THOUGH there were about 200 law enforcement officers on the scene in Little India on Dec 8, fewer than 90 were from the police force and dealing directly with the rioters before troops from the Special Operations Command arrived, the Committee of Inquiry was told on Tuesday.
The rest were auxiliary officers mainly from Certis Cisco, and Traffic Police and plainclothes officers.
The question of how many police officers there were compared with rioters on Dec 8 came up when former police commissioner Tee Tua Ba asked Assistant Superintendent of Police Jonathan Tang why he had not "engaged" the crowd when he reached the accident site.
Why, for instance, had ASP Tang not arrested the main instigators while the rioters had yet to turn on the police, he asked.
The three preceding witnesses, all Certis Cisco auxiliary officers, had argued that government vehicles would not have been burned if a small group of "active" rioters had been rounded up early.
But ASP Tang told State Counsel Sharmila Sripathy that the police were "grossly outnumbered". When he arrived, he had four auxiliary police officers (APOs) and two police officers, against "a rowdy and increasingly boisterous crowd" of about 200.
The crowd soon swelled to about 400, he added, with 150 to 200 throwing projectiles, shouting and instigating others. The rest were mainly curious onlookers and workers waiting to board buses back to their dormitories.
ASP Tang said he later managed to connect with other police officers, bringing his total manpower to nine police officers and four APOs. But as much as he wanted to start arresting the rioters at that point, the crowd still outmatched his small force.
"With this number of officers, we would not have been able to take decisive action to restore the peace," he said. "Yes, we were very, very outnumbered."
When asked later if he knew that there were actually some 90 police officers dealing with the rioters that night, he replied that he was not aware of these other officers as overloaded police radio and mobile networks had made communications with colleagues difficult.
"It definitely didn't feel like there were 90 police officers," he said, noting that even with that number, he would still consider the force outnumbered by rioters.
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