berthahenson

Shame on the Home team

In News Reports on January 22, 2014 at 2:26 am

As a daughter of a cop, I’ve always had a soft spot for the men and women in blue. Sure, I make fun of them mercilessly, but it was done without malice. Hey, I even tried to get an SPF scholarship way back when but the misogynists didn’t take in women then…

So when people start hammering our policemen for running away from rioters in Little India, I preferred to hold my counsel. It can’t be easy to confront a crazed mob and they did get the beleaguered bus driver and conductor to safety after all. All the questions about whether the rioters were fuelled by drink or whether repressed sentiments were coming out in the open are important no doubt. But I happen to agree with the G that the more important thing was how our law enforcement people reacted.

I am sure there were acts of bravery. Individual courage in the course of carrying out one duties is to be applauded and commended. More important, however, is whether the “system’’ is robust enough to withstand or react to a shock or an unprecedented event. In this case, I cannot  fathom the reasons for the close to one-hour delay in getting the Special Operations Command guys to Little India when the riot happened. According to ST, DPM Teo “explained’’ (why did ST use this word instead of plain “said’’?) that it was “reaction, decision-making and travel time’’ that accounted for the time.

Consider this:

a)     It took the police chiefs 19 minutes to assess whether the SOC should or should not go. DPM Teo said that if they were “deployed for one thing, then you may not deploy them for another thing’’. I wonder how many “things’’ could be happening that night that would warrant the SOC’s attention.

b)    DPM Teo said that some SOC troops were at their base on “high alert’’ and can be activated within minutes, but one group was out on patrol that day.

c)     So when the decision was made to deploy, the officers “recollected themselves and then deployed’’. What gives? So many SOC guys were out on patrol that the fellows at the station couldn’t go to the scene without them? Is this because some bureaucracy or red tape is involved? You need to collect all the men, give a briefing and then distribute instruction notes? Can’t be!

d)    Then DPM says that Singapore might be small but it does “take time to move from one place to another’’. How come? The SOC trucks didn’t have their sirens on? Other vehicles won’t give way? The roads were blocked by illegally-parked cars?

In the meantime, 23 vehicles were damaged, including three burnt. It was Workers’ Party’s Low Thia Kiang who asked about the one-hour response time. It was a legitimate question and the rest of the House should have joined in in asking for clarification. No one did. Hopefully, this is something that the Committee of Inquiry will get to the bottom of.

The question remains: whether our system is resilient (uurrrgh…hate the word but it’s most appropriate in this instance) enough to react to the unexpected. Have our policemen become so used to routine and day-to-day work in peaceful Singapore that they cannot react fast enough to something new? I sure hope our men in green aren’t like that. You train in peacetime to prepare for unforeseen eventualities that you sincerely hope will not occur. But if they do, you get up and get going. Quickly please.

I wanted to write this yesterday but I didn’t have the time. Now is as good a time to do so given the tragic-comedy over the past few days involving a Malaysian woman driver who “slipped’’ through Woodlands checkpoint. Now I would have thought that border security would have been stepped up over the year, given that our neighbours in the north have let out those it had detained without trial.  Surely, we need an even stronger perimeter to prevent undesirables from entering?

I don’t know enough about the layout of Woodlands checkpoint but I gather it’s not easy to speed off without getting your passport looked at. So simply tailgating a vehicle is enough to “slip’’ through customs and immigration… There are too many questions here. Is the ICA only trained in sniffing out drug couriers and importers of exotic animals? Are the officers trained to stop drivers going in and out? Two minutes is too long a time for an alarm to be sounded that someone had intruded. You start wondering if the officers were standing around in “disbelief’’ and whether they had to tackle some red tape like alerting their superiors before taking action.

Never mind that. What happened in those missing three days? Maybe I’ve been watching too many crime movies but you would have thought all patrol cars would have been alerted to red Malaysian-registered car prowling the country illegally. It had been caught on CCTV at the checkpoint, it seems. Apparently, there was an “island-wide alert’’. I’ll stretch it further. Even if the patrol men can’t find the car, the police could have engaged the services of our cabbies to be on the lookout. As for those cameras around the island, are they only for nabbing speeding motorists?

Now, it’s not clear what happened but the woman driver tailgated a taxi driver who seemed to have driven straight to Police Cantonment Complex. Seems he had the presence of mind to drive there. And seems that the cops were waiting too. But the policemen were waiting for a “tailgater’’ not an intruder. Because they didn’t recognise her or her car despite the “island-wide alert’’.

It’s even more unclear what happened next. So she drove from Cantonment Road to Minden Road where the Foreign ministry is based. That’s quite a distance and the cops could have caught up with her if they had given chase – which they didn’t. Anyone who has been to the Foreign ministry would know that it is mighty difficult to slip through. No, she didn’t have to crash through any barrier, she simply tailgated another car. The scene that must have followed would have made for a good movie. Two cars driven by security chasing her round the compound before finally boxing her in.

So who is she? A 27-year Malaysian teacher from Kuala Lumpur who is a bit “mental’’, it seems.

DPM Teo, fresh from facing Parliament on the riots and appealing to people not to “indulge in speculation’’ on what happened, has come out to express his “deep dissatisfaction’’. He slammed both the commissioners of ICA and the Police for the way this was handled/or not handled. I wonder what’s the coded meaning behind “deep dissatisfaction’’. Thank goodness he did not say it was a “regrettable’’ incident and he was sorry that it happened…  Because we are all sorry that it happened.

The ICA deputy commissioner said he was “disappointed’’ by the incident. Eh?  Where’s a proper apology when you are expecting one?

I am sure some people will have a field day demanding that heads roll, and I am inclined to join the chorus. If this “lapse’’ is not symptomatic of some kind of systems breakdown, then I don’t know what is. It would be ironic if our law enforcement agencies and their officers are taking peace and security for granted.

 You know, I can take any kind of policy screw-up and acknowledge that not everything can go smoothly or be “perfect’’ as Ms Josephine Teo put it. But I do expect “perfection’’ and “smooth execution’’ in matters of law and order. That’s the basic duty of the state.   

     

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  1. […] The Independent – Singapore: What is happening to my country? – Bertha Henson: Shame on the Home team – Five stars and a Moon: The 9 sucks of Singapore – Shih Tung’s WordPress Blog: […]

  2. I bet the riot police in the 1950s and 1960s responded much faster than one hour whenever a riot took place (given how prevalent riots were during that era)…

  3. You mean firing a few shots into the air will have negative effect? High pressure water jets also would be ineffective! Riots squads police had practiced regularly ages ago, why it is a rear activity? WHY WHY WHY?/???

    sENGh wOO

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