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Proposals in response to COI’s Little India riot recommendations

By Yasmeen Banu

Responding to the recommendations by the Committee of Inquiry (COI) for the Little India riot in December 2013, the Ministry of Home Affairs and Ministry of Manpower outlined initiatives that they will undertake to address the recommendations made by the COI, although the solutions proposed seem to fall a few short of the full slate.

After weeks of deliberation and gathering evidence, the COI outlined three crucial factors uncovered that quickly turned the riot dreadful - the rioters’ misconception of the accident and the reaction from the first responders; alcohol being consumed prior to the riot that swayed the good judgement of the rioters; and the lapses in the police force by holding their positions instead of engaging the mob giving the rioters “a free rein to do whatever they wanted”.

The factors, which was followed by eight recommendations by the COI, was acknowledged by the government and both MHA and MOM sought to propose solutions to address the COI's recommendations.

All seven recommendations relating to security measures and the conduct of the police will be implemented and monitored by MHA while one recommendation - to make more services and amenities available to foreign workers outside of congregation areas, and to work with local community stakeholders on measures to reduce congestion at these areas - will be undertaken by MOM. These recommendations were widely reported by the media as part of Parliamentary proceedings.

In response to this recommendation, MOM proposed to build more self-contain dormitories. Mr Tan Chuan-Jin, the Minister for Manpower said that "new dormitories are required to be self-contained with space set aside for living and gathering, and have facilities like gymnasiums and mini-marts".

MOM adds that it will also increase the number of recreation centres dedicated to foreign workers.

One of the first recommendation by the COI for MHA is to improve Singapore Police Force’s (SPF) communication, command, and control capabilities, or C3, to help officers dealing with public order incidents build a better picture of the ground situation, especially in rapidly changing scenarios.

Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean, who is also the Minister for Home Affairs, said that the police "have been working on a major upgrade of its C3 systems for the past few years". While the body and vehicle-mounted cameras are currently on trial, the new Combined Operations Room and C3 system are due to enter service at the end of the year.

Another recommendation by the COI is to appropriately train and equip frontline officers from the Land Divisions and Neighbourhood Police Centres (NPC) to effectively defuse and contain large-scale public order incidents.

Mr Teo did not indicate whether NPC forces would be bolstered. However, MHA will increase the size of the Special Operations Command (SOC) unit to 300 officers, "doubling its current strength of deployable front-line troopers".

Mr Teo also said that different views were expressed during the COI on "how one could interact with people from different cultural backgrounds", adding that it is indeed a valid consideration.

"We will provide more cultural background orientation for officers, including auxiliary police officers, who have to deal with and interact with people from different cultural backgrounds on a regular basis," he was reported by media as saying. No specific proposals were made as to how this will be done.

MHA will also provide SOC troops with additional equipment to improve their sense-making and operational capabilities. This proposed change came in response to COI’s recommendation to increase SPF’s manpower resources to better deal with large-scale public order incidents.

However, the report mentioned that “quality over quantity” should be the major consideration in strengthening the force.

On that aspect, the MHA did not seem to have outlined specific solutions to address the COI's recommendation that SPF and SCDF continue to build on their ability to respond in a concerted and coordinated manner to public order situations.

Opposition Member of Parliament Ms Sylvia Lim had asked Mr Teo if it would be possible to allow more peaceful protests in Singapore in designated areas, so that the police can test their “policing capabilities in terms of policing cause-based crowds”.

Mr Teo responded by saying that "you don’t really need to deliberately allow protests to take place in order to give SOC practice".

To secure safety measures at locations with large congregations, Mr Teo said the police would be installing another 88 cameras in public areas between now and December 2015, tripling the overall number of cameras initially intended. The number of police cameras has more than doubled to 250, from the 113 police cameras before the riot.

In addition to that, MHA will shorten the approval process that is needed to activate the SOC, cutting down layers of approval and time needed to activate essential resources to respond to public order incidents and other emergencies.

After the riot, measures to curb drunken behaviour have been implemented, with the alcohol ban on weekends and public holidays. To continue enforcing against public drunkenness, and to avoid another breakdown of public order, the government will introduce the necessary legislation within the next six months before the Public Order Act expires next March.