Manpower and capability boost for riot police

Singapore's riot police will double in strength, with 300 more officers to be added in the next two to three years.

These members of the Police Tactical Troops within the Special Operations Command (SOC) will also be better armed to deal with a wider range of situations and crowd size.

Other changes include increasing the size of each troop and the number of troops for round-the-clock standby duty, said Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean.

DPM Teo, who is also the Home Affairs Minister, set out these new measures in Parliament yesterday in a ministerial statement, responding to the report of the Committee of Inquiry (COI) on the Dec 8 riot in Little India.

One key measure is the 300 more officers for front-line riot duty. This will allow the police to increase the number of troops on standby duty round the clock from eight to 12.

The additional troops "will be configured for rapid deployment on lighter and more mobile platforms", said DPM Teo.

Within each troop, there will be more officers as well: 44 instead of 35. They will also get "additional equipment to improve their sense-making and operational capabilities".

The boost will help them be more effective in dealing "with a wider range of situations and crowd size". "Given the riot, police must re-assess the likelihood of having to deal with large-scale public order incidents and strengthen the ability of its forces to do so," he added.

The beefing up of the riot police is a change from past moves, in which the police shifted its focus and resources from riot control to such priorities as crime prevention and community policing.

That followed a sharp drop in the number of public disorders from the mid-1970s, said DPM Teo. By 1983, the number of riot control troops was cut from 12 to eight, with 46 officers, down from 63, in each troop.

Established in 1992, the SOC became a dual-response force in 2001, focusing on anti-terrorism and public order incidents. In 2004, each troop was reduced again to 35 officers but balanced with more intensive training, and armed with advanced equipment and technology.

During the COI hearings, Commissioner of Police Ng Joo Hee, however, said the force needed another 1,000 officers to improve police presence in areas where large numbers of people congregate, such as Geylang and Little India.

He also said police numbers have not kept pace with population growth. Two MPs raised his request. One was opposition MP Sylvia Lim, who asked if there was a "serious under-resource problem", while Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC's Hri Kumar Nair asked how DPM Teo intends to recruit given the tight labour market.

Replying, DPM Teo said the manpower issue is not one which is faced only by the police or by his ministry. "Anyone who has run an organisation in Singapore knows that we face a manpower situation which we all have to deal with," he said. "In the coming five years, we will have fewer young Singaporeans entering the workforce than in the past five years. So the issue is not going to get simpler."

However, DPM Teo said more than 1,000 positions were created between 2008 and this year, to support new initiatives such as front-line Community Policing and Safer Roads. Of these, more than 97 per cent had been filled.

Overall, the police headcount has risen about 15 per cent in the past 10 years, from about 9,000 to around 10,300 officers. In addition, employment terms are better and upgrading opportunities improved.

The retirement age for uniformed officers has gone from 50 to 55 and more retired officers are re-employed. Other measures taken include the greater use of technology to combat crime.

"This combination of better operational deployments and technology has contributed significantly to keeping crime low and solving cases," he said.

This article was first published on July 08, 2014.
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