Here are some choice quotes from the Little India riot COI chairman Pannir Selvam culled from news reports:
“It was poor judgement.’’
He said this in response to Deputy Commissioner Raja Kumar’s comment that the ground commander on the night exercised “judgment’’ not to make a move until riot police arrived. They were “holding the ground’’. The COI noted that there were 100 policemen then, and only about 25 active rioters. Mr Raja said that the police, who weren’t trained for such events, were worried about the bystanders as well if they had acted against the rioters.
“What has happened is not acceptable.’’
He said this after noting that having police standing around doing nothing would lead the rioters to assume that the police were “indirectly approving’’ of their actions.
“Singapore, being a rich country, is a prime trophy target for terrorists. We don’t know where they are hiding or what they will target. If we do not have a dependable resource (like the SOC), then we are in trouble. This is what I am worried about.”
He said this after Mr Raja Kumar detailed the resource “constraints’’ the police had. The number of SOC troops have come down from 12 to eight, and the number of men in each have dropped too (no figure was reported) There were also other areas for the SOC to take care off, like Geylang. Hence, it’s pretty tight on weekends.
Former police commissioner Tee Tua Ba was less scathing but as critical.
“Unfortunately, it took more than one hour. One hour is a long time.’’
He said this after Mr Raja Kumar said that when riot police arrived, the situation was brought under control in 15 minutes to an hour.
“A lot of things are not working very well..I’m glad that you are going along the lines that things can be reviewed.’’
He said this after criticising the police move to “hold the ground’’ and referred to the riots in north England in 2001 which had shown that such a strategy merely “emboldened’’ rioters.
Poor Mr Raja Kumar. He was acting Commissioner at the time of the Little India riot and probably wished his boss was around then. He should have been dressed in riot gear when he faced the COI yesterday to shield himself against the missiles thrown his way.
Actually, his main defence was that major crimes in Little India had come down, although jay-walking went up. The SOC was short-handed and there were plenty of places it had to also “cover’’. Nevertheless, the SOC had been deployed 16 times on anti-crime patrols in Little India last year.
So he was quizzed about why the SOC took so long – more than an hour from the call for help – to get to the scene. Here’s what happened: The top officer who took the call for help wanted to do “due diligence’’ because the information was “sketchy’’ and wanted to speak to someone on the ground. That was why the decision to deploy took about 18 minutes, which could be “abbreviated’’, as Mr Raja Kumar said.
Here’s one interesting bit that only The New Paper had:
One SOC troop was at City Hall patrolling when the call arrived. It made its way to Bukit Timah Road and was about to turn into Race Course Road when it was given orders to turn around and regroup at Hampshire Road. It made a U-turn at Sim Lim Square, went back up Bukit Timah and ran headlong into a jam at Kampong Java. Some of vehicles were then told to break off and make their way back down Bukit Timah Road, that is, the original route. This comedy was reported in The New Paper with a useful map. The call to “re-group’’ appeared to have cost 10 minutes of time….
Another troop made its way from Queensway to Hampshire Road.
The time of first call: 9.23pm. Activation of SOC: 10.04pm. SOC reaches scene: 10.45pm – 10.48pm.
Thing is, as Mr Selvam asked, shouldn’t the SOC have been beefed up especially after 9/11? Mr Raja Kumar said in the past, large scale responses were needed, but today’s threats required a “different’’ response. Still, he lamented the “manpower constraint’’. Give me more men and we’ll patrol Little India every weekend, he seemed to be saying.
Hm. Wonder why the numbers were cut…Had a look at the Home Affairs ministry budget for the coming year. It’s $4.2 billion, up by 8.4 per cent. Hopefully, this will pay for more men? Hopefully, an MP will ask the question when the Committee of Supply scrutinises the ministry’s budget.
Anyway, Mr Raja Kumar was the first policeman to face the COI. It would be interesting to hear what the other officers, especially the ground officers, say about exercising their judgments that night.