Little India Riot Inquiry: Officer explains why he did not use firearm

ASP Jonathan Tang (above) was concerned that firing a warning shot might further incite the rioters. Shooting into the mob was also not feasible as there were curious onlookers among the rioters. He achieved his mission objectives within 38 minutes of his arrival on the scene, the committee heard. He sought to ensure the safety of other officers, including Staff Sergeant Mak Chung Kit, who was injured, and Senior Staff Sergeant Mydeen Sahul Hameed. They were among the first at the scene, having been conducting spot checks that evening.

THE first senior police officer at the scene of the Dec 8 riot decided against firing a warning shot to disperse the crowd for fear of agitating them further, the Committee of Inquiry heard on Tuesday.

Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP) Jonathan Tang, testifying at the public hearing, said shooting into the mob to ward them off was also not "feasible" as there were curious onlookers among the rioters and nearby.

"It was not a situation where just because we had firearms, we would have won the war," said the 28-year-old, one of the first officers who responded to the incident in Little India last year.

He said possibly a fifth of what he estimated to be a 400-strong crowd were bystanders. "We were not going to fire our firearms indiscriminately - it was a situation where the revolvers were out of play," he said.

ASP Tang, who is based in Kampong Java Neighbourhood Police Centre, was responding to what had initially been reported as a road traffic accident in Race Course Road.

He arrived at 9.40pm after being alerted to the case 13 minutes earlier, the inquiry heard.

This was within the 15 minutes response time stipulated in police service guidelines for emergency cases. Road traffic accidents are not classified as emergencies.

While ASP Tang did consider firing off a warning shot as the situation spiralled out of control, he said doing so might have further incited the rioters, who by then were fast growing in number.

"Second, discharging my firearm would remind the crowd that the police officers were armed and I was concerned that the crowd might attack the officers and seize their firearms," he said.

"That would be the worst-case scenario."

yanliang@sph.com.sg

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