Little India COI: Notes on a riot

In News Reports on March 5, 2014 at 12:24 pm

Okay, now that I’ve calmed down…I have been doing some digging on what happened at yesterday’s COI where DAC Lu Yeow Lim got grilled for standing around. Actually, there were a couple of points that I didn’t see in MSM and other points which might be worth elaborating on.

a)     One big point was how no “active’’ rioter had been arrested. Those who were arrested were mainly charged for failing to disperse. It seems there were no arrests of the fellows who were overturning cars, setting stuff on fire ecetera. That’s because the police and the SOC were focused on “dispersing’’ the rioters, in other words, making them “go away’’.  Much was made about police “doctrine’’ – like how when something unlawful happens, the objective should be to arrest the culprits and bring them to justice. Not chase them away.


 What does this mean? That the ringleaders are still around somewhere? Or maybe they were among those repatriated? The police don’t seem to know. Gosh! I guess they must be glad that they didn’t get caught – or kena tangkap as the Cisco officer put it.

b)    One defence DAC Lu put up for his “inaction’’ was that the crowd weren’t just “passive’’ onlookers. He cited one instance when his officers tried to stop a rioter from over-turning a police car and “supposed’’ bystanders started pelting them instead. He kept making this point when asked about why nothing was being done as car after car was being overturned and burnt – short of shooting into the crowd.

 BTW, it is NOT true that he needed to get “permission’’ to use tear gas on the crowd. He needed to keep higher ups posted but he could have decided on his own.

 Now this is interesting too.

It seems that the police have so many rules and gradations of action that people don’t know if they really have to ask for permission for this or that, or not. Has this become a “culture’’ in the force?  

My own question: Do you have to shoot into the crowd? Cannot fire into the air? Also, this argument about having their guns wrested from them…weren’t they tethered by a lanyard to their uniform?  And what happens if any cop breaks from “protocol’’? Would they have to go before some disciplinary tribunal? Are penalties really harsh and scary? Hypothetically speaking, if a cop discharged his gun that night, what would have happened to him on the discipline side? Just asking…

c)     We’ve really got to get to the nub of this issue of “prevention’’. The police said crowded weekends in Little India were normal and the auxillary police officers weren’t issuing more summonses than before.

Makes you wonder how come, given that 60,000 people every weekend would mean plenty of littering, vomiting, peeing and plain loitering….

Compared to Geylang, Little India didn’t have many serious crimes committed, which was why police were more focused on going to the red light district. Statistics and damn statistics…

 As for the drinking “problem’’, some action could be taken under the Miscellaneous Act for “public intoxication’’ but seems this is very little used. Would be good to know if it has been used at all. Seems like this part of the law is going to get a dusting over.

d)    There was some discussion on how the police force was structured and trained. Seems Little India is carved out among divisions rather than watched over “globally”. Points were made about what the cops should carry in their patrol car – what about a proper riot helmet with visor? A lathi or longer baton? And their coms gear as well.

Also, whether given the scaled-down SOC (which might not be so scaled down after the COI) whether more non-SOC officers could be trained in some form of riot control like the old Lightning Strike Force. Why? Because witnesses kept saying they weren’t “trained’’.

The reason I’m putting this out….It’s because it is not right to focus on the actions of a few, even the heroes. I’m guilty of it too. The key is the “system’’ – whether it is robust and dynamic enough to cater to different law and order/disorder situations. And whether we have a “culture’’ that’s become complacent and reactive. In other words, WHAT can we change, not just WHO.

No, the cops haven’t “got’’ to me about my posts.    


  1. Every branch of the armed forces and the police have rules of engagement but all of them make the implicit assumption that the policeman or soldier is not grossly outnumbered. I think that says a lot about the scholars who actually draft these Standard Operating Procedures, as they call them in the army. They lay out their doctrine in very straight lines, without bothering to look between them.

    These senior officers are very good, or maybe I should say they get plenty of practice planning for organisational changes at the very broadest levels. The chiefs in the armed forces always make large organisational changes centred around buzzwords like “vertical integration”, “Xth generation integrated fighting forces”, and stuff like that, because those things look nice on a CV. Yet these generals rotate in and out of their seats every two years, so basically you are looking at wholesale organisational changes every two years, for no good reason at all.

    Small but important details, like “what do you do when one of your men get outnumbered in a hostile crowd?” inevitably get lost in the shuffle. You’d think that after so many years of existence on a generous budget, the armed forces and police would have figured it out among themselves. At least some overpaid scholar is finally going to write that SOP now.

    This cockup is part of a larger malaise in our society… people follow rules without questioning their less-than-perfect logic. And when the logic breaks, they just freeze. The guy in charge, this DAC Lu, got the jitters and it’s not entirely his fault. I doubt very much the ex-policeman who was giving Mr Lu such a hard time could have done a whole lot better.

  2. Hi Bertha, long time reader first time commenter. Just want to comment on your question about the firing into the air or as the practice is more commonly known, the “warning shot”. The warning shot is a bad idea, and most police forces in the US expressly forbid this in their rules of engagement. Essentially when a warning shot is fired upward, a bullet leaves the barrel of the gun, and that bullet will eventually land somewhere *unintended* with potentially tragic consequences.

    Here is a longer post by a subject matter expert on why warning shots are bad news:

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