News Reports

Little India COI: Our Protocol Police

I will do my best here not to lose my temper. It’s going to be very hard because it had reached boiling point even before I got on to reading the second newspaper.

If you want to know what DAC Lu Yeow Lim, the ground commander at the Little India riot, did wrong (or did not do – which was the case) go buy TNP. It has usefully put out the headlines that display the man’s lack of ….ooops.

Revising this…He is a real law and order man, adheres to rules and protocols strictly, monitors situation as befits a commander shielded by a phalanx of bodyguards and decides do nothing because he didn’t want anyone hurt. Very nice. Never mind if police cars burn, property is less important than lives…So burn, baby, burn….

See? I told you it was going to be hard to keep my temper in check.

Anyway, TNP gave headlines to displayed the COI’s near-contempt (my words) for the man’s actions/inaction. This is my version based on ST, TNP and TODAY.

He didn’t know what was happening – That’s because when he got there, in civvies, he was at the wrong place. Not where the police cars were burning in Kerbau Road. He couldn’t see the scene from his spot at Hampshire Road. He had rushed out to the scene without changing into his uniform because he would wasted five minutes. The COI said a uniform would at least have marked him out to rioters as a figure of authority. Five minutes spent on a uniform was way longer than the half hour he had standing around in his civvies doing nothing at the scene.

Well, never mind that he was in “disguise’’. He said his officers recognised him and the rioters seemed to know who he was because whenever he moved out from behind his officers, he was pelted.

But the killer line is this: Police protocol dictates that commander can’t get into the heat of action. What if the commander got hurt? Who would lead then? But nobody’s asking you to get into the middle of it all, what about walking round the periphery, asked the COI. And what about ASP Jonathan Tang, the first responder, who was moving around all the time?

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 This mere female sure hopes the SAF has different protocols.  

He didn’t know how many men he had – From what he could tell from where he was at – and where he stayed put – he had about eight men or so. Not the 100 plus that the COI, with video and the benefit of hindsight after three months of investigation, said was there, he retorted. Phone lines were jammed. He couldn’t get a handle on his manpower.

 Clearly, he was trying to say that HE was the ground commander. This was what HE saw and judged. As far as HE was concerned, he was out-numbered and any action would have led to a greater reaction on the part of the rioters.

He didn’t take any action – Well, he wasn’t “drinking coffee’’ either, he said. He decided to “hold the ground’’ and even, get this, stopped two of his men who wanted to stop the rioters from burning a police car right in front of them, because he didn’t want to antagonise rioters. And, get this, there are protocols in place that “deadly force’’ can be used to protect property, but there was no provision for burning vehicles! In any case, his “moral’’ position was to place the lives of human beings above the protection of property.

He read the crowd wrongly –  He said the crowd was aggressive (although how he assessed this was in contradiction to his statements that he couldn’t see the burning going on in Kerbau Road from where he was).  What if they surrounded him and his men and wrested their guns from them and started firing? What if some people got killed? Then he would be barracked for quite a different COI.

Seems he thinks police inaction was the way to handle the rioters so as not to escalate things. So he waited for the SOC to arrive as he “held the ground’’ rather than do a Charge of the Light Brigade. But the COI thinks that some action, even by a few good men, would have done much to quell the rioters who were instead emboldened into engaging in further violence. What about the lone cop, Sgt Fadli, who charged the crowd three times, the COI asked. Each time he charged, the crowd got smaller. DAC Lu noted that he didn’t make any arrests, so what’s the point?  Aiyoyo.

So what light did yesterday’s COI shed on what happened that night?

Well, it seems that drinking was only a contributory factor in the violence. Police inaction had to bear some/much of the blame too.

Looks like there is a difference in strategic thinking on what sort of action should or could be taken in such a scenario.   

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From the way DAC Lu responded (wished he was as feisty with the rioters as he was with the COI…), he seemed to think that COI was out to “get him’’ and had the unfair advantage of video footage and three months’ worth of investigation although he had abided by protocol (Is wearing civvies also protocol I wonder) Also, he seemed to think that everyone with a view should realise that they were NOT there, not in that responsible position of having to make judgment calls that might endanger lives.

Okay, I am just speculating here.

Maybe some new protocols have to be written. Or maybe the police should throw away the Book of Police Protocols since it appeared to be more a “limiting’’ and restrictive tool than one which allowed the employment of initiative and common sense!

Like how DAC Lu said he had to get “clearance’’ from the Acting Commissioner if he wanted to use tear gas, under current protocol.  

Like how DAC Koh Wei Keong, who was in charge of SOC that night, said the call for help came from a “low ranking’’ (my words) officer when protocol dictates that it should come from “higher up’’ . He spent 10 minutes calling around to ascertain if the SOC was really needed at what seemed to be a crowd at a traffic accident site.

Well, even if the police didn’t “react’’ fast enough, they weren’t good enough at the “preventive’’ front either. Little India was brimful of foreign workers every weekend, most of whom were infused with alcohol, the COI said. It was a powder keg waiting to explode. But it seemed that the serious crime incidents had come down over the years so Little India wasn’t a “priority’’ for the cops. Quite odd. Residents have been complaining for years about the situation but the police prefer to rely on statistics…  

I read the news reports of yesterday’s COI and I don’t know whether to laugh or to cry. But, seriously, what’s with our men in blue? If you’re a policeman, act like one, for crying out loud…

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