Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Little India Riot: 8 recommendations from the Committee of Inquiry report

Jun 30, 2014

SINGAPORE - The Committee of Inquiry (COI) into the Dec 8 riot in Little India riot released its report on Monday. These are the eight recommendations it has put forth as a result of its findings:

1. Improve police communications and command-and-control capabilities and help officers dealing with public order incidents build a better picture of the ground situation, especially in rapidly changing scenarios;

[Ideal. But realistic? Given perfect information, any one with a reasonable amount of intelligence, experience, and training can make the right choice. But generally, chaotic incidences does not lend itself well to accurate information. The picture on the ground, is dependent on the ground officers providing information, and that is still filtered through the officer's perception, coloured by his emotions, and framed by the circumstances.

I don't have a disagreement with this recommendation, but I think it is idealistic at best. ]

2. Appropriately train and equip frontline officers from the police Land Divisions and Neighbourhood Police Centres to effectively defuse and contain large-scale public order incidents;

[Again idealistic and unrealistic. Question: How often does SG face a large-scale public order incident? How much time, effort, costs do you want to invest in training and equipping frontline officers for a once in a lifetime incident?]

3. Increase police’s manpower resources, including the Police Special Operations Command, so that they can better manage mass congregation areas such as Little India, and be ready to deal with large-scale public order incidents. But quality rather than quantity should be the major consideration in augmenting the force;
["Quality, rather than quantity..." So... no foreign workers?]

4. To have police and the Singapore Civil Defence Force continue to build on their ability to respond in a concerted and coordinated manner to public order situations like they did last December;

5. Cut the layers of approval and time needed to activate essential police resources that respond to public order incidents and other emergencies;

[Yes. But can a sergeant activate the SOC? An Inspector? The Watch Officer or Duty officer? The issue isn't the "layers of approval". The issue is trust and working relationship. If the commander of a land division has the authority to activate the SOC, then he must be convinced that the incident warrants the activation of the SOC. If he trusts his Watch Officer or Duty Officer in charge, and the officer calls him and says, "There is an incident. We need the SOC." What does he do?

If he trusts the assessment of his Watch Officer, he will say, "OK. Activate them. They can call me to confirm." Or "tell them the activation code is XXXX" (if there is such a protocol). 

If he DOESN'T trust his Watch Officer's assessment, he will say, "Ok, I will go down and take a look" before he decides to activate the SOC. THAT will result in a delay.

Cutting the layers may or may not work. Say the Watch Officer or an Inspector now can activate the SOC. Two possible negatives: SOC are activated for less than just cause. Or Authorised officer overly cautious and still do not activate SOC when justified.

This is similar to the "no shots fired" by the police officers, even though their lives were in jeopardy. The SPF has trained their officers to be restrained in the use of firearms. Which is a good thing. And to be fair, not being at the scene, I cannot say with any certainty that what they did (or rather didn't do) was not correct. 

BUT (and this is speculation on my part), if the officers held their fire because of an over-abundance of caution, rather than a realistic assessment of the situation, then I wonder if the officer in charge, authorised to activate the SOC, might nevertheless be overly cautious and delay activation of the SOC?

That said, I am all for delegating the authority to the officers on the ground, and letting them have the authority to call for back up, in the form of the SOC. It may well be that the SOC may be deployed for less than justified incidents, but there is no downside in being over-prepared. It is not as if the SOC might be required elsewhere. BUT the officer in charge should have sufficient training in various scenarios to help them decide when it is appropriate to deploy the SOC.]

6. Install additional lighting, safety and surveillance devices in areas which see large congregations of foreign workers, on top of installing better basic facilities in such areas;

[What safety devices are they recommending?]

7. Make more services and amenities available to foreign workers outside of congregation areas and work with community stakeholders on ways to reduce congestion at congregation areas; and

8. More strictly enforce rules against public drunkenness and put in place alcohol restrictions in hotspots where large crowds typically indulge in heavy drinking, and therefore which are more susceptible to trigger events that could spark a breakdown of public order.

[I have reservations. The rioters targeted emergency vehicles. Specifically, police vehicles. Do you think there might be some undercurrent of anger against the police? Either the SPF, or transferred from their hometowns (i.e. India's police)? Stricter enforcement may lead to further animosity. That said, allowing public drunkenness to go unchecked is not the SG way. There is a need to address the issue, but I am not sure that more law enforcement is the solution. I would suggest a volunteer constabulary made up of the FW. They will be given simple training and tasked with helping to maintain order. Their role is to keep order, not to crack down or crack heads open. But I do not know if the FW would be keen to volunteer.]

Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean, in a letter on Monday thanking the COI members, said the Home Affairs and Manpower ministries will study the committee’s report and recommendations carefully. “The Minister of Manpower and I will provide the Government’s response to the Committee’s report in Parliament on 7 July 2014,” said Mr Teo, who is also Home Affairs Minister.

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