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COI recounts how the Little India riot unfolded

The Committee of Inquiry said police responded to the riot "relatively swiftly and efficiently" and that responding officers did a "commendable job" in handling the riot initially, but had several lapses after the body of an Indian national was extricated from under a bus.

SINGAPORE: In its report released on Monday (June 30), the Committee of Inquiry (COI) for the Little India riot noted two distinct phases to the riot before the arrival of the Special Operations Command (SOC).

The first - from the time of the accident where Indian national Sakthivel Kumaravelu was run over by a bus, until about 10.15pm. During this phase, the report noted that police acted wisely in not prioritising arresting or taking action against rioters, as anger was directed at the bus, bus driver and timekeeper.

The COI noted that any direct action would have caused the situation to take an ugly turn. There were also too many rioters and too few police officers.

But the committee found the response wanting, during the second phase of the riot - after the victim's body was extricated and the bus driver and timekeeper had been evacuated. Police and SCDF vehicles were left unprotected, and were essentially "sitting ducks". It was then that a small group of rioters began pelting the vehicles with projectiles and this escalated when others joined in - with some overturning and eventually burning the vehicles. 

LAPSE 1: FAILURE IN COMMUNICATIONS 

Several lapses were pointed out. The first - communication failure which led to inability to marshal scattered forces and exercise command. Police officers could not clearly speak into, or listen to their radio sets above the noise of the crowd, making it difficult to establish proper command and control, and co-ordinate the arrival of additional officers, and the SOC.

The report stated there was no co-ordination of the available men at the scene between 10.15 and 10.45pm. The committee noted that the ground commander that night, Deputy Assistant Commissioner Lu Yeow Lim, was unaware of the extent of rioting taking place near the site, approximately 100 metres away from him.

He had instructed the SOC to meet at Hampshire Road, which resulted in them being caught in more traffic and being delayed further. The COI pointed out the troops were in reality more needed near the Bukit Timah Road side of Race Course Road.

The report noted that while there was actually a sizeable number of officers present - they could not form up into a critical force as they were scattered and unaware of each other's positions.

LAPSE 2: POLICE HOLDING THEIR POSITION

The second lapse was the police decision to hold their position and not to arrest rioters. This should have been re-evaluated when the SOC was late in arriving. The first SOC forces would take a total of about 50 minutes to arrive from the time of request for activation was made.

The COI added that holding positions at two ends of the riot area was also not enough to prevent the free movement of rioters and could have emboldened rioters. It said there were enough officers to take action, if they had been marshalled and directed to do so. 

LAPSE 3: PRIORITISING DISPERSAL OVER ARREST

The third lapse was the decision to prioritise dispersal over arrest, after the arrival of the SOC. The committee noted that while it may not be feasible to make arrests during incidents involving large numbers, the number of rioters was already dwindling when the SOC arrived. It added that making arrests is "imperative" when violence is threatened or taking place, and when the number of rioters is not large.

LAPSES AN "ABERRATION": COI

The COI concluded, however, that the lapses in the second phase of the riot were an "aberration" and do not reflect serious or systemic failings. Instead, it reflected the decisions of the ground commander, who could have taken more positive action, instead of holding a position until the SOC arrived.

It noted that frontline officers may not always be able to wait for the SOC during public order incidents and it is therefore important to learn from the incident, so that future responses are improved. 

 

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