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MPs debate the Little India riot COI report

MPs raised questions on cultural training for police officers and asked if authorities could allow more protests in Singapore, so enforcement officers could get more practice.

SINGAPORE: Nine MPs joined a nearly hour-long debate on the Little India riot Committee of Inquiry (COI) report, with questions for both the Manpower Minister and Deputy Prime Minister in Parliament on Monday (July 7). The questions touched on issues such as how to recruit more police officers in a tight labour situation; whether the army could be roped in for public order incidents; and how officers could get more real-life practice. 

MP for Aljunied GRC Sylvia Lim said no amount of training could be a substitute for actual practice in policing such incidents. 
"In this light, would (DPM) consider for example, that the police should allow more peaceful protests in Singapore, in certain designated roads, so that the police can on a regular basis test their policing capabilities in terms of policing cause-based crowds?" she asked.

"Perhaps Ms Lim might want to go one step further and say: Allow the protests to get out of hand, so that they get more practice?" DPM Teo said.

To which Ms Lim responded: "Madam, the answer's obvious, we don't want damage to property or loss of life, but peaceful protests are arguably a freedom, a civil liberty we want to protect?"

Mr Teo said authorities could see the "logic or lack of it" in intentionally allowing protests and demonstrations just for practice purposes for the Special Operations Command (SOC).

"But I should say that one of the reasons why I do want to increase the size of the SOC is we do have more events in Singapore, large-scale events, and you don't really need to deliberately allow protests to take place in order to give the SOC practice.

"A typical football match, and other events like that already provide the SOC quite a lot of activity and action and quite frankly, I don't think many Singaporeans want to see more chaos and demonstrations on the streets disrupting their daily lives and also taking up resources," he added.

Ms Lim and opposition colleague Pritam Singh also asked if authorities would look into policing methods, to address the point that the crowd had misperceptions of the first responders' actions on the night of the riot.

"There were different views expressed during the COI on how one could interact with people from different cultural backgrounds, and indeed, that I think, is an important and valid consideration," DPM Teo said. "We will provide more cultural background orientation for officers, including auxiliary police officers, who have to deal with and interact with people from different cultural backgrounds on a regular basis." 

Several MPs saluted officers who risked their lives in the line of duty. There was also recognition that riots are complex and unpredictable events.

"I have read and heard a number of commentaries on what the Government should do in order that similar incidents like this will not happen again. That sentiment concerns me, because I don't think the minister or anyone can give that assurance to this House," said MP for Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC Hri Kumar.

Even the most intensive security coverage is no guarantee, said DPM Teo. But he said the authorities will focus on lowering the chances of a riot happening, and improving the ability to quell one quickly, if and when it happens.

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