While the Singapore Police Force responded to the riot “relatively swiftly and efficiently” on the whole, there were several lapses committed by the police, the Committee of Inquiry into the Dec 8 Little India riot said in its report released on Monday (June 30). These lapses meant that rioters had “free rein to do whatever they wanted”.
The committee noted that police officers at the scene faced severe communication problems, resulting in the lack of coordination among those on the ground. Poor communication also hindered the arrival of the Special Operations Command (SOC) troops as they ended up being caught in traffic and did not turn up at the main problem area.
“That said, when communications fail, commanders on the ground must resort to other means of obtaining critical information”, the committee wrote in the report. “The Committee of Inquiry believes (commanding officer) DAC Lu Yeow Lim should have made more effort to establish the resources available and find out more about the situation, either by instructing his officers to move around, or doing so himself”.
OPPORTUNITIES TO INTERVENE
The Committee also noted that police officers’ holding ground that night might have been perceived by rioters as inaction, “which could have encouraged an emboldened them to carry out more egregious acts”.
Noting that video footage before the arrival of the SOC saw rioters cheering as they damaged emergency vehicles, the committee felt that this would emboldens the rioters at every successful attempt.
The committee also concluded that there were opportunities to intervene and take decisive action.
“The COI is of the view that there were sufficient officers to take action had they been marshalled and directed to do so,” it wrote in its report. “The riots were destroying property and pelting the officers with objects, but the Committee of Inquiry does not agree that it was a life-threatening situation, or that the officers would have been in severe danger had they moved in to stop and arrest the rioters at the this time”.
"NOT A SYSTEMIC FAILURE"
Still, while the Singapore Police Force must improve on its training and communication plans, the lapses “do not reflect a serious and systemic failure in the police force as a whole”, the committee added.
“The COI’s view is that the lapses in the second phase of the riot (after the dead foreign worker’s body had been extricated from the bus’ wheels and after the bus driver and timekeeper had been evacuated) were an aberration of the norm. In the view of the COI, the Singapore Police Force is on the whole an efficient and effective institution, and one of the finest police forces in the world. The key is to learn from this incident, so that mistakes are not repeated and future responses are improved.”
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