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Little India COI: A real pro…

In News Reports on February 28, 2014 at 9:35 am

I was totally impressed.

Lieutenant Tiffany Neo is one damn plucky woman. Petite with short cropped hair, she signed on with the SCDF last year and was the woman in charge of the SCDF crew of about eight men from Central Fire Station who first responded to a call for rescue at the site of a “traffic accident’’ along Race Course Road that night.

There she could be seen on the video togged up in fire-fighting gear….waving back the crowd to give “my guys’’ space. She crawled through the broken glass door to reach the bloodied female conductor. She hopped her way through the bus aisle stepping on seats looking for the driver. She had even stepped on him – he was hiding inside a dustbin – before he showed himself. And when it looked like the crowd had seen him standing up with her in the bus and had started pelting it, she instinctively ducked down to shield him.

Now, that looked like professionalism at its best. To think that this slight woman had to shout at the top of her voice so she could be heard by “my guys’’ above the din. That she was worried about a couple of her “guys’’ who had never seen a dead body. That she escorted the body to safety through a hostile crowd while being hit on the back and pelted. That she got a wounded colleague to a patrol car before returning to the accident scene.

She displayed “common sense, a rare commodity’’ as the COI chairman Pannier Selvam put it. He did ask though why the SCDF didn’t just reverse the bus to retrieve the body that was pinned down under left rear wheel. It would seem like common sense to take this quick way of retrieving the body given the swelling crowd.

It seems that this is not the way things are done, to prevent further damage to the body, for example.

The COI heard some technical details about the rescue work, with the use of hydraulic spreaders, pump ladder and air bags to jack up the bus so that Mr Sakhituvel could be retrieved. Some grisly details surfaced. Lt Tiffany, as she was called, had shone a torch under the bus and could see “grey matter’’. His head had been crushed into half its size. He was DOA, she reckoned. Dead on arrival. When he was moved from under the wheel, his body was “soft’’. Blankets were used to cover the body before he was loaded on a stretcher.   

She actually broke from protocol twice, when she removed the body from the scene when it was really the job of the police to do so and when she over-ruled the ambulance staff who tried to stop her from stowing the body there.

Why the blankets? Out of respect for the dead and to shield the state of the body from the crowd who were pressing in for a look.

Why the ambulance? “If not the ambulance, then where else?’’ she replied. None of the vehicles were big enough.

Why not let the police take over the removal of the body since the SCDF’s job was done? She said they seemed pretty stretched dealing with the crowd.

She answered questions confidently, without hesitation, even reprising how she had reassured the Aunty – “don’t worry, ambulance coming’’ – and called out for the Uncle while she was in the bus looking for him.

When dead body, the Uncle and Aunty were secured, she gave orders to withdraw from the scene.

She was asked what she thought about the way the crowd had acted towards the rescue team. She professed herself baffled. She was perplexed, she said, because her crew was doing rescue work…So why were they behaving that way? It was “disheartening’’, she said.

It was COI chairman Selvam who actually gave an inkling about why the crowd was so hostile that night. He told Lt Tiffany that he had heard from foreign workers who had heard from others that Mr Sakithuvel was still alive when he was pinned under the bus.  The crowd was upset that the first uniformed officers on the scene seemed more intent on protecting the driver and female conductor than saving the man. When he was extricated, they were upset that there was no medical staff in attendance.

Seems like the crowd didn’t realise that he was already dead and were thinking that the officers placed a greater premium on saving the driver and the female conductor than their compatriot. So many mixed signals and wrong perceptions!

By the way, the Red Rhino which first got to the scene and which started work lifting the bus DID have water, so did the fire engine she was on. In fact, the Red Rhino carried a spray gun of “water mist’’.  Maybe it would have worked on the crowd?

And it was not true, said Lt-Col Daniel Seet, commander of area which included Little India, that SCDF declined the police request for more fire-fighters at the scene later. According to him, SCDF wanted to know first whether there was a safe place for the fire-fighters to gather before deploying – which it did later.

Lt-Col Seet’s testimony was a little weird, departing from the style of getting witnesses to confirm their statements and answer questions in the process. Instead, he gave a powerpoint presentation on what the SCDF did that day and “lessons learnt’’. He even praised his own officers for the work they did and had good words to say about the co-operation between the SCDF and police teams. Rather odd to pass judgment before the COI – although Mr Selvam did say the COI thought there were no major lapses on the part of SCDF.

In any case, better that the SCDF incorporated measures than wait for the COI to say so – which would be six months later.

Some interesting things :

  • The SCDF knows what to do when there is civil “disobedience’’, like staged protests ecetera, but not civil “disorder’’ like a spontaneous outbreak of violence. It will now incorporate more elements of “uncertainty’’ in its training and exercises.
  • It has cameras on its engines that give its command operations real-time feeds so that HQ could know what was happening. Wonderful… except that this was not being transmitted to the cops – no technical link. To be rectified. But it seems that the SCDF was relaying info to the cops by phone and taking pictures on their own camera phones of the images and relaying them.  
  • The SCDF will carry more than one helmet in its vehicle. This was actually intended for paramedics but the SCDF found the need for it to shield the driver and female conductor from attack.
  • The SCDF also carries wire mesh of some sort that can be erected to cordon off an area. But this takes time to set up apparently. It will start looking at how to use this effectively.  

Did Lt Tiffany ever harbour the idea of leaving the scene when it started looking dangerous? Definitely not, she replied. Nor did any of her “guys’’ ever say: “Ma’am, should we leave?’’

Bravo! 

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Little India COI: We DO have a hero. Yay!

In News Reports on February 27, 2014 at 11:39 pm

Finally, we have a police officer who threw caution to the wind and decided to “engage’’ the rioters. Sergeant Fadli, just 27, a traffic cop, charged the crowd three times until he was told by his supervisor to stop. Or he would have continued charging. He said he would actually have made the crowd move towards Buffalo Road instead of driving them into the Little India MRT station which his earlier efforts resulted in. So he was also thinking furiously at the time….

It looked like his training or his cop instincts kicked in. He doesn’t seem to have been trained in crowd control (not reported) nor was he holding on to a shield. Maybe he thought his motorcycle helmet was a good enough shield. I think we should never under-estimate our traffic cops again. Maybe his encounters with irate motorists have stiffened his spine so much that he knew and acted like “the law’’.

He was asked by ex-Commissioner Tee Tua Ba if things would have improved if more officers acted with him. His reply: “I don’t know Sir. You just need maybe one officer or 10 officers to disperse the crowd.’’

Said Mr Tee: “I agree’’

Said COI chairman Pannir Selvam: “A few good men, as they say.’’

Seems like the other cops who took the stand were really, really grilled, especially the leading officer who was among those who got out of an ambulance and, errrrm, ran away.  Senior Station Inspector Adil, 42, the same person who told Sergeant Fadli to stop charging, made much of holding on to the rear door of the ambulance to prevent rioters from entering and how he was the last man to get out. Seems that didn’t cut much ice with the COI who kept returning to the question of the police asserting control instead of letting the rioters lead.

One thing I noticed: There are photographs of Sergeant Fadli but none of SSI Adil in the English-language newspapers. How come? He gave the media the slip?

Give Sergeant Fadli a medal! And give us a picture of SSI Adil… 

Little India COI: We don’t need another hero?

In News Reports on February 27, 2014 at 10:04 am

I am starting to feel a little sorry for our boys in blue. Imagine being asked if you thought you were being a coward for running away from rioters that night in Little India. What did the COI expect them to say?

Well, none of them admitted to being “cowards’’. They did not “flee’’, at least not in fear. They made a “tactical retreat’’, to “regroup’’ and “re-think’’ – or something like that. One of them said he walked away, then he modified this to walked away quickly and then he agreed that he ran. Poor thing.

Anyway, here’s what they could say (BTW, not all of below is fiction):

“Of course I was scared! Wouldn’t you be if you were in my place? You want me to stand around and be hit, cut and killed by beer bottles and dustbins? Or seek safety in numbers?’’

“Sure, I was scared to death. I’m a policeman who is part of the Division Tactical Team, trained in crowd control. I trained with equipment, but I went out without them. Not much point I know…but what to do?’’

“I was peeing in my pants actually. I couldn’t understand what the crowd was saying. I spoke to them in English and bits of Malay but I didn’t have a loud hailer. It was like duck and chicken talking to each other.’’

“I thought I was going to die…I was thinking…where in heaven’s name was the SOC? What’s taking them so long? If there were other officers there, I didn’t see them. The phone lines were jammed. My walkie-talkie went dead. We were out-numbered’’

“I could have tried to be a hero. We might be out-numbered but we weren’t out-gunned. I thought of firing my revolver above the heads of the crowd but was afraid I would miss and actually hit someone. Plus no one told me during practice sessions about when I can actually fire warning shots. I am not trained in when I can actually use my gun. Cannot anyhow shoot.’’

“I did think of arresting some people, especially the guy who was taunting me to use my baton. But if I arrest one and they ganged up on me, then how? They might have taken my gun from me and what would have happened then?’’

“I wanted to spray water over  them to cool the temperature but the Red Rhino had no water. Sure, cars were burning and we called the SCDF to bring the fire engines but they said it was too dangerous to go there. Or we could have got some water…’’

“I wanted so badly to run away right from the beginning but what about the woman and the bus driver? Leave them on the bus? So I stuck around until we got them out. It was very scary…I’ve never seen anything like this in Singapore.’’

“Sure, we fled the scene, if you want to call it that. We were exposed and out in the open, so we got into the ambulance which was already battered and broken. Remember they were overturning cars and setting fire to them. What would they have done to the ambulance if we didn’t scoot quickly?’’

 “Yes, I was so frightened I wanted to cry for my mother. I was just waiting for someone to tell me what to do. I usually just issue summons and do patrol duty. Not trained for this thing.’’

“Oh man…it was a sight. My head was bleeding. I was cut. My colleagues were injured. You should have been there…Or maybe not. I think the trouble is we never thought something like this would ever happen in Singapore…now if it was a bomb scare or something, we would know what to do…I think.’’

Yup. It’s not very edifying – the sight of policemen fleeing trouble. We have high standards of people whose job is it to protect us. They can’t just be “maintaining’’ the peace, they have to actively quell trouble when it comes. And frankly, it’s okay to say “yes, I was terrified’’. Even heroes would be.

Still, should we expect acts of individual heroism? That would be nice. It would be great to read about a heroic policeman who charges into the crowd, fires one shot in the air and the rioters disperse. We would have saved several vehicles and stopped more policemen getting wounded. We would put him on stage and given him a medal or two. The COI seems to think that might have happened instead of “holding the ground’’. Of course, the hero could have been trampled upon, a drunk might have wrested his gun from him and started firing. Oooh! More bloodshed. And the hero becomes a target of derision, for not taking “considered’’ decisions and acting rashly.

So the boys in blue preferred to be cautious. The COI will have to judge whether caution should have been the order of the night.   

My two cents worth of pop psychology. Maybe we are so used to peace and people obeying orders that we’re not sure how to react. We wait for orders, directions, the green light from bosses…We’re afraid of doing something wrong if we did something on our own. We do not have a culture of “go ahead and damn the consequences!’’ We prefer to seek permission than ask for forgiveness.

In all the mistakes and mis-steps by law enforcement, whether it be the Mas Selamat escape or the Malaysian woman who crossed the Causeway in her red car, one thing that kept popping up was slow decision-making – even a sense of not wanting to make anything “bigger’’ than it is. Hence an immigration offence, not a border breach? Hence the need to notify, report and clarify before anything gets done?

As an aside, I read today about how one police officer said he could only activate the officers in Tanglin, some 20 of them. How come? Also, TNP had a magnificent timeline of the ding dong of calls among the police officers that night monitoring the activity. A lot of briefing and reporting and monitoring. Necessary I suppose but in the end, the SOC still took an hour to get there. By the way, why was the SOC caught in traffic? The vehicles should have gone with sirens blaring to get motorists out of the way no?

Also, I can’t wait to hear from the SCDF. Not just the men who got the people to safety but also from the top people – like how come the SCDF can say no to a police call to put out fires because it considered it too “dangerous’’ for their men? I mean, who should we call? Ghost-busters?

Where’s my Katong?

In News Reports on February 27, 2014 at 1:17 am

This post has nothing to do with the news of the day. It’s personal and, therefore, totally unreasonable. You’ve been warned.

Two days ago, I spent a whole afternoon in my old stomping ground, Katong. I stomped and stomped. In frustration and rage.

You see, I am a Katong Girl. And I felt like I was in Holland Village.

As a young girl with a ponytail, I accompanied my late grandmother to Katong when she made her visits to nonya relatives. They were all on streets with names of fruits…Our visits would always include a visit to Tay Ban Guan, where she bought me my first Enid Blyton book. It would end with a pork satay treat at a coffeeshop on the main East Coast Road, at 10 cents a stick with a side of peanut and pineapple gravy. It was…expensive…

Of course, Tay Ban Guan has long been gone. And who knows what Red House is going to be like after its very extensive renovation? Definitely no bakery – not the dark and dingy one at any rate.

I went to Tanjong Katong Girls’ School, which is no longer along Tanjong Katong Road. My friends and I used to prowl the vicinity after school hours, marvelling at the wonders Katong Shopping Centre offered. It had Island supermarket on an upper floor which produced ice cream from a machine. Pioneer generation of supermarkets!

Island is long no more although Katong Shopping Centre is still there, filled with maid agencies and transfer maids. The only reminder of years past – it still has those stationery shops which let students do photocopying.  

I know Aston’s moved in some years ago. Brotzeit has set up shop as well, turfing out the tau kwa pau seller who has been moved from coffeeshop to coffeeshop in the area over the decades. Now that coffeeshop which was his last stand has gone German.

That day, I walked along East Coast Road from Joo Chiat Road with a slightly enraged heart. There is only the 328 coffeeshop which sells laksa which feels remotely Katong-like. There is an upmarket Prata Place and all manner of upmarket American beer-and-burger joints. There is a Lower East Side, which is semi-Mexican, several Japanese restaurants, ice cream parlours , pancake places, pizza posts, and someone called Irene is selling Australian food. They all have fancy names, The Kitchenette and even a Rabbit, Carrot and Gun?

No need now to say “that coffeeshop along XX Road which has what and what’’.  I mean, I ask you, do you really notice coffeeshop names and use it when you recommend places to others?

Oh! Oh! There is an Alibahbar – a corner coffeeshop done up to look more high class. It seems to want to retain its coffeeshop credentials with local fare, except that it also sells French cuisine. Sniff..

It was in the afternoon about lunchtime. I would like to report that they were almost empty of patrons, except for 328 Laksa. Seems people preferred to eat at the basement coffeeshops in Katong Shopping Centre and Roxy Square – where I believe the “original’’ Katong laksa is. What a far cry from the days when the eateries would be filled with office workers at lunchtime! Patrons start filling up  the F&B places in the evening…and, at the risk of appearing xenophobic, most are non-Asians.    

The “lower class’’ section is further down East Coast Road towards Holy Family Church. I mean no disrespect with the term lower class. It’s a stretch which sells food at lower prices by people who didn’t give their eateries fancy names and which still has some old coffeeshops living and breathing. Chin Mee Chin is still around although Cona’s has long gone. So sugee cake can still be eaten in Katong.

More “locals’’ gather there. There is like some kind of invisible line drawn across East Coast Road. Maybe it’s a function of rents.

 My late father used to work in Joo Chiat Police Station which now houses some kind of Hong Kong eatery. He was known as the tua kow or Big Dog of Joo Chiat.The family could never walk through Katong when he was alive even after he retired without some stallholder or other coming up to shake his hand and press bags of fruit on him.   

He would turn in his urn to see Katong now.

Now even the not-so-old places has gone, like Chevy’s. Police broke up the last ever set of the band last Saturday, cutting off music mid-way. Seems residents nearby were complaining about the noise. You would think that the patrons lamenting the end of Chevy’s were rioting. They were, of course, drunk. But they were not disorderly.   

I know I sound like an old woman, standing in the way of progress and change. I sound like a xenophobe; not at all cosmopolitan. The change over Katong has been happening over time but it seems to have escalated over the last two years or so.

Some semblance of “home’’ must remain in pockets of Singapore – or you will find us retreating into the HDB heartland and setting up barricades against “outsiders’’.   Already, I prefer spending more time in my more immediate neighbourhood, than venturing further afield, although gelato joints have started sprouting up….Sigh.

Heck! I AM an old woman…

 

Fixing the nasties

In News Reports on February 26, 2014 at 9:26 am

And so it comes…new harassment (or is it anti-harassment?) legislation is going to be introduced in Parliament on Monday. We’ve been alerted to this before, with statistics displayed on increased cyber-bullying and plenty of upset people lamenting attacks of terrible trolls.

You know, the bullies who attacked that much reviled expat Anton Casey and gave details of his family life so much so that he had to flee the country? The bullies who rampaged about road bullies caught on video and did a CSI on them and their loved ones?

Ooops! Wrong examples…

The legislation is really about protecting innocent people who become targets of others out to “get them’’, whether by fabricating information, making false accusations or generally making sure life gets difficult for their targets. We know of such things happening and might have become targets ourselves (or we might have indulged in the harassment too or at least spread the “joy’’ around by sharing such calumny.)  

Sometimes, the barbs fall off like water off a duck’s back. Sometimes, we will say that stick and stones will break our bones but words will never hurt us. We might even say that the harassment is simply part and parcel of the Internet culture and everyone should just develop a thick skin.

Thing is, not everyone is so hide-bound. And truths, pleasant and unpleasant, can hurt as well as falsehoods. If you’ve been defamed and have deep pockets, you can sue people. But you can’t stop others from infringing on your privacy and doing a tell-all online. Then there are the young people to think about, those who are subject to the online equivalent of the schoolyard bully and aren’t made of stern enough stuff (yet) to protect themselves or hit back.

So good law you say?

Yes, for those who need them. Seems they can apply to the courts to get a protection order – even an expedited one – to get offending stuff about them removed. Or they can get the courts to endorse their “right of reply’’, in terms of clarifying false statements made out to hurt them. It doesn’t seem much different from the way protection orders are issued for those who go to the Family court or under the Women’s Charter. Except that violation of a personal protection order is deadly serious and can lead to police action. The person who refuses to do online what the court ordered him to will be guilty of contempt of court, which could lead to a fine and jail.

The law also deals with stalkers. You know, the sort of person who follows you around, offline and online, but doesn’t quite do anything outrightly offensive. In other words, a creepy person. Seems the current laws can’t quite deal with such people which is why stalking is now explicitly laid out in the new legislation.

Penalties you ask? Well someone who refuses to obey the court’s order will be in contempt. And that could be a jail or fine. If the offence is egregious, there are criminal sanctions as well it seems.

That’s a quick and dirty summary.

Doubtless, people will have a lot to say and you can bet that extreme views will also be heard.

Like, it’s too lenient….The G should really throw the book at harassers and stalkers, instead of making victims go to court to get an order.

Like, it’s too draconian…What if the think-skinned and public figures use it as a way to clamp down on rightful dissent?

And, something in the middle: How, in heavens’ name, are you going to anonymous cowards to obey since they are so difficult to pin down in the first place? And what if everything’s gone viral? Tell Facebook to ban them?

Here’s one hypothetical example: Someone posts something on a forum and it goes viral. It’s a terrible post that caused great distress to the intended target. The victim goes to court and says that satanicevil123 has been harassing him. He gets a court order and the forum removes satanicevil123’s post and satanicevil123 is warned about repeating his offending post. Then he surfaces as superangel123 – and attacks again. In the meantime, because his post is so saucy, it gets re-posted and shared. So the victim sends the order to every one of them? Or somehow the judge orders it posted in some place so more people can see? Frankly, I doubt if victims of harassment want even more people to know they are victims of harassment.

It’s going to be crazy if say, Anton Casey, gets a Protection Order and has to send it to a bazillion people bashing him. Or maybe “publishers’’ will get an order to remove everything to do with him? That would be stretching it a bit far methinks. The implementation details boggle the mind.

But before implementation, a judgment must be made on whether the order should be granted or not. That is left to the courts. Thing is, there are plenty of shades of grey – what is dreadful harassment to one person might well be nothing if applied to another person. So the victim’s “feelings’’ and degree of sensitivity have to be taken into account? That’s tough. Imagine if an application for a court order is turned down  because the court thinks the request was “unreasonable’’ but the victim thinks its eminently reasonable. Some “norms’’ have to evolve as well.

Then again, better something in place than nothing at all, which is the case now. You can’t get the police to act on a perfectly polite stalker and you need to sue for defamation if you want something stopped online. Too much trouble. Singapore is behind the curve on this one. Other countries already have such protections in place.  

Anyway, it’s going to be tabled soon. It’s about fixing the nasties, and it’s in everyone’s interest to make sure that it is about that – and only about that.

     

Little India COI: A brave young man

In News Reports on February 26, 2014 at 12:41 am

For a guy who’s just 28, ASP Jonathan Tang seems a remarkably cool and level-headed young man in the face of a ever growing and boisterous crowd that night of the Little India riot.

Okay. Some people would probably think he had been “prepped’’ – or would that be witness tampering I wonder? Still, he had some great quotes/sound bites:

“It was a not situation where just because we had firearms, we would have won the war.’’       

He said this when asked why he didn’t fire a warning shot to disperse the crowd. He said he considered it but figured that it would enrage the crowd further. “It was a situation where revolvers were out of play,’’ he said. Plus there were too few cops on the scene, as far as he could see. He wouldn’t know because communication lines were jammed that night. He did consider spraying the crowd with water from the SCDF Red Rhino but “was told it had no water’’, according to a TODAY report.

“I don’t think there was much time to even think about being frightened.’’

He said this when asked if he was too scared to make arrests. It was a “considered’’ decision, he said, given how his group was outnumbered. And while people would think he and his group were “fleeing the scene’’ when they got into an ambulance and scooted off, that was “never his intention’’.

For what it’s worth, I believe him. Why?

a)     It can’t be easy to face down a hostile crowd that seemed to be growing in numbers and pelting him and the officers.

b)    He had the presence of mind to get a rope from his car to form a makeshift cordon to let the SCDF officers get on with the job of extricating the dead man – although it wouldn’t have done much good if the crowd charged. But you wonder why he didn’t get the shield out instead…

c)     He got to his patrol car thinking he could ferry the bus driver and woman conductor to safety; and ended up picking up an injured SCDF and got him to an ambulance.

d)    That done, he went back to the scene to round up “stray officers’’ and got pelted on the head. By then the two people of the bus had been escorted to another ambulance

e)      He joined a group of 14 officers and they all got into an ambulance when they sensed the crowd was coming for them.  The ambulance already had its windscreen shattered and windows broken by then.

f)      The crowd was pelting bigger and bigger stuff and he wanted the ambulance to ram the patrol cars parked there which were blocking its way. In the end, the crowd did the favour of overturning a car and giving them an exit.    

g)     He was the one who called for Special Operations Command backup. I wish we also heard what exactly he said about this since earlier last week, the reason for the delay in SOC deployment was that the information was “sketchy’’.

He was asked about the police decision to “re-group’’ along Race Course Road instead of venturing into the crowd to make arrests. His answer: “It was a situation where we are surrounded by the crowd all around us. This should not be the case. We should be the ones to surround them, why are we putting ourselves in the centre of all of them?’’

Some interesting points – and some questions:

a)     That T-baton the police officers carry is a defensive weapon. The COI thought they should carry a lathi, which looks like a long pole. A good weapon? Although you wonder how the patrolmen are going to look on foot and carrying a big stick…

b)    All the police shields that patrol cars carry were cracked that night…Wonder if the SOC shield is stronger…

c)      Is the Red Rhino supposed to carry water?

d)    What did he think about the late arrival of the SOC?   

e)     Was he the one who told Cisco officers to stop making arrests?

Like I said, I wasn’t at the COI but ASP Tang’s answers seemed to point to a man too busy making a million decisions in a short time to let fear get in the way.

He did a “wonderful job in the situation’’ he was in, COI chairman Pannir Selvam told him.

Give that man a medal! 

Little India COI: The violence that night, according to the first responders

In News Reports on February 24, 2014 at 12:13 pm

Certis Cisco officer Nathan, a Tamil-speaking Malaysian, has been patrolling the Little India area on weekends since he joined the security firm in 2010. On Little India patrols, he works between 2pm and 1am on “foreign worker management’’,  and is empowered to issue summons for littering and to disperse loiterers. He said it was a difficult duty to discharge not because the foreign workers would not listen or resisted. Rather, they listened and reverted to whatever they were doing earlier when security officers were out of sight. The huge numbers also meant that one group would be quickly replaced by another. He said he issued just one summons a month and no, he had no orders to go easy on the workers from his superiors.  He had seen just one fight during his patrols.

The action

Mr Nathan and two other “protection officers’’, also Certis Cisco men, were in Northumberland Road when another three-man Cisco squad patrolling Tekka area radioed for help. Why “protection officers’’? They were there to protect Mr Nathan, a Malaysian who is Tamil-speaking and who was armed with baton and a revolver and empowered to issue summons. How the duo are supposed to do this when they themselves were not armed was not raised.  

When his team got to Race Course Road where the accident took place, a small crowd had gathered. With three or four foreign workers, the two squads formed a human shield round the bus which was being pelted. It seemed that the temperature climbed quickly, with more foreigners crowding around and some troublemakers at the back instigating the crowd in Tamil to “kill the timekeeper’’ that is, the female conductor. And to “burn the bus’’.

He estimated about 20 to 30 “active’’ troublemakers among the 200 or so people then. The crowd kept growing…

More Cisco officers arrived later, also police officers. A red Rhino arrived as well, followed by an SCDF ambulance. But the SCDF officers started getting pelted when they tried to extricate the dead man from under the bus. Missiles started getting larger, with beer bottles, drain covers and dustbins being thrown. From aiming at the bus, the rioters had started aiming at the people instead.

One Cisco officer was seen on video getting hot under his collar – there was some scuffling and pushing as the crowd tried getting near the bus. Mr Nathan was seen talking to the crowd – a less than useful gesture, as the COI members pointed out, since he didn’t have a loud hailer and was talking to the front rows which were not hostile. (Guess the “foreign worker management’’ teams will have a loud hailer with them from now on).

The crowd had  reached about 1,000 or so, according to Mr Nathan.

 After they extricated the dead men, the SCDF officers got on the bus to get the driver and the female conductor to safety. There was a lot of animosity directed at the female conductor, who seemed to be well known for “scolding’’ foreign workers. Also, she was pinpointed as the person who got Mr Sakhiteval off the bus which later ran over him.

Although she had denied using words like “stupid’’ and “idiot’’ on them last week, Mr Nathan refuted this and even said he had heard her uttering more than that. (The COI did not want to hear what other choice epithets she used though…sheeesh). Other conductors weren’t as harsh, he said, although he acknowledged that some scolding was needed to get the workers in order.

When the bus driver and conductor were got to safety, the crowd started leaving the accident area…only to appear at other parts of Little India.

When the SOC arrived, the crowd started dispersing and offered no resistance. They were “scared’’, he said. Then the police started arresting those who were still milling around. He himself arrested three people, including two him he described as “heavily drunk’’.

The questions:

Why didn’t he use his gun or make an arrest?

Mr Nathan said he was pelted on the back of the head by someone in the crowd but decided against arresting the man because it would be dangerous to make his way through the crowd. Also, they might wrest his revolver from him. Replying to ex Police Commissioner Tee Tua Ba, he said he didn’t think making an arrest would deter the rioters. More policemen and more arrests were needed to make an impact on the crowd, he said.

What were the policemen doing while waiting for the Special Operations Command staff to turn up?

“Calling and taking instructions’’ – the phrase was repeated three times. From what Mr Ganesan Nathan said, it appeared that the policemen were standing around and making phone calls while watching cars being over-turned and burned. A group of 100 or so policemen including Cisco and plain clothes formed lines across one part of Race Course Road but the crowd never made its way towards them. They were creating havoc (my word) elsewhere in the area.

What was Little India like before and after the riot?

There was little order in terms of alighting and getting off the buses. There were too many foreign workers on the weekends and too many shops selling liquor. Even vegetable stalls were selling liquor. There were just 60 Cisco officers patrolling on weekends, and police presence was minimal. Now, the bus area is so well-lit that “no one sits there’’ and the presence of policemen were “too many to count’’.

Mr Nathan’s conclusions were pretty scathing. His view was that the police acted too slowly and there weren’t enough of them. More arrests of the troublemakers  made earlier would have helped the situation. Except that they seemed to be doing “reporting’’ and waiting for backup in the form of the SOC.    

* I think I covered everything. I am sorry to say I didn’t cover the third witness…but I have to leave something for MSM to do!!!!    

  

      

Litle India COI: A fellow bus passenger testifies

In News Reports on February 24, 2014 at 11:00 am

 Okay, I saw the video at the Little India COI. Parts of it anyway. Saw the Indian foreign worker board the bus for his Jalan Bahar dorm. Saw him get called to get off the bus. Saw him walking and then running alongside the bus when it started moving. Saw him place his palm on the bus, slip on the wet ground and go under…

My eyes shut at that point.

So was Mr Sakthivel drunk? He didn’t seem so as far I could tell from the video. I mean, he wasn’t swaying, swerving, staggering or falling over his feet. The video had no audio so no one could tell if he was slurring (not that I would understand Tamil anyway). And no one asked about his breath either. The 33 year old was gripping an umbrella and a bag of something with one hand while the other hand seemed to be holding up his pants. The video didn’t show him dropping them deliberately but it seemed his trousers were suffering from some kind of zipper malfunction.

Bits and pieces of the video were replayed this morning for the benefit of his fellow Indian national, a Mr Ganesan, a welder, who was on the bus as well. Mr Ganesan said he thought the man had “some alcohol’’ in him; because of what he did before he boarded the bus. Apparently, Mr Sakthivel didn’t like it that the female conductor had asked a Bangladeshi to get the Indians in line before boarding the bus. He was asking those in the queue if they thought Bangladeshis were better than Indians.

That appeared to be the main commotion he caused, going by what Mr Ganesan said. But the female conductor, who seemed to be very much a battleaxe, told him to get off the bus anyway.  He said the female conductor ordered Mr Sakthivel off the bus – or the bus wouldn’t move. Mr Ganesan thought she seemed to have noticed the earlier commotion he caused. He wondered why she ordered him off, when he was already on. With many pairs of eyes trained on him, Mr Sakthivel alighted. Unmolested.

 It took close to three hours for Mr Ganesan  to go over his statement and respond to the COI’s questions, because he needed an interpretor (Have to ask this: Does it take twice as long to render in Tamil what is said in English?)

In fact, there was a point when it seemed that he was about to recant his statement, when asked to positively identify Mr Sakthivel as the man who was making a fuss before boarding the bus. The man seemed at pains not to say anything incriminating about either the dead man or his compatriots, especially on whether drunken behaviour and fights were a common sight in Little India.

Maybe he wasn’t quite the right man either. He goes to
Little India once every two months, usually to meet friends. He’s a teetotaller and that Dec 8 night was the only time he had half a bottle of Knockout Beer, he said. He goes to Boon Lay to remit money home, about $750 of his $1,000-or-so monthly paycheck – not Little India. And he prefers to rest on his days off or at least be back in the dorm early. In fact, he legged it to the next bus after the accident because he had to start work at 8am the next day.

The COI didn’t just grill him about what went on that night. It seemed to be on some kind of fact-finding mission on what he and his fellow country thought about Singapore as a place to work in. Such as whether they get harassed by Cisco officers while in Little India and whether pay and working conditions were acceptable. He said no to the first question and yes to the other two.

In case you’re interested in a glimpse of his life: He shares a dorm room with 10 others and they have a television set, although they would rather watch television in a communal area. But he did complain about the disparity in pay across companies and asked for a $2 rise in pay. He started with $20 a day with his first company 10 years ago and his second company paid him $25 a day. He  said he had to make his third company pay him the $24 it promised rather than the $22. He is happy with his current company which pays him $32 a day and also because it pays him “on time’’.

The cynical would probably wonder if Mr Ganesan could ever say anything nasty about his workplace or Singapore while he is still in the country. He was also asked if he agreed/disagreed with other foreign workers if Singapore was the best place to work in compared to the Middle East or Malaysia. Something was lost in translation causing the question to be repeated. The bottomline: Singapore is best, although how he could come to that conclusion since he had never worked anywhere else wasn’t asked. Perhaps, the COI considered that  that he was making his fourth work trip to Singapore, a place which his mother had recommended, and this was evidence enough of his contentment with place.

His testimony wasn’t as exciting as the next witness, Certis Cisco officer Nathan, a Malaysian who has been patrolling in Little India on weekends since he started work as an auxillary police cop in 2010.

That’s the next instalment. Coming up in half hour.

 

 

  

      

An “abbreviated” version of the Little India COI

In News Reports on February 22, 2014 at 4:31 am

Here are some choice quotes from the Little India riot COI chairman Pannir Selvam culled from news reports:

“It was poor judgement.’

He said this in response to Deputy Commissioner Raja Kumar’s comment that the ground commander on the night exercised “judgment’’ not to make a move until riot police arrived. They were “holding the ground’’. The COI noted that there were 100 policemen then, and only about 25 active rioters. Mr Raja said that the police, who weren’t trained for such events, were worried about the bystanders as well if they had acted against the rioters.

What has happened is not acceptable.’

He said this after noting that having police standing around doing nothing would lead the rioters to assume that the police were “indirectly approving’’ of their actions.

“Singapore, being a rich country, is a prime trophy target for terrorists. We don’t know where they are hiding or what they will target. If we do not have a dependable resource (like the SOC), then we are in trouble. This is what I am worried about.”

He said this after Mr Raja Kumar detailed the resource “constraints’’ the police had. The number of SOC troops have come down from 12 to eight, and the number of men in each have dropped too (no figure was reported) There were also other areas for the SOC to take care off, like Geylang. Hence, it’s pretty tight on weekends.    

Former police commissioner Tee Tua Ba was less scathing but as critical.

“Unfortunately, it took more than one hour. One hour is a long time.’

He said this after Mr Raja Kumar said that when riot police arrived, the situation was brought under control in 15 minutes to an hour.

“A lot of things are not working very well..I’m glad that you are going along the lines that things can be reviewed.’’

He said this after criticising the police move to “hold the ground’’ and referred to the riots in north England in 2001 which had shown that such a strategy merely “emboldened’’ rioters.

Poor Mr Raja Kumar. He was acting Commissioner at the time of the Little India riot and probably wished his boss was around then. He should have been dressed in riot gear when he faced the COI yesterday to shield himself against the missiles thrown his way.

Actually, his main defence was that major crimes in Little India had come down, although jay-walking went up. The SOC was short-handed and there were plenty of places it had to also “cover’’. Nevertheless, the SOC had been deployed 16 times on anti-crime patrols in Little India last year.

So he was quizzed about why the SOC took so long – more than an hour from the call for help – to get to the scene. Here’s what happened: The top officer who took the call for help wanted to do “due diligence’’ because the information was “sketchy’’ and wanted to speak to someone on the ground. That was why the decision to deploy took about 18 minutes, which could be “abbreviated’’, as Mr Raja Kumar said.

Here’s one interesting bit that only The New Paper had:

One SOC troop was at City Hall patrolling when the call arrived. It made its way to Bukit Timah Road and was about to turn into Race Course Road when it was given orders to turn around and regroup at Hampshire Road. It made a U-turn at Sim Lim Square, went back up Bukit Timah and ran headlong into a jam at Kampong Java. Some of vehicles were then told to break off and make their way back down Bukit Timah Road, that is, the original route. This comedy was reported in The New Paper with a useful map. The call to “re-group’’ appeared to have cost 10 minutes of time….

Another troop made its way from Queensway to Hampshire Road.

The time of first call: 9.23pm. Activation of SOC: 10.04pm. SOC reaches scene: 10.45pm  – 10.48pm.

Thing is, as Mr Selvam asked, shouldn’t the SOC have been beefed up especially after 9/11? Mr Raja Kumar said in the past, large scale responses were needed, but today’s threats required a “different’’ response. Still, he lamented the “manpower constraint’’. Give me more men and we’ll patrol Little India every weekend, he seemed to be saying.

Hm. Wonder why the numbers were cut…Had a look at the Home Affairs ministry budget for the coming year. It’s $4.2 billion, up by 8.4 per cent. Hopefully, this will pay for more men? Hopefully, an MP will ask the question when the Committee of Supply scrutinises the ministry’s budget.

Anyway, Mr Raja Kumar was the first policeman to face the COI. It would be interesting to hear what the other officers, especially the ground officers, say about exercising their judgments that night.

   

A bountiful budget

In News Reports on February 22, 2014 at 3:17 am

There’s really nothing to dislike about the Budget, unless you are a smoker, drinker, gambler and employer of foreign construction workers. Even employers who have to put out an extra 1 percentage point for in CPF for Medisave and for those over 50 years are getting some kind of help to foot their bills. Naturally, they are still screaming about cost increases but there’s so much money being made available now for productivity increases and other sorts of subsidises to level up wages that they out-strip the bosses’ pay-out.

No wealth taxes too, whether on big homes or luxury cars. (Sorry about your golf club membership though) No rise in income tax rates. Nothing on the GST rate – but got more vouchers! Property cooling measures are still in place despite Kwek Leng Beng’s personal/professional appeal. If you’ve already got a roof over your head, excellent. If you are still trying to afford one, ask Mr Khaw Boon Wan – he said there are more than enough HDB flats to go around.

There’s nothing but praise for the Pioneer Generation Package with the G allowing appeals from those who couldn’t make the age-65 or citizen before 1973 criteria. The very old will be permanently Medi-shielded. It is going to cost us $8billion in all but, no worries, the money’s been budgeted for over the years. Don’t even have to raid the reserves. What? We won’t be raising any taxes or any kind of duties/fees to pay for this? Or does the G mean the higher rates have already been included in “future’’ budgets?  ST’s Chua Mui Hoong made an interesting point about this: that never mind if the People’s Action Party is in power or not, the PGP will still pay out as promised. Hmm. So, it is NOT a vote-buying exercise…

Really, there’s nothing not to like about the Budget, from an individual’s point of view. Now, if only my mother didn’t go to the Specialist Outpatient Clinic last week, and we waited for the fees to be halved with implementation of the PGP!    

Okay, that’s all praise for the Budget although you can bet that people will still be grumbling about being left out. Like the people aged below 65 (the nation-building generation?) Or some people will call for more means-testing of benefits among the above 65s, besides gradations of age…

One thing I can’t wrap my mind around is the higher subsidies for pre-school education. Not that I think it’s bad but that there seems to be a great leap or cliff effect between the cost of sending a kid to pre-school and to primary school. From $100 plus a month at the lowest end of kindergarten fees to what a parent described as a few dollars for primary school? Sort of makes you wonder if the 10 years of compulsory education policy should be extended – and funded. If pre-school education is really so important, there should be some harmonisation of fees from pre-school to primary to secondary, no? Anyway, that’s a big issue and one to decided by not just the education ministry also the family and social development ministry which has oversight over pre-school.

Now there was something that Finance Minister Tharman said which made me feel very guilty. I happened to be one of those people who cannot stand mechanical/technological ordering in a restaurant. I go to Sakae Sushi frequently and have never used the interactive menu board although I DO re-fill my own green tea (can’t help it.. the hot water tap is by the table). I went to my usual bak kut teh coffeeshop in Paya Lebar and was aghast to find that it had switched to self-ordering on some contraption rigged to the table. I hailed a waiter to take the order. Last week, I was at a Japanese restaurant and ordering was done by an iPad secured to the table. The waitress did the tapping for me and my friend and it took much, much longer than if she just wrote down the orders herself…Really.  

My excuse is this: I want someone to explain to me what I’ll be eating, what the dish contains, recommend me stuff to order, or because I want stuff that isn’t on the menu or some part of the dish changed. Besides, the wait staff are standing around with nothing to do. Also, I am not in fast-food restaurant. And I’m still paying service charge. In fact, I usually TIP.

 Okay, I’m spoilt.