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Bertha HarianBertha Harian

News Reports

Little India COI report: Punches pulled

If there was one surprise in the Little India COI report, it was that the COI wasn’t tougher on the cops. Seems the panel members took a deep breath and strained mightily to say that the police… did a pretty good job, given the circumstances…

“Overall, SPF responded to the riot relatively swiftly and efficiently. The responding officers did a commendable job of handling the first phase of the riot. However, the COI also finds several lapses in the actions by the police during the second phase of the riot… ‘’

So, give ‘em a break. You know, none of them had ever had to handle a riot; the frontline cops weren’t equipped nor prepared for crowds who throw stones and beer bottles. How would anyone have figured that red tape would have delayed the deployment of the riot cops? How would anyone have known that communication lines would be jammed such that the cops couldn’t talk to one another and find out what was happening in the streets of Little India or even how many cops were already there? Holding a position by lining up across key roads is really a good idea but did you know that there were so many alleyways and back streets that rioters could go through?  And you would have thought the riot cops would have blared their way through traffic with sirens on, so who would have figured that they would be so late on the scene? In any case, in the half hour waiting for the calvary to arrive, all the rioters did was damage 23 emergency vehicles, including setting fire to four. Just over S$530,000 of damage caused – hey, small sum! And remember no tear gas nor water cannons used. No shots were fired.

Okay, I am being cynical but I sure hope I won’t have to hear such comments if the guys in GREEN had to go into action.

Like who would have anticipated threats from that side of the world? That the airforce would be so late in arriving because commercial planes were in the way? That communications breakdown prevented one group of soldiers from knowing that their compatriots were actually in the next road. That top soldiers ran out of their homes to get to the scene without donning their uniforms? You know, no one has ever been encountered an attack on territory before and those who did are probably dead by now. But never mind, just a few buildings burnt down and several overturned tanks. And. No. Shots. Fired.

Perhaps, I was looking forward to a blistering report, forgetting that it was more fact-finding than fault-fingering. The COI even refrained from describing the lapses as either “major’’ or “minor’’. But it stuck its neck out to say there were no “serious and systemic defect’’ in the force as a whole.

Frankly, I wonder what would be the COI’s definition of a “systemic defect’’? The red tape which delayed the deployment of the Special Operations Command is not a systemic defect? What other police procedures are being strangled by red tape? The lack of communications which it had described as “severe’’ is not a systemic defect? That the force reduced its competence in crowd and riot control over the years is not a systemic defect, especially given the rise in number of foreign residents over the past 10 years?  Oops! That’s not a systemic defect, that’s a failure of strategic planning.

I  looked for the word “culture’’ in the report as in “culture of complacency’’.  Instead “culture’’ is used in relation to the rioters: how some South Asians have a culture of rooting for the underdog, “street justice’’ and cocking a snook at authority. I can’t imagine any politician avoiding the use of the word or phrase when talking about public order and security. But then again, the COI members aren’t politicians.

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The phrase repeatedly used is “room for improvement’’, which everyone, everything, everywhere has “room’’ for. Which is a politically correct phrase.

An ST commentator suggested that the COI was trying not to hit the morale of the cops going by the way the report was written. If so, that’s lovely of the COI. But this citizen, among the millions living here who depend on the police for our safety, is terribly unhappy at the way the COI pulled its punches.

You might ask why I seem to be out for blood and what’s wrong with the COI being kinder so long as it produced good recommendations. A  simple reason: Call a spade a spade. And on matters of law and order, there should be no “give’’. Only the highest standards should suffice.

Okay, I got that out of my system. Part 2 coming up later.  


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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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