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News Reports

Little India COI: We don’t need another hero?

I am starting to feel a little sorry for our boys in blue. Imagine being asked if you thought you were being a coward for running away from rioters that night in Little India. What did the COI expect them to say?

Well, none of them admitted to being “cowards’’. They did not “flee’’, at least not in fear. They made a “tactical retreat’’, to “regroup’’ and “re-think’’ – or something like that. One of them said he walked away, then he modified this to walked away quickly and then he agreed that he ran. Poor thing.

Anyway, here’s what they could say (BTW, not all of below is fiction):

“Of course I was scared! Wouldn’t you be if you were in my place? You want me to stand around and be hit, cut and killed by beer bottles and dustbins? Or seek safety in numbers?’’

“Sure, I was scared to death. I’m a policeman who is part of the Division Tactical Team, trained in crowd control. I trained with equipment, but I went out without them. Not much point I know…but what to do?’’

“I was peeing in my pants actually. I couldn’t understand what the crowd was saying. I spoke to them in English and bits of Malay but I didn’t have a loud hailer. It was like duck and chicken talking to each other.’’

“I thought I was going to die…I was thinking…where in heaven’s name was the SOC? What’s taking them so long? If there were other officers there, I didn’t see them. The phone lines were jammed. My walkie-talkie went dead. We were out-numbered’’

“I could have tried to be a hero. We might be out-numbered but we weren’t out-gunned. I thought of firing my revolver above the heads of the crowd but was afraid I would miss and actually hit someone. Plus no one told me during practice sessions about when I can actually fire warning shots. I am not trained in when I can actually use my gun. Cannot anyhow shoot.’’

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“I did think of arresting some people, especially the guy who was taunting me to use my baton. But if I arrest one and they ganged up on me, then how? They might have taken my gun from me and what would have happened then?’’

“I wanted to spray water over  them to cool the temperature but the Red Rhino had no water. Sure, cars were burning and we called the SCDF to bring the fire engines but they said it was too dangerous to go there. Or we could have got some water…’’

“I wanted so badly to run away right from the beginning but what about the woman and the bus driver? Leave them on the bus? So I stuck around until we got them out. It was very scary…I’ve never seen anything like this in Singapore.’’

“Sure, we fled the scene, if you want to call it that. We were exposed and out in the open, so we got into the ambulance which was already battered and broken. Remember they were overturning cars and setting fire to them. What would they have done to the ambulance if we didn’t scoot quickly?’’

 “Yes, I was so frightened I wanted to cry for my mother. I was just waiting for someone to tell me what to do. I usually just issue summons and do patrol duty. Not trained for this thing.’’

“Oh man…it was a sight. My head was bleeding. I was cut. My colleagues were injured. You should have been there…Or maybe not. I think the trouble is we never thought something like this would ever happen in Singapore…now if it was a bomb scare or something, we would know what to do…I think.’’

Yup. It’s not very edifying – the sight of policemen fleeing trouble. We have high standards of people whose job is it to protect us. They can’t just be “maintaining’’ the peace, they have to actively quell trouble when it comes. And frankly, it’s okay to say “yes, I was terrified’’. Even heroes would be.

Still, should we expect acts of individual heroism? That would be nice. It would be great to read about a heroic policeman who charges into the crowd, fires one shot in the air and the rioters disperse. We would have saved several vehicles and stopped more policemen getting wounded. We would put him on stage and given him a medal or two. The COI seems to think that might have happened instead of “holding the ground’’. Of course, the hero could have been trampled upon, a drunk might have wrested his gun from him and started firing. Oooh! More bloodshed. And the hero becomes a target of derision, for not taking “considered’’ decisions and acting rashly.

So the boys in blue preferred to be cautious. The COI will have to judge whether caution should have been the order of the night.   

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My two cents worth of pop psychology. Maybe we are so used to peace and people obeying orders that we’re not sure how to react. We wait for orders, directions, the green light from bosses…We’re afraid of doing something wrong if we did something on our own. We do not have a culture of “go ahead and damn the consequences!’’ We prefer to seek permission than ask for forgiveness.

In all the mistakes and mis-steps by law enforcement, whether it be the Mas Selamat escape or the Malaysian woman who crossed the Causeway in her red car, one thing that kept popping up was slow decision-making – even a sense of not wanting to make anything “bigger’’ than it is. Hence an immigration offence, not a border breach? Hence the need to notify, report and clarify before anything gets done?

As an aside, I read today about how one police officer said he could only activate the officers in Tanglin, some 20 of them. How come? Also, TNP had a magnificent timeline of the ding dong of calls among the police officers that night monitoring the activity. A lot of briefing and reporting and monitoring. Necessary I suppose but in the end, the SOC still took an hour to get there. By the way, why was the SOC caught in traffic? The vehicles should have gone with sirens blaring to get motorists out of the way no?

Also, I can’t wait to hear from the SCDF. Not just the men who got the people to safety but also from the top people – like how come the SCDF can say no to a police call to put out fires because it considered it too “dangerous’’ for their men? I mean, who should we call? Ghost-busters?

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An ex-journalist who can't get enough of the news after being in the business for 26 years

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