 to eight, with 46 officers, down from 63, in each troop.

Established in 1992, the SOC became a dual-response force in 2001, focusing on anti-terrorism and public order incidents.

In 2004, each troop was reduced again to 35 officers but balanced with more intensive training, and armed with advanced equipment and technology.

During the COI hearings, Commissioner of Police Ng Joo Hee, however, said the force needed another 1,000 officers to improve police presence in areas where large numbers of people congregate, such as Geylang and Little India.

He also said police numbers have not kept pace with population growth. Two MPs raised his request. One was opposition MP Sylvia Lim, who asked if there was a "serious under-resource problem", while Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC's Hri Kumar Nair asked how DPM Teo intends to recruit given the tight labour market.

Replying, DPM Teo said the manpower issue is not one which is faced only by the police or by his ministry. "Anyone who has run an organisation in Singapore knows that we face a manpower situation which we all have to deal with," he said. "In the coming five years, we will have fewer young Singaporeans entering the workforce than in the past five years. So the issue is not going to get simpler."

However, DPM Teo said more than 1,000 positions were created between 2008 and this year, to support new initiatives such as front-line Community Policing and Safer Roads. Of these, more than 97 per cent had been filled.

Overall, the police headcount has risen about 15 per cent in the past 10 years, from about 9,000 to around 10,300 officers.

In addition, employment terms are better and upgrading opportunities improved.

The retirement age for uniformed officers has gone from 50 to 55 and more retired officers are re-employed.

Other measures taken include the greater use of technology to combat crime.

"This combination of better operational deployments and technology has contributed significantly to keeping crime low and solving cases," he said.





More cultural sensitivity training for Home Team
By Hoe Pei Shan, The Straits Times, 8 Jul 2014

THE police will review and tailor the training and equipping of their frontline officers at a level appropriate for first responders and their mission, said Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean.

This includes, among others, plans to improve their capabilities in handling large-scale public order incidents and introduce cultural sensitivity training.

DPM Teo, who is also Home Affairs Minister, told Parliament this yesterday, as he laid out his ministry's response to recommendations by the Committee of Inquiry (COI) into the Dec 8 riot.

This point was picked up by opposition MP Sylvia Lim from the Workers' Party, who posed questions about the COI report.

Ms Lim, who is MP for Aljunied GRC, asked if the Government "should allow more peaceful protests" in Singapore so that the police can "test their policing capabilities" in dealing with public order incidents, typically dealt with by the police Special Operations Command (SOC).

DPM Teo, looking amused, replied: "You don't really need to deliberately allow protests to take place in order to give the SOC practice. Typical football matches and other events like that already provide the SOC with quite a lot of activity... I don't think many Singaporeans will want to see more chaos, demonstrations on the streets disrupting their lives."

Of all the MPs who rose to question the Government's response to the report, which was set out in two ministerial statements, Ms Lim had the most queries.

In one of her six questions, she noted that the COI report had highlighted "a misperception by the crowd that they were being discriminated against by the (first) responders".

She asked DPM Teo if it was "important for us to look at the way we do our law enforcement on our foreign workers".

"There may be an impression created that there's a certain stereotyping, for example, by the police in their actions," she said.

In his reply, DPM Teo said the issue of improving interaction between the authorities and foreigners "is an important and valid consideration", which was also addressed in the COI report.

The committee noted that some witnesses had cited instances when they felt a "lack of sensitivity" on the part of the officers dealing with foreign workers.

The COI had recommended basic training for service providers and law enforcement officers in cultural sensitivity, including basic language skills and an appreciation for the role played by foreign workers, to create a "friendlier environment" for foreign workers.

Echoing these recommendations yesterday, DPM Teo said the Government "will provide more cultural background orientation for officers, including auxiliary police officers (APO) who have to deal with and interact with people from different cultural backgrounds on a regular basis".

Mr Pritam Singh, also an MP for Aljunied GRC, asked DPM Teo if the police would be "amending the training programme for officers who patrol areas frequented by foreign workers".

The minister said yes, but added that such training "will have to be tuned for each different group" of foreigners, and include elements such as cultural attitudes and language training.

He said it was also important to have "culturalisation training for foreign workers who come to Singapore so that they also understand our social norms".

In her questions, Ms Lim also touched on the potential complications of patrol boundaries, specifically the two that run through Little India - the Tanglin and Central police divisions - and if a single division for "such hot spots" would be better.

DPM Teo replied that boundary issues "did not seem to figure very prominently" in the riot response, as both division commanders were able to coordinate and call in forces from the two camps.

The Ministry of Home Affairs, responding to queries from The Straits Times yesterday, said APOs and security officers deployed for foreign worker management duties are already trained to deal with the common scenarios that they may encounter in the course of their work, such as public nuisance and drunkenness.

"The police will look at how this training can be further improved and augmented with experiences from the ground to benefit the officers, especially those who are newly deployed," said a spokesman yesterday.









MHA may honour officers in Dec 8 riot
By Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh, The Straits Times, 8 Jul 2014

THE Ministry of Home Affairs will consider giving commendations to the men and women who performed outstandingly on the night of the Little India riot.

Said Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean yesterday: "The Government will consider recognising the Home Team officers who answered the call to action to quell the riot that night in the face of personal danger and under difficult circumstances."

He was replying to several MPs who had asked how officers at the riot would be recognised.

The Committee of Inquiry (COI) had, in both its proceedings and its findings released last week, praised the efforts of first responders on the night of Dec 8.

Yesterday, there was an outpouring of praise as well in Parliament, notably from Ms Denise Phua (Moulmein-Kallang GRC), who oversees part of Little India.

She saluted them for their work while Mr Christopher de Souza (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC) asked the House to put on record the officers' bravery.

DPM Teo defended the ground commander that night after Mr Vikram Nair (Sembawang GRC) pointed out the COI had criticised Deputy Assistant Commissioner Lu Yeow Lim. Without naming DAC Lu, DPM Teo said while people can make an analysis of the incident after the fact, he has to assess the judgment officers make on the ground. "So I evaluate the actions of the commanders and the officers that night and I do not find them wanting."







COI report affirms discontent not cause of riot: Chuan-Jin
Such speculations were echoed blindly by some in the foreign media, says minister
By Xue Jianyue, TODAY, 8 Jul 2014

The report by the Committee of Inquiry (COI) looking into the Little India riot puts to rest the more speculative causes of the incident suggested by critics, said Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin in Parliament yesterday.

Adding that he was glad the COI had established that systemic dissatisfaction with employment and living conditions among foreign workers was not one of the underlying causes of the riot, Mr Tan also shared findings from a Ministry of Manpower (MOM) survey that he said corroborated the COI’s view.

Interim findings of the Foreign Worker Study showed that more than 90 per cent of the close to 930 foreign workers surveyed so far were satisfied working in Singapore.

The study was commissioned by the MOM and Migrant Workers’ Centre after the riot and began in March, with the aim of surveying 4,000 workers in all. It also found that more than 80 per cent of respondents would recommend Singapore to their friends and relatives as a place for work, while more than 70 per cent of workers renewed their contracts after the first two years.

“Taken together, these pieces of evidence suggest that the majority of foreigners continue to consider Singapore an attractive place to work. Ultimately, what the workers themselves say and do matters,” said Mr Tan, who was responding to the COI report released last week.

Noting that the more speculative causes of the riot had been echoed blindly by some sections of the foreign media, Mr Tan added: “These same critics often propagated this, maintaining a negative picture of our agencies, of Singaporeans and of Singapore at large to not only our internal local audience, but the international audience as well.”

Nonetheless, Mr Tan said he accepted “fully” the COI’s observation that there is room to improve and the committee’s recommendations would be implemented.



It is a requirement for the new dormitories being launched for foreign workers to be self-contained, with adequate space set aside for living and gathering, as well as facilities such as mini-marts, gyms, TV rooms and Wi-Fi.

“Over time, we aim for more workers to be accommodated in such self-contained housing facilities that will reduce the need to travel far for basic services,” he said.

The ministry will also be establishing a regulatory framework for large dormitories, with details to be revealed in the coming months.

It will also increase the number of dedicated recreation centres for foreign workers — there are currently four — which provide amenities such as banking and remittance services.

While the COI found no evidence of systemic mistreatment of foreign workers, Mr Tan said there might still be a minority of errant employers and stressed that the MOM treats such feedback very seriously and will investigate such cases.



Members of Parliament (MPs) who rose to speak yesterday voiced concerns over dormitory conditions and transiency of foreign workers in Singapore.

Ang Mo Kio GRC MP Yeo Guat Kwang asked whether there was a housing shortage for migrant workers and how their living conditions could be improved.


The other half are mostly non-Malaysians working in industries such as construction and marine, he said, with about 90 per cent living in purpose-built dorms located at construction sites or dorms converted from factories.

The minister also said efforts had been started to speed up the construction of dorms that can meet the needs of foreign workers over the next few years, with an aim to house the vast majority of workers in these self-contained facilities.

Nominated MP Nicholas Fang described the efforts to improve lives of foreign workers as “heartening”, but questioned whether they were at odds with the long-term aim to keep the foreign-worker population transient.

Mr Tan said taking care of workers is the “right thing to do as a society” and having a transient workforce does not mean the Government should not take measures to do so.





Little India Riot: More self-contained dorms for foreign workers
Efforts are ongoing to speed up the construction of dormitories which have in-built amenities and recreational facilities
By Ng Jing Yng, TODAY, 7 Jul 2014

The Government will aim to house more foreign workers in self-contained accommodation facilities to reduce their need to travel far for basic services, said Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin in Parliament today (July 7).

In the coming months, the Manpower Ministry (MOM) will also be providing more information on a regulatory framework for large dormitories, he added.

Delivering a statement on the findings of the Committee of Inquiry report on the Little India riot, Mr Tan noted that the Committee found that Singapore has a generally good framework to protect foreign workers.

The Committee’s findings were also in line with a survey done by the MOM and Migrant Workers Centre after the riot, showing that more than 90 per cent of the workers were satisfied working in Singapore.

“Ultimately, what the workers themselves say and do matters,” said Mr Tan. “The Committee of Inquiry report puts to rest the more speculative causes of the riot that were offered by some critics, and that were echoed blindly by some sections of the foreign media.”

Still, while the Committee found no evidence of systemic mistreatment of foreign workers, there might still be a minority of errant employers. Mr Tan stressed that MOM treats such feedback “very seriously” and will investigate such cases.

In terms of providing more services and amenities for foreign workers outside of their congregation areas like Little India — as was recommended by the Committee — Mr Tan said that that the MOM intends to step up on this.

New dormitories are required to be self-contained with space set aside for living and gathering and have facilities like gyms and mini-marts, added Mr Tan.

The MOM will also increase the number of dedicated recreation centres for foreign workers.

Currently, there are four such centres, which provide amenities that individual dormitories may not be able to, such as banking and remittance services. The MOM will work closely with the local community to provide services at these centres so that workers do not need to travel far to access these amenities, he said.

Giving an update on establishing a regulatory framework for large dormitories, Mr Tan added that ongoing engagements with the industry showed that the dormitories operators are keen to collaborate on this.

The MOM will also be accepting the Committee’s suggestion to improve outreach to workers so that they understand their rights and avenues to seek assistance.

Mr Tan added that his ministry is planning to create more targeted and easy to understand materials for foreign workers to grasp key messages. The MOM will also work with more partners like student volunteers, who have expressed an interest in befriending foreign worker groups.





Foreign workers 'highly satisfied'
By Walter Sim, The Straits Times, 8 Jul 2014

MOST foreign workers are highly satisfied being in Singapore and plan to continue working here after their current stint, according to a survey by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) and the Migrant Workers' Centre.

Citing the study in Parliament yesterday, Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin said it supported the finding by the Committee of Inquiry (COI) into the Little India riot on Dec 8 that there was no "systemic dissatisfaction" among foreign workers.

Mr Tan said: "Ultimately, what the foreign workers themselves say and do matters."

The survey, which started in March and is expected to end by next month, will cover the views of 4,000 foreign workers. The interim findings that Mr Tan cited involve the responses of about 930 work permit holders.

More than 90 per cent said they are highly satisfied with working in Singapore, with only 2 per cent expressing dissatisfaction.

About 81 per cent would recommend Singapore to friends and relatives as a place for work, citing good wages and good working and living conditions as the main factors.

But the 19 per cent who indicated otherwise lamented costly agency fees, low pay and poor working conditions.

Meanwhile, about 92 per cent plan to continue working here. Survey results aside, Mr Tan noted that more than 70 per cent are already renewing their contracts after the first two years.

"Taken together, these pieces of evidence suggest that the majority of foreigners continue to consider Singapore an attractive place to work," he said.

The COI report thus puts to rest "more speculative causes for the riot" as purveyed by some critics, which were then "echoed blindly" in some foreign media.

Still, Mr Tan said he accepts the COI's recommendation that there is room to improve conditions for foreign workers and that his ministry does not take the current state of affairs for granted.

On this score, he pledged to take to task errant employers who mistreat workers, and to look into dormitories that fail to meet minimum standards.

The Government is also boosting services and amenities outside congregation hot spots like Little India. It is speeding up the construction of dorms with built-in amenities and recreation facilities such as minimarts, gyms and free Wi-Fi.

"A majority of the purpose- built dorms today do meet the requirements. For those that do not, I think we do inspect and follow up to make sure that's being done," he said.

He noted that of the 770,000 non-domestic work permit holders, almost half are Malaysians who commute to work daily and do not need dorm beds, or those in the manufacturing and service sectors who are allowed to rent flats and live in private estates.

Nearly 90 per cent of the remainder are already housed in purpose-built dorms, factory- converted dorms and quarters in construction sites.

Mr Tan also said that large dorm operators are "on board" for a new regulatory framework that is being drawn up and will be announced soon. More dedicated recreation centres for foreign workers will also be built in tandem with the increase in foreign workforce numbers, he added.

Mr Tan acknowledged the need to further improve outreach. Measures being considered include creating easier-to-understand material to educate foreign workers on their rights and social norms and roping in partners like student volunteers.

Asked by Nominated Member of Parliament Nicholas Fang if such efforts to improve the lives of foreign workers are at odds with the goal of keeping this workforce transient, Mr Tan disagreed.

"I think it's the right thing for us to do as a society," he said.





Measures to improve traffic, safety in Little India
By Walter Sim, The Straits Times, 8 Jul 2014

TRAFFIC in Little India will be smoother, crowd control will be improved and overall safety will receive a boost with the trebling of police cameras.

These were among the measures outlined by Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean to improve the situation in the ethnic enclave since the Dec 8 riot.

He was responding to a recommendation made by the Committee of Inquiry into the unrest, which called for more lighting and for safety and surveillance devices to be installed in areas with large congregations of foreign workers.

To boost road safety and traffic flow, Campbell Lane will be converted into a pedestrian mall by the first quarter of next year. Lembu Road has been closed to vehicular traffic from noon to midnight every Sunday since last month.

Two new traffic lights, to be installed along Serangoon Road, will also be synchronised with existing crossings, said Mr Teo.

More lighting is being installed at 44 spots in Little India. Permanent shelters and queue heads will be ready by the first quarter of next year, while issues like bus service timings will be monitored to curb overcrowding.

The number of police cameras in Little India has more than doubled to 250, from 113 pre-riot, with another 88 to be progressively installed by December 2015.

Police presence has been strengthened, with 20 to 30 more pairs of boots deployed every weekend alongside a dedicated Special Operations Command troop. This is complemented by 81 auxiliary police officers and private security officers, which police are looking at raising to 93.

Mr Teo said: "Police will continue to monitor the situation and calibrate the manpower and other measures deployed accordingly."

Alcohol restrictions have also been imposed within a 1.1 sq km restricted area under the Public Order (Additional Temporary Measures) Act. Legislation on the sale and public consumption of alcohol will be introduced within the next six months, before the Act expires in March 2015, Mr Teo said.





MPs debate the Little India riot COI report
MPs raised questions on cultural training for police officers and asked if authorities could allow more protests in Singapore, so enforcement officers could get more practice.
By Tan Qiuyi, Channel NewsAsia, 7 Jul 2014

Nine MPs joined a nearly hour-long debate on the Little India riot Committee of Inquiry (COI) report, with questions for both the Manpower Minister and Deputy Prime Minister in Parliament on Monday (July 7). The questions touched on issues such as how to recruit more police officers in a tight labour situation; whether the army could be roped in for public order incidents; and how officers could get more real-life practice. 

MP for Aljunied GRC Sylvia Lim said no amount of training could be a substitute for actual practice in policing such incidents.

"In this light, would (DPM) consider for example, that the police should allow more peaceful protests in Singapore, in certain designated roads, so that the police can on a regular basis test their policing capabilities in terms of policing cause-based crowds?" she asked.



"Perhaps Ms Lim might want to go one step further and say: Allow the protests to get out of hand, so that they get more practice?" DPM Teo said.

To which Ms Lim responded: "Madam, the answer's obvious, we don't want damage to property or loss of life, but peaceful protests are arguably a freedom, a civil liberty we want to protect?"

Mr Teo said authorities could see the "logic or lack of it" in intentionally allowing protests and demonstrations just for practice purposes for the Special Operations Command (SOC).

"But I should say that one of the reasons why I do want to increase the size of the SOC is we do have more events in Singapore, large-scale events, and you don't really need to deliberately allow protests to take place in order to give the SOC practice.

"A typical football match, and other events like that already provide the SOC quite a lot of activity and action and quite frankly, I don't think many Singaporeans want to see more chaos and demonstrations on the streets disrupting their daily lives and also taking up resources," he added.

Ms Lim and opposition colleague Pritam Singh also asked if authorities would look into policing methods, to address the point that the crowd had misperceptions of the first responders' actions on the night of the riot.

"There were different views expressed during the COI on how one could interact with people from different cultural backgrounds, and indeed, that I think, is an important and valid consideration," DPM Teo said. "We will provide more cultural background orientation for officers, including auxiliary police officers, who have to deal with and interact with people from different cultural backgrounds on a regular basis."

Several MPs saluted officers who risked their lives in the line of duty. There was also recognition that riots are complex and unpredictable events.

"I have read and heard a number of commentaries on what the Government should do in order that similar incidents like this will not happen again. That sentiment concerns me, because I don't think the minister or anyone can give that assurance to this House," said MP for Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC Hri Kumar.

Even the most intensive security coverage is no guarantee, said DPM Teo. But he said the authorities will focus on lowering the chances of a riot happening, and improving the ability to quell one quickly, if and when it happens.





Closure on causes, but will remedies go far enough?
By Robin Chan, The Straits Times, 8 Jul 2014

THE first Parliament sitting after the Committee of Inquiry (COI) report was noticeably tamer than the questioning that took place during the investigation itself and the Parliament debates that preceded it.

Earlier, some MPs had been critical of the Government for seeming to have prematurely concluded that alcohol was a contributory factor, and one it used to justify giving more powers to the authorities patrolling Little India.

But yesterday, of the nine MPs - from both the People's Action Party and Workers' Party (WP) - who rose to speak on the Government's response to the COI report, few probed the findings of the committee.

Perhaps the change in tone was due to an element of fatigue. It has been eight months since the riot took place on Dec 8 last year. Many of the issues have been aired.

The committee sat for five weeks, and produced a 75-page report of its findings.

But I also read it as a sign of trust in the COI - that it has been independent and exhaustive in its investigation.

Is this enough to bring closure to this episode, which is ultimately what the COI was intended to do?

Going by the line of questioning yesterday, the answer is not yet.

The focus has now turned from the causes of the riot to its remedies, so that the chances of another incident are minimised. And on that front, the Government still has some serious work to do.

One major point of contention yesterday is ensuring that the force is strengthened sufficiently.

This was one of the eight recommendations by the COI (all which were accepted by the Government), which found that the current manpower levels are insufficient to deal with large-scale public order incidents.

Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean said that 300 officers will be added to the Special Operations Command, the police's anti-riot force, to double its current strength.

But several MPs seemed sceptical if this was realistic, or even enough.

Mr Hri Kumar Nair (Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC) noted the tight labour situation.

WP chairman Sylvia Lim (Aljunied GRC) asked if the problem of a lack of manpower had been properly communicated between the police and the Government.

Was the DPM surprised by Police Commissioner Ng Joo Hee's assessment at the COI hearings that the police need 1,000 more officers to meet multiple demands, she asked, when the Government had previously said it did not lack resources.

In his response, DPM Teo noted that the manpower crunch is not unique to the police force. The problem is not solved by just "asking" for numbers, he said. Even as there is no harm in doing so, the issue of manpower constraints comes into the picture soon enough.

And so while the Government is "quite confident" it will be able to add the 300 troops, he added the caveat that the demographic realities are "quite stark".

This is because over the next five years, fewer young Singaporeans will be entering the workforce than in the past five years.

It begs the question, therefore, of whether the 300 extra troops would really be enough, or amount to a compromise, given Singapore's manpower constraints.

The second issue pertains to the training of troops to handle such riots in the future.

Here is where it gets trickier. While practice does make perfect, in Singapore's case it is hardly the type of situation that we want to encourage.

This did not stop Ms Lim from making a suggestion to have more peaceful protests in order to give more hands-on training, which DPM Teo shot down as not logical, because not many Singaporeans will want chaos on the streets disrupting their lives and which would take up resources that can be used elsewhere.

To another suggestion of getting exposure overseas where riots are more common, he said it is "not common for forces to send their nationals to enforce in other countries".

On this front, again, the realities make giving more hands-on training to our forces not practical.

Another point that deserves a deeper study is the finding of how the crowd reacted.

One cause was that the riot escalated because of misperception that the accident was caused by the bus driver and the timekeeper, and that the first responders protected them instead of arresting them.

Another had to do with the "cultural psychology" of the workers, which in this case may have spurred them to take the law into their own hands.

On these, DPM Teo acknowledged that more cultural understanding needs to be provided to officers, and said there will be programmes tuned for these different culture groups.

Ms Lim also asked if there was a need for crowd psychologists to help guide the riot manager. But DPM Teo, again, said that it may not be practical.

The Little India riot was a once in a four decade occurrence. That a riot is so rare is a blessing.

Yet, now that it has occurred, it has raised important questions over the adequacy of manpower and training and the limits to which they can be improved.

Yesterday's debate suggests that while there appears to be closure on the riot's causes, providing sufficient assurance and instilling confidence that it will not re-occur is a much more difficult and longer process.



Related
Little India Riot COI Report
Report of the Committee of Inquiry into the Little India Riot on 8 December 2013

Ministerial Statement on Government's Response to the Report of the Committee of Inquiry into the 8 December 2013 Little India Riot (Security- related Issues) – Opening Remarks by Mr Teo Chee Hean, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Home Affairs

Ministerial Statement on Government's Response to the Report of the Committee of Inquiry into the 8 December 2013 Little India Riot (Security- related Issues) – Closing Remarks by Mr Teo Chee Hean, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Home Affairs

Ministerial Statement by Minister for Manpower Tan Chuan-Jin on Findings of Committee of Inquiry (COI) on Little India Riot

DPM Teo: Home Team will emerge readier and stronger from this incident

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