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Little India riot COI: T-batons, revolvers are for defensive use, say police officers

Published on Feb 26, 2014 2:45 PM
 
 Police at the scene of the riot, on Dec 8 2013. The T-batons, revolvers and shields carried by police officers on patrol are meant for defensive use, and this is why they were not used to attack the crowd of active rioters in Little India on Dec 8 last year. -- ST FILE PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

The T-batons, revolvers and shields carried by police officers on patrol are meant for defensive use, and this is why they were not used to attack the crowd of active rioters in Little India on Dec 8 last year. In addition, the officers had not felt that their lives were in direct danger.

Three officers who were among the first responders at the scene of the riot told the Committee Of Inquiry on Wednesday that while they are trained in "peace time" crowd control management, they are not trained to handle a large-scale mob. Warning shots had not been fired because they could have agitated the crowd, the court heard, while the T-baton is used to fend off one-on-one attacks.

"Maybe if one of them approach me with a plank of wood, or a rock in his hand, I would feel obliged to draw the T-baton," said Special Constable Sergeant Abdul Aziz Abdul Khalid on Wednesday. The full-time national serviceman was the partner of Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP) Jonathan Tang, the first senior officer at the scene. Added ASP Edwin Yong, 28, who was the second senior officer to the scene: "We do not use (T-batons) to attack people. We have to move forward to swing and move back later - the range is quite short."

As a result, the T-baton was not used even when the authorities were being challenged by the rioters to do so. Full-time national serviceman, Special Constable Corporal Arshard Abdul Murad said a foreign worker had challenged him to "take out my T-baton to hit the people in the crowd, but I declined to do so".

ASP Yong reiterated ASP Tang's point, when he took the stand on Tuesday, that communications could have been better, and that making arrests would reduce police manpower and jeopardise the mission.

On allegations from the public of cowardice following video footage of officers running away from the epicentre of the riot, ASP Yong said it was a "tactical retreat" to regroup.

"It is my duty here to clarify that it is not an act of cowardice, but to get from one place to another in a quicker time," said ASP Yong.