THE violence in Little India may not have spun out of control had there been more police officers on the ground making arrests earlier.
That was the opinion of two auxiliary police officers who testified on day four of the Committee of Inquiry into the Dec 8 riot.
The two officers from security firm Certis Cisco told how they felt outnumbered and in danger of being overrun by a crowd of what seemed to them like 1,000 rioters.
Constable Nathan Chandra Sekaran, 35, recounted how, armed with a baton and pistol, he and two unarmed protection officers answered a request for assistance from a fellow Certis Cisco team at about 9.20pm on Dec 8.
A similarly configured team of three officers arrived minutes later and, along with the original team, the nine officers formed a "human shield" to push back the crowd. The mob had been trying to get to Madam Wong Geck Woon, the timekeeper on a bus which had run over and killed 33-year-old Sakthivel Kumaravelu.
Some workers blamed her for his death and were already attacking the bus in an attempt to get at her, shouting that they were going to burn it.
The crowd of roughly 200 that had gathered shortly after the accident soon swelled to what Mr Nathan estimated to be 1,000.
Last Friday, the inquiry heard that at about 10.30pm - before troops from the Special Operations Command arrived - there were fewer than 100 police officers at the scene. And only 65 of them, mainly from Tanglin and Central police divisions, were directly involved in dealing with the rioters. The remaining 30 were Traffic Police officers who were performing traffic control operations on the outskirts of the area.
"I did feel that I was in danger, but it was important to form a protection line (to guard Madam Wong)," he said.
The police and Singapore Civil Defence Force managed to rescue Madam Wong and the bus driver, but this only appeared to incite the crowd which, according to Constable Raymond Murugiasu, 20, was becoming "rowdier".
"I was hit on the head and shoulders by bottles," he said. "I also injured my leg from the broken glass on the road," he said.
However, Mr Nathan said that only a small group within the crowd - most of whom were farther back - were shouting threats and throwing projectiles.
A CCTV clip played in court showed another handful of men defiantly gesticulating at Mr Nathan's colleague. At one point, some of them shoved the protection officer, spoiling for a fight.
"I truly believe the riot would not have gone out of control if the police had arrested some of the troublemakers early," Mr Nathan said in his police statement.
"The rest of the police vehicles might not have been burned if we arrested a few of those persons in the crowd who were threatening to burn the bus earlier."
Asked by State Counsel John Lu whether he could have possibly quelled the riot by arresting a man he suspected had struck his head with a stone, Mr Nathan disagreed.
"You can't stop it by arresting one man; you need a 'man force' and you need to make a few arrests," he replied, noting that at that stage there were insufficient law enforcement officers on the ground - about 20 against a crowd around 50 times as large.
Mr Nathan eventually helped police arrest three rioters at about 10.40pm.
Mr Raymond also told the inquiry that police had "reacted too slowly", while those who arrived on the scene early only reported the incident and waited for back-up.
Both auxiliary police officers said most of the rioters were drunk, displaying signs such as slurred speech and emboldened behaviour. The two men estimated that at least 80 per cent of the workers who visit Little India drink when they are there.
"At the Tekka Lane open field, there would be 800 workers seated," recalled Mr Raymond of a typical weekend. "You can hardly walk around the field because they are in such large numbers."
The hearing continued on Tuesday.
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