I don’t know whether it’s coincidence or not, but did you realise that yet another Little India rioter was sentenced to jail and cane yesterday, on the same day that Parliament discussed the COI findings on the riot?
The Indian national was jailed two and a half years and to be caned three strokes, and is the third to plead guilty to “active’’ rioting. That is, he wasn’t one of those bystanders who merely threatened the cops. He took part in throwing missiles, including a rubbish bin, setting fire to the bus and, yes, he was one of those who danced round a burning police motorbike. I guess that’s the power of video? Or was it eye-witness testimony? The ST news report didn’t make clear.
(In any case, you might want to know the number of police cameras have been DOUBLED to 250 in Little India since the riot night with another 88 to be installed by the end of next year. So everyone had better think twice before doing funny stuff, like dropping your pants for a pee.)
ST didn’t make clear either where he was alcohol-fuelled. All it said was that he had been chatting with a friend and remitting money before he decided to go liven up the events of the night. He makes No. 14 of the 25 rioters charged. It’s good to know that key players have been brought to book, although so far, there’s only been three charged with actively taking part in the riot.
I really wish the news reports said more, like what possessed him to do the things he did. Was that reported in court? Or maybe not since he pleaded guilty? Or were there any mitigating factors that the lawyers put up? I presume he assigned a lawyer. It would have been first-hand testimony, putting flesh and blood on the COI report which said that the accident that happened was the cause of the riot, which was aggravated by alcohol consumption and nought to do with living or working conditions here.
In fact, the three-member COI has “disappeared’’. No press conference to address queries. No interviews. Perhaps it has to do with the nature of the inquiry, which has the status of a court? You don’t have judges explaining their judgment, so it is the case here? Pity.
What we have instead is DPM Teo Chee Hean delivering a ministerial statement in response to the COI report and MPs questioning him. I have stuck my neck out to say that the COI report was pretty lame when it came to criticising the police effort that night. And now, DPM Teo has stuck his neck out to say that he thought the cops did okay. He quoted liberally from the COI report which commended those who arrived first on the scene and while he noted the COI saying that the police could have done better in the later stage when the rioters went on a rampage, he said “the commanders and officers that night did the best they could in the circumstances they faced, with the information that they had on hand’’. The COI, he said, arrived at its assessment based on a reconstruction of all available information collected after the riot by a team of investigators.
“It is not always possible to take the analyses done after the fact, and substitute them for the judgement that the commanders and officers had to make on the ground that night. We will not be able to know definitively what the outcome would be if a different course of action had been taken during this phase, given the emotional crowd which was volatile and prone to misperceptions.’’
TODAY had a bit extra on what he said about Tanglin Division Commander Lu Yeow Lim, the ranking officer who decided to “hold the position’’ that night. PAP MP Vikram Nair had asked if action will be taken against him. Mr Teo’s reply: “I have evaluated the actions of the commander and the officers that night, and I do not find them wanting.”
On the matter of DAC Lu, it’s best to read TNP, which had Mr Teo saying that the police on the scene that night did not “have the benefit of hindsight’’. If DAC Lu had adopted an “interventionist’’ approach, that is, taken some action instead of waiting for riot police to arrive, no one could have predicted if things could get better or worse.
This appears to be one key area in which the G disagrees with the COI which thought that there were “lapses’’ in this particular stage of the riot that night and that DAC Lu could have taken “more positive action’’. The COI noted that most of the destruction happened while police were waiting for the Special Operations Command to arrive.
But why split hairs over what has happened, you say? So long as measures are in place to prevent a repeat occurrence – whether of the riot or any police lapses.
DPM Teo cited a list of measures, including beefing up the SOC and points to how there’s a manpower shortage everywhere so simply “asking’’ for manpower like the Police Commissioner had done, is not going to solve the problem although “there is no problem asking’’ .
Anyway, the SOC will get 300 more frontline officers to get the number up to 600. I wonder if there ever is an ideal riot police to people ratio or even normal police to people ratio. While the force has been beefed up over the years, the ratio is way below other cities but there appears to be no mention of this Parliament going by the news reports. It strikes me that while there’s a shortage of manpower everywhere, including in the private sector, it is for the G to prioritise where new manpower should go to. And to pay them well. What’s also puzzling is how there seems to be no mention of auxillary police officers, who also played a critical role in the riot. Did no one ask about this aspect of beefing up the police force?
BTW, there was an interesting question by WP Sylvia Lim who suggested that the G allow “peaceful’’ demonstrations in certain areas. DPM Teo’s reply was described as “amused’’ by ST. But reading TODAY’s excerpt of the exchange, I thought he was pretty short with her: “Perhaps Ms Lim might want to go one step further and say allow the protests to get out of hand so that they get a little bit more practice? Why not? Since we want to give them practice?’’ In any case, there were enough large-scale events for the police to “practise’’. That’s true. They just need to go to Hong Lim Park every weekend or so…
Frankly, Ms Lim’s suggestion goes against the Singapore DNA for peace and stability. We might as well stage a mock riot with missile somewhere and see how the police deal with it – and this is something I’m sure they already do.
So, are we closing the chapter on the Little India riot? There’s still the public consultation going on on the sale and consumption of alcohol and also some more rioters left to be brought before the courts.
I see the Little India riot as our police force’ “baptism of fire’’. I wish our men and women in blue well. You might want to consider this point: You have a minister who defended you. Good for you. Now, methinks it is time for all of us to get behind you too.