Police Commissioner says Geylang had more rioting, assault and affray cases last year
Geylang poses "a clear and present danger to public order", more so than Little India, said Commissioner of Police Ng Joo Hee.
Crime rates in Geylang are high, unsavoury characters abound and there is "a hint of lawlessness" and hostility against the police.
All of which make Geylang "a potential powder keg", said the police chief.
Mr Ng was speaking as a witness on Day 23 of the Committee of Inquiry (COI) hearings into the Little India riot at the State Courts on tuesday.
In his testimony, he presented a report covering several issues that have surfaced in the wake of the riot, such as the actions of the first responders and tactical troops, liquor licensing in Little India and the strategies and challenges faced by the police.
But the topic of Geylang was high on Mr Ng's agenda.
"Today, despite the riot in Little India, I worry more for Geylang than about Serangoon Road," he said.
Last year, there were 49 cases of rioting, assault and affray in Geylang, compared to 25 in Little India.
"Most worrying about Geylang is that there is an overt hostility and antagonism towards the police," he said.
On one recent occasion, a police officer was beaten up while detaining a gambling store operator. Reinforcements arrived quickly, preventing the capture of the officer or his weapon.
A police car parked in Geylang was also vandalised and had its windscreen smashed in. The case is still unsolved.
He said: "All in all, Geylang presents an ecosystem which is complex, which is tinged with a certain criminal undertone."
In contrast to Geylang, data gathered by the police do not present Little India to be riskier than other areas of congregation.
This was why the riot caught the police by surprise, as it "lay outside the realm of our regular expectation", said Mr Ng. Because of this expectation, police have allocated more resources to Geylang than Little India.
For example, last year, there were 41 anti-crime patrols by troopers from Special Operations Command in Geylang, while Little India had only 16.
Said Mr Ng: "There is nowhere else in Singapore which is more policed or policed more intensely than the 20-odd lorongs on either side of Geylang Road."
GIVE ME 1,000 POLICE OFFICERS
But ultimately, Mr Ng said the police force lacked the manpower necessary to police Geylang, Little India and other congregation areas for foreign workers.
"Our effort in both Geylang, and to a lesser extent in Little India, already stretches police resources to near breaking point," said Mr Ng.
The Singapore Police force has around 8,700 regular police officers and around 3,700 full-time police NSmen. That means there is one police officer for every 614 people living here. Hong Kong, in comparison, has one police officer for every 252 people in its population, he added.
A visible police presence in Little India and Geylang will require 100 to 150 more police officers in each locality.
Mr Ng asked for 1,000 more police officers to add strategic depth to the police force, reinforce its policing in the neighbourhoods and communities and safeguard Little India and Geylang.
While no one can prove that alcohol was the primary cause of the riot, "inebriation was the norm among the rioters" that night, said Mr Ng.
Witnesses in previous COI hearings had testified that they were seeing an increasing number of alcohol sellers, but the police chief said the number of alcohol licences issued in Little India have remained stable over the years.
Instead, the problem lay with excessive consumption, not the accessibility to alcohol, said Mr Ng.
To counter this, he said the logical way would be to restrict the hours liquor can be sold and confine its consumption to licensed premises, which is already practised under the rules introduced after the riot.
ACTION OF FIRST RESPONDERS
In previous COI hearings, the committee grilled ground commanders on why they chose to stand their ground instead of charging the crowd.
Mr Ng defended the actions of the first responders, saying that they did not attempt to do so as the first responders were patrol officers and were outnumbered.
Patrol officers were not adequately trained nor equipped to handle riots, he said.
He admitted that the police failed in its communications and making sense of the situation on the night of the riot, and described them as being "screwed up".
"Our communications were non-existent, our sense-making is almost zero. That is something we really have to work on," said Mr Ng.
Committee chairman G. Pannir Selvam said: "If there have been lapses in certain areas, it doesn't taint the whole force. On the whole, we believe we have one of the finest police forces in the world."
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