Riot police not often deployed in Little India due to falling crime

Troops from the Special Operations Command (SOC) - more commonly known as the "riot police" - have not been frequently deployed in Little India due to the area's falling crime rate.

There is also a need to prioritise the deployment of this limited resource, which also performs security and anti-terrorism patrols elsewhere, said Deputy Commissioner of Police T. Raja Kumar yesterday.

Mr Raja Kumar is the first police witness to testify at the public hearing convened to look into the Dec 8 riot in Little India.

He was responding to a question by the Committee of Inquiry as to why SOC troops were being deployed in places like Boat Quay and City Hall, instead of an area like Little India where foreign workers have had a reputation of getting drunk.

The Maria Hertogh riots in 1950 led to the formation of police riot squads, the predecessor of the SOC, to deal with public order disturbances, said Mr Raja Kumar.

But the threat assessment in Little India "suggested that such a forward deployment (of the SOC) was not necessary".

The number of auxiliary police officers deployed in the area have almost doubled as well, from the "high 40s" in 2009 to 81 today.

More manpower had been channelled to Rochor Neighbourhood Police Centre, which serves the Indian ethnic enclave.

There is also a dedicated intelligence team that focuses on Little India, he said, adding that the foreign workers there have "by and large" been compliant.

In the midst of ramped-up enforcement, the crime situation in Little India has improved "quite significantly" in recent years, said Mr Raja Kumar.

He revealed that the number of major crime cases fell 32 per cent between 2009 and last year, compared to the 19 per cent fall nationwide over the same period. "So we are talking about lower crime, and a better crime situation in Little India," he said.

Meanwhile, the number of summonses issued for jaywalking offences rose to 2,000 last year, from the 300 issued five years ago. Still, SOC troops were deployed in Little India for anti-crime patrols on no less than 16 occasions last year, he revealed.

This included events such as Thaipusam, where it was determined that there is a greater potential for public order disturbance.

However, the police do not have the "luxury of resources" to deploy an SOC troop in Little India every weekend.

This was, in part, due to a shifting global security environment after the Sept 11 attacks in the United States.

As such, the SOC, which used to deal solely with public order disturbances, has now also taken on counter-terrorism tasks.

Mr Raja Kumar said that despite these new demands, the force is also facing tighter manpower. "At the peak, the SOC had as many as 12 troops. We are now at eight. The number of persons has also come down in each troop.

"But even if we cut the size of the SOC, we have made an effort to up its capability."

On the issue of deployment, he said it is not just "one location which is pre-eminent".

Citing other "potential problem spots" such as Geylang, he said: "Would we want to deploy troops to Little India every weekend? If we have the resources, we will do it."