'Be fair in assessing cops over Little India riot'

A POLICE commander on Wednesday urged the public to be fair when assessing how police officers performed during the Dec 8 riot, given the criticisms levelled against the force during the Committee of Inquiry (COI) into the unrest.

"Don't kick us when we are down," said Deputy Assistant Commissioner Daniel Tan, adding that morale of the men and women in blue had taken a beating. The same officers, he said, would have to go back to Little India and deal with stakeholders there.

The commander of Central Police Division, which polices most of the area, spent an hour answering questions during the public hearing.

Before stepping down from the witness stand, he asked the panel, led by retired judge G. Pannir Selvam, if he could have a minute to address the committee.

Mr Selvam - who together with other COI members and witnesses had criticised the police for their perceived lack of action during the early part of the unrest - agreed.

"I am very proud of all our officers who responded," said DAC Tan. "Many of them got injured, but none of them shirked their responsibilities."

He urged business owners, residents and other stakeholders to be objective when drawing up report cards on his officers, adding that police efforts "did not just begin and end on Dec 8".

"I just hope that they can be objective in assessing the police on our report card of what we have been doing all through the years within the community," he said.

"Morale of officers is affected, but these are the same officers who have to work with the community to make sure that such a thing does not happen, and we are committed to doing that because the riot did occur."

Among the questions that had been raised during the hearing was whether the police had sufficient boots on the ground before and during the outbreak of violence that night.

He said Little India has long been deemed a "special focus area". That is why it has a dedicated Neighbourhood Police Centre (NPC) and three fast response cars patrolling the area, as opposed to just one in most other estates.

The 41-year-old law graduate said that since the riot and in spite of limited manpower, 20 to 35 more officers have been deployed to Little India at the weekends, often at the cost of cancelled leave days and sacrificed training hours.

The arrests of people who were drunk and incapable of taking care of themselves in public also came under scrutiny yesterday.

This, after police told the COI that the majority of the 60 nabbed in Little India for the offence last year were not foreign workers.

The committee said the figures "do not fully reflect" reality.

Rochor NPC commanding officer Ho See Ying agreed, but said it was because the priority of the police lies first in crime-fighting.

"We have limited resources, and I cannot dedicate all my resources to picking people up from the streets when they are drunk, because we have to fight crime," said the deputy superintendent.


Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.