07 July 2014
Ministerial Statement by Deputy Prime Minister, Coordinating Minister for National Security and Minister for Home Affairs, Mr Teo Chee Hean on Government’s response to the Report of the Committee of Inquiry into the 8 December 2013 Little India Riot – Security- related issues
1. Madam Speaker, thank you for allowing me to make this Statement. May I have your permission to display slides, which I will refer to during my Statement.
Background and COI Process
2. On 8 December 2013, a riot took place following a fatal traffic accident along Race Course Road in Little India. The riot was the worst public order disturbance in Singapore in more than four decades.
3. On 13 December, I appointed a Committee of Inquiry (COI) chaired by former Supreme Court Judge G Pannir Selvam with three other members. The COI’s Terms of Reference are shown on the screen.
4. Over the past six months, the Committee examined testimonies from 323 witnesses. It offered to interview all 57 foreign workers who were to be repatriated, and interviewed the 20 who accepted the offer. The Committee visited the scene of the riot, foreign worker dormitories, and other places where foreign workers congregate during their days off work. It also conducted open hearings lasting 24 days and heard testimonies from 93 witnesses.
5. The COI submitted its report to me on 27 June. The report was made public on 30 June, and my Ministry also sent the report to Members of the House via email on the same day. The report describes what happened that night and analyses factors that contributed to the riot. It also makes several important recommendations and observations to improve the management of such incidents and to reduce the risk of such incidents recurring.
6. I would like to put on record my appreciation of the Committee’s hard work in undertaking an open, searching, thorough and comprehensive Inquiry. I also thank the team of investigators, legal officers and civil servants that supported the COI, as well as witnesses who gave evidence at the inquiry.
COI’s Key Findings
7. Let me first summarise the COI’s key findings, before providing the Government’s response to the COI’s recommendations.
8. The COI found that the riot was triggered by a fatal road traffic accident, and that the victim’s own actions were primarily responsible for the accident.1 The victim was intoxicated2, had lost his balance, and had fallen under the bus while running in the bus driver’s blind spot.3 At the time of the accident, the time-keeper was neither on the bus nor near it.
9. The COI concluded that the primary or triggering cause of the riot was the occurrence of the fatal accident. However, a confluence of other factors fuelled its subsequent escalation.4
10. First, the COI attributed the escalation of the riot to the crowd’s misperception that the accident was caused by the bus driver and the time-keeper. The crowd also misperceived the actions of the first responders from Police and SCDF, whom the crowd saw as protecting the bus driver and the time-keeper instead of arresting them.5 Second, the COI’s view is that some of the workers at the scene that night could have carried a “cultural psychology” of “retributive justice” that spurred them to take the law into their own hands.6 Finally, the COI assessed that alcohol was a major contributory factor to the nature and escalation of the riot.7
11. The COI had also carefully examined other possible causes of the riot. Based on the evidence gathered, the COI concluded that the riot was not a result of dissatisfaction among foreign workers with their employment and living conditions in Singapore.8 Nor was the riot premeditated or planned. It was also not related to ethnic or any endemic form of discrimination.9
12. The COI pointed out that while the riot was a shock to many Singaporeans, it was not as severe as many others that had happened in other parts of the world. There was no loss of life, no prolonged fighting between Police and the rioters, and it was dispersed relatively quickly. The riot remained contained in a small area. Arson of private property and looting did not occur. No shots were fired by the Police, and neither tear gas nor water cannon were used on the rioters.
13. The COI thus concluded that the overall outcome of the SPF response was good, but it would have been better had it not been for the overturning and burning of police cars, ambulances, and emergency vehicles. 10
14. 25 people were arrested at the scene that night. More than 400 persons were called up for subsequent, further investigations. Eventually, 25 persons were charged, 57 were repatriated and 213 warned and given advisories. To update Members, of the 25 charged, 14 have been convicted and sentenced, with the most recent being this morning. Eight of these 14 have since completed their sentences and have been repatriated. The cases of the other 11 charged are still in progress.
Response of Home Team Officers
15. On the Home Team’s response that night, the COI commended the SCDF officers for performing their duties well. The officers demonstrated quick thinking and common sense in departing from standard operating procedures to adapt to the changing needs on the ground.11 The COI also assessed that the Police’s overall response to be relatively swift and efficient. In the first phase – which was the initial response and extrication of the deceased’s body, and the evacuation of the driver and time-keeper – the responding officers did a commendable job of handling the situation. 12
16. The COI was of the view that during the second phase, from 10.15pm to 10.45pm, while the ground commander felt that his best course of action was to hold his position until the arrival of the SOC, this should have been re-evaluated when the SOC was late in arriving, as the situation on the ground was changing, and the response should have been adjusted accordingly.13
17. The COI’s view was that there were opportunities for Police to intervene and take decisive action during this 10.15pm to 10.45pm period.14 The COI stated that the rioters were destroying property and pelting the officers with objects, but the COI did not agree that it was a life-threatening situation, or that the officers would have been in severe danger had they moved in to stop and arrest the rioters at that time.15
18. The COI’s analysis will be useful for Police’s review of its doctrines and procedures, and provide inputs for Police’s scenario-based training for dealing with public order incidents. These will help our officers and commanders hone their incident management skills. The COI arrived at its assessment based on a reconstruction of all available information collected after the riot by a team of investigators.
19. On the other hand, on the night of the riot itself, as commanders and officers arrived at the scene as quickly as they could, they faced a highly-charged and rapidly evolving situation. They made their decisions in the heat of the action, and under time pressure, based on the information they had available. The Police Divisional Commander who assumed incident command arrived on scene at 10.11pm. A few minutes after that, the rioters started flipping cars over and setting them ablaze at 10.28pm. The commanders and officers that night did not have the benefit of hindsight. Their decisions and actions have thus to be evaluated in that context.
20. Madam Speaker, it is not always possible to take the analyses done after the fact, and substitute them for the judgement that the commanders and officers had to make on the ground that night. We will not be able to know definitively what the outcome would be if a different course of action had been taken during this phase, given the emotional crowd which was volatile and prone to misperceptions.
21. Madam Speaker, the commanders and officers that night did the best they could in the circumstances they faced, with the information that they had on hand. Although there was destruction and damage to emergency vehicles, the riot was fully brought fully under control within two hours of the initial accident, contained within the immediate location, without loss of life or serious injury, without the use of lethal force including firearms. The area was re-opened to people and traffic by early the next morning, a few hours later.
COI’s Recommendations and MHA’s Response
22. A riot on the streets of Singapore is unacceptable. We have to take preventive action to minimise the likelihood of such a riot occurring, and improve our capability to deal effectively with a riot if one does occur. Anyone who takes part in a riot must know that he will be dealt with firmly in accordance with our laws.
23. The COI made eight recommendations under two main categories – Strengthening the Home Team and Measures to Manage Congregation Areas. The COI’s recommendations have provided an independent perspective of the measures necessary to minimise the likelihood of a riot, and to better prepare ourselves to respond to any such incident.
24. The Government accepts all of the COI’s recommendations. The COI’s recommendations address weaknesses and areas that we have to improve on, provide validation of several of our ongoing plans which address the COI’s concerns, sharpen our focus on what the priorities should be, and provide impetus for us to do more in certain areas and to implement them sooner. We have also not waited for the COI’s report to act, but have implemented various improvements since the riot on 8 December, some in the days immediately following the incident. I will now address the action the Government is taking on the security-related aspects of the COI’s recommendations. My colleague, the Minister for Manpower will address the foreign manpower issues after my Statement.
Strengthening the Home Team
25. In making recommendations on the Home Team’s response to public order incidents, the COI took into account how SPF’s focus and resourcing had evolved with Singapore’s security needs. From the mid-1970s, Singapore witnessed a rapid reduction in the number of public order incidents. Consequently, SPF gradually shifted its focus and resources from riot control to other priorities such as crime prevention and community policing. In 1983, the number of riot control troops was reduced from 12 to 8, and from 63 to 46 officers per troop.
26. The SOC was established in 1992, and after 2001, in particular, became a dual-response force for anti-terrorism in addition to public order incidents. In 2004, the size of each SOC troop was reduced from 46 to 35 officers, but this was balanced with more intensive training, and by improvements in equipment and technology.16
27. The COI’s view is that SPF’s progressive shift of resources was a positive development.17 However, the COI’s view is that 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.18
28. Let me come to each of the COI’s recommendations.
29. The COI’s first recommendation is to improve Command, Control and Communications, or C3 capabilities, to help ground officers build a better picture of the ground situation, especially in rapidly changing scenarios.
30. This is an important area that needs to be improved. Police has an ongoing programme, started a few years ago, for a major upgrade of its C3 systems. Two key projects are now near completion, and are almost ready to be commissioned. A new Combined Operations Room will be ready in end 2014. It will be equipped with tools to track the deployment of Police resources, as well as dashboards and information management systems for improved awareness of the ground situation. The new Police C3 system is also targeted to enter service in end 2014. It will bring more advanced communications, imaging and mobile computing technology to officers at the frontline, through mobile devices with data and voice communications. The on-scene ground commander will be able to receive collated information pushed to him from the Combined Operations Room. This will help him to build a better picture of the situation to improve his decision-making. The new Combined Operations Room and C3 system will strengthen Police’s capability for incident management, and to marshal and deploy forces better to deal with rapidly developing situations.
31. Police has also started trials for body-worn and vehicle-mounted cameras. All police fast response cars will be equipped with cameras by end 2015. The streaming of live video from vehicle-mounted cameras will help to establish a real-time situation picture that both frontline responders and operations centres can use. The cameras will also capture evidence for post-event investigation and the identification of perpetrators.
32. Police is also studying how its Combined Operations Room can make good use of publicly posted messages and images on the Internet or social media, as these can provide early indications and valuable information on a developing public security situation. This will also enable Police to quickly clarify and dispel any rumours or untruths, which can otherwise spread very quickly and create alarm or undesirable reactions.
33. The second recommendation is to appropriately train and equip frontline officers to respond to public order incidents.
34. Police will review what further capabilities our frontline officers need as first responders to deal with public order incidents. This will include a review of the training and equipping of officers. As our frontline officers have multiple policing duties, we will have to tailor their capability and training at a level that is appropriate for first responders and their mission. Should there be a large-scale public order incident that frontline officers, with their training and equipment, cannot fully deal with on their own, they will have to contain it, and call upon fully-trained SOC anti-riot troopers to quell it. I will speak next about how the SOC will be upgraded to respond more quickly and decisively.
35. The third recommendation of the COI is to increase the SPF’s manpower resources, including the Special Operations Command, so that they can better manage mass congregation areas such as Little India, and be ready to deal with large-scale public order incidents. The COI also said that, however, quality rather than quantity should be the major consideration in augmenting the force.
36. We will increase the size and capability of the SOC. In fact, we will double it. We need such a specially trained and equipped force to deal with large-scale public order incidents and the heightened terrorism threat, as well as to manage more mass events that require high-level security.
37. Currently, the SOC deploys two Police Tactical Troops (PTTs) on round-the-clock standby duty. We intend to increase the number of troops from 8 to 12 so that we can put a third SOC troop on standby all the time. This additional troop will be configured for rapid deployment on lighter and more mobile platforms. We will also increase the number of officers in each troop from 35 to 44, and provide them with additional equipment to improve their sense-making and operational capabilities. This will enable each troop to deal more effectively with a wider range of situations and crowd-size. In total, we will add 300 officers to the SOC, doubling its current strength of deployable front-line troopers. We will commence the build-up immediately, and progressively build up its capabilities over the next two to three years.
38. On overall Police manpower, between 2008 and 2014, more than 1,000 new posts have been added to support new initiatives such as frontline Community Policing, Safer Roads and investigations. More than 97% of these 1,000 new posts have been filled. Overall, Police has increased its headcount by about 15% over the past 10 years from about 9,000 to about 10,300 officers. Police requires more posts for new frontline demands such as a new Police Division Headquarters and two new Neighbourhood Police Centres in line with shifts in our population. At the same time, the Police will continue to review its structures and processes so that officers can be more effectively and productively deployed to where they are most needed.
39. To continue to attract and retain good officers, Police has enhanced its employment terms and provided more upgrading and education opportunities for in-service officers. SPF has also raised the retirement age of uniformed officers from 50 to 55, and re-employed more retired officers. More civilian officers have also been recruited to take on specialised roles, for example in forensics and cyber-crime, to complement uniformed officers.
40. However, there are natural limits to how much further we can grow the force without compromising standards. Indeed, the COI has recognised this and made the observation that quality rather than just quantity should be the major consideration in augmenting our force of fully fledged Police Officers. Like other organisations or companies, it is not easy to hire and retain officers of good quality.
41. Besides our regular Police officers, we also tap on full-time National Service officers, for example for our Public Transport Security Command, NSmen, volunteers, and community partners. In addition, Police deploys Auxiliary Police Officers to carry out duties of a more specific nature that do not require a full-fledged Police officer, who is trained to deal with a multitude of situations.
42. Besides increasing manpower, Police has also been using improved deployment strategies, such as Community Policing, to build stronger partnerships with the community to fight crime. Police has also invested in technology as a force multiplier. For example, in the past two years, the more than 18,000 Police Cameras have been installed at 3,300 HDB void decks and multi-storey car parks. These have been effective in deterring crime. All 10,000 HDB blocks will have Police Cameras by 2016. This combination of better operational deployments and applying technology have contributed significantly to keeping crime low and solving cases. For example, the number of unlicensed money-lending harassment cases has been cut by more than 50% compared to five years ago.
43. The fourth recommendation is for SPF and SCDF to continue to build on their ability to respond in a concerted and co-ordinated manner to public order situations.
44. The COI reported that the response to the riot demonstrated strong teamwork and collaboration between the SPF and SCDF units in the first phase of extrication and rescue. 19 Madam Speaker, Police, SCDF and other Home Team agencies work closely on the ground daily when responding to incidents, and have jointly developed protocols to handle major incidents. We will continue to integrate and enhance the capabilities of frontline first responders through joint standard operating procedures. These joint SOPs are also validated and improved through regular joint exercises.
45. The fifth recommendation is for SPF to look into generally cutting layers of approval or time needed to activate essential resources to respond to public order incidents and other emergencies.
46. The COI found that the approval process for activating the SOC was one factor that slowed their arrival.20 The Police has since then shortened the approval process. Prior to the 8 December riot, the activation of SOC troops required the concurrence of the Director Operations of Police. There were two key reasons for this procedure. First, the deployment of the SOC is a high-signature move and the assessment should be done by a more senior officer. Second, the Director Operations is better placed to assess the overall national needs and priorities when there are competing demands. Police has made the process for activating the SOC for a public order incident more direct. Division Commanders can now activate the first SOC troop while alerting Police Headquarters at the same time. Traffic Police will also be simultaneously activated to facilitate the SOC’s speedy movement to the incident location.
Enhance the Management of Foreign Worker Congregation Areas
47. Madam Speaker, may I have your permission to request the Clerk to distribute the handouts?
48. I now move on to the COI’s recommendations to manage foreign worker congregation areas. This is the sixth recommendation of the COI, which is to install additional lighting, safety and surveillance devices in areas which see large congregations of foreign workers, in addition to making better basic facilities available to those who congregate there.
49. Madam Speaker, I had mentioned in my Statement to Parliament in January this year, that several measures had been progressively implemented in Little India since October 2006 to improve the physical environment, that is, prior to the riot on 8 December 2013. These include installation of back-lane lighting, additional railings along Serangoon Road, and operating the Little India Bus Services (LIBS) for workers. Since 2009, Police have deployed auxiliary police officers and private security officers in Little India to manage anti-social behaviour. In 2011, these numbers were increased, and since then there have been 81 officers deployed on weekends.
50. Agencies will continue to work together to improve infrastructure and enhance safety in Little India. We are currently installing additional lighting in 44 locations in Little India. LTA has concreted the grass patch at Tekka Lane, and similar works are on-going for a 10-metre wide strip of the field abutting Hampshire Road for use as a passenger waiting area for the Little India Bus Services. Permanent shelters and queue heads will be provided by the first quarter of 2015. Any change in the capacity of the LIBS will be gradual, and in line with other whole-of-government measures for Little India. Agencies will also look at various issues such as bus service timing to spread out demand and avoid crowding.
51. For better traffic management, Lembu Road has, since 8 June 2014, been closed to vehicular traffic every Sunday from noon to midnight. Campbell Lane will be converted into a pedestrian mall by the first quarter of 2015. Two new traffic lights will be installed along Serangoon Road, and will be synchronised with existing crossings. These measures will enhance road safety, and smoothen pedestrian and vehicular traffic flow.
52. Prior to the 8 December riot, there were 113 police cameras in public areas and HDB blocks in Little India. Since then, we have more than doubled the number to 250 police cameras. All 41 HDB blocks in Little India now have police cameras. Police will progressively install another 88 cameras in public areas between now and December 2015. This overall trebling of the number of cameras, beyond what was initially planned within this time frame, will provide greater deterrence to crime and anti-social behavior, and allow Police and enforcement agencies to deploy their officers more effectively, and forestall or respond more quickly to incidents.
53. Police has stepped up its presence in Little India since the riot, with an additional 20 to 30 Police officers deployed every weekend along with a dedicated SOC troop. This is complemented by the 81 APOs and private security officers currently deployed there on weekends. To sustain an increased presence in the longer term, Police is looking at increasing the number of APOs and private security officers deployed in Little India from the current 81 to 93 officers. Police will continue to monitor the situation and calibrate the manpower and other measures deployed accordingly.
54. Public agencies have also been working together to address issues in other foreign worker congregation areas such as Geylang. Let me take Geylang as one example.There will be stricter enforcement of licensing and parking rules, and 252 more cameras installed in Geylang by end 2016, compared to the 47 existing ones. We will also be enhancing the street lighting at 36 back alleys in Geylang.
55. For these congregation areas, Police will continue to conduct frequent patrols and enforcement checks to maintain law and order. In Geylang, for instance, an SOC troop conducts weekly anti-crime patrols to augment existing police resources patrolling the area. Police will also continue to deploy APOs to project additional uniformed presence at congregation areas.
56. The Minister for Manpower will speak later on the COI’s seventh recommendation to make more services and amenities available to foreign workers outside of congregation areas, and to work with local community stakeholders on measures to reduce congestion at congregation areas.
57. The COI’s eighth and final recommendation is to more strictly enforce against public drunkenness and set in place alcohol restrictions in hotspots where large crowds typically indulge in heavy drinking, and therefore where a triggering incident could spark a breakdown of public order.
58. Prior to the riot, the Ministry of Home Affairs had already embarked on a wider review of measures to control the sale and public consumption of alcohol, to address concerns of public order and disamenities.
59. Between October and December 2013, stakeholders and the general public were consulted on proposals to designate no-alcohol zones at some public places; and shorten the sale hours of liquor at retail outlets. 624 persons participated in the e-Poll, and 337 pieces of written feedback were received. We also conducted focus-group discussions with members of the public, and representatives from retail and public entertainment outlets. The majority supported such proposals.
60. The second phase of consultation was launched via the REACH portal on 16 June 2014 to seek the public’s views on possible models for limiting the sale and public consumption of alcohol, drawing on examples from other countries and cities. This will help us to develop a model that best suits Singapore’s needs, and which will be effective and sustainable. The second phase of consultation will end on 31 July 2014.
61. Since the implementation of the Public Order (Additional Temporary Measures) Act on 1 April 2014, 172 individuals were found consuming alcohol in public during prohibited hours.21 They have been issued with Police advisories. Two liquor establishments are under investigation for contravening licensing conditions. Police has been consulting closely with the Little India Shopkeepers and Heritage Association, residents and Advisers to implement the measures as smoothly as possible. Feedback on the alcohol restrictions that have been implemented, from residents has been generally positive.
62. In formulating the new measures on the sale and public consumption of alcohol, we will take into consideration public and industry feedback, the COI’s recommendations, and our experience from the alcohol restrictions in Little India. We will introduce the necessary legislation within the next six months, before the Public Order (Additional Temporary Measures) Act expires in March 2015.
63. Madam Speaker, let me thank the COI once again, for its thorough and comprehensive work in the past six months. The COI adopted an open and transparent process. It sought submissions from the public, all of which the COI took into account in its deliberations. The public hearing was conducted in open court, with no restrictions on media or public attendance.
64. The COI came to the conclusion that the overall outcome of the SPF response was good. There was no loss of life, no prolonged fighting between Police and the rioters, and the riot was dispersed relatively quickly.22 While the COI found that the Home Team had generally performed well in quelling the riot, it has also identified areas for improvement, and put forth recommendations which the Government accepts. We will implement all the recommendations. Since the riot, we have already started to strengthen our capabilities, and enhance our operational effectiveness.
65. Madam Speaker, the riot was the most serious public order incident Singapore had seen in over forty years. Home Team officers were called to action; they quelled the riot, and restored calm in Little India that night. But there were also wider efforts beyond Little India and in the days that followed which helped to maintain calm and stability in Singapore. Members of this House, including Minister Lui Tuck Yew, Ms Denise Phua, and Minister Iswaran walked the ground together with grassroots leaders in Little India to reassure the residents and local community. Other Members of this House did the same to reassure residents in their own areas. While other Members including Minister Shanmugam, Minister Iswaran, Mr Vikram Nair and Mr Dhinakaran, together with staff from the High Commissions of India and Bangladesh, visited dormitories to engage the larger community of foreign workers who were not involved in the riot. Non-governmental organisations and employers stepped up efforts to assist workers. Operators of recreation centres and dormitories organised more programmes and provided more services for foreign workers. Singaporeans generally responded in a rational and calm manner. All these efforts helped to ensure that there were no spill-over tensions after the riot, and helped us restore normalcy quickly. I would like to thank everyone who contributed to this community effort.
66. Madam Speaker, Minister for Manpower Tan Chuan-Jin will now address the foreign manpower issues in relation to the COI’s recommendations and observations, after which, with Madam Speaker’s permission, we will both address any matters that Members may wish to raise.
1 Para 57
2 Para 56. The victim’s blood alcohol level was 217mg of ethanol per 100ml of blood at the time of his death, nearly triple the threshold for the offence of driving while intoxicated (i.e. 80mg/100ml).
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21 As of 7 July 2014
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