1,000 more cops needed to boost force: Police chief

Goal is to raise additional tactical unit, have more patrols in key areas

To beef up the anti-riot capability of the police while keeping Singapore safe, Commissioner of Police Ng Joo Hee wants to recruit 1,000 more officers.

The police chief made this passionate plea at the end of his testimony yesterday before the Committee of Inquiry (COI) into the Dec 8 riot.

The extra manpower will let him raise an additional tactical troop specialised in tackling riots and police hot spots, and increase the number of officers who patrol the streets and neighbourhoods. It would also allow the police to train its front-line officers better.

The COI, led by retired judge G. Pannir Selvam, had over the course of the public hearing, questioned why police patrolmen were not adequately trained to deal with the unrest.

The 47-year-old - who was testifying at the COI for the first time since it was convened - said that a move to train officers to deal with the "initial moments" of a riot more effectively is now being considered. But that will involve "large and persistent investments in manpower and in training".

Already, front-line officers work a four-shift system lasting 12 hours each, leaving them with very little time for training of any sort. That is why Mr Ng feels that training these officers to fight riots under the current shift system is "quite impossible".

"If we were a football team, we would be a team that spends most of our time playing matches and very little time training," he said.

"And in my view, that is quite incredible and not a desirable situation... I think we have to rethink the system and we have to certainly get more resources if we want to do that."

A key reason for the manpower crunch in the force, added Mr Ng, is because its ranks have not kept pace with Singapore's population growth over the years.

In 1994, there were 222 officers for every 100,000 residents here. Now there are 163.

This also affects the size of anti-riot squads, better known as Police Tactical Troops (PTT) under the Special Operations Command.

The first time these specialised units were restructured was in 1983, when 12 troops of 63 men were cut to just eight troops, each with 46 men. In 2004, the number per troop was cut to 35.

As of last December, the Singapore Police Force has just under 8,800 regular officers, supported by about 3,700 full-time national servicemen and 2,000 volunteer policemen.

"If you look at cities of comparable sizes like Hong Kong, Tokyo, New York, London, you will find that they typically operate with two or three times more police officers than we do per resident in Singapore," said Mr Ng.

"So there is some truth in the common refrain that one hardly comes across police officers on the streets of Singapore. But at the same time, we are able to deliver safety from crime that is still the envy of the world."

Mr Ng told the COI that the way to "increase police robustness before the next disturbance comes around is to build up rather than to cut down on our contingency forces.

"My intention, if I have the resources, is to raise an additional PTT to be on standby at any one time. If we are able to do this, we can increase our rioting fighting capability by 50 per cent and create the ability to bring a far larger force to bear to an incident."

In addition to augmenting the PTT, Mr Ng said it is critical to project a stronger police presence in areas where there is a congregation of foreign workers and that "pose a clear and present danger to public order", aside from Little India. "Today, despite the riot in Little India, I worry more for Geylang," he said. "If Singaporeans are irked by the littering, the noise and the jaywalking in Little India, they'll certainly and quickly sense that there exists a hint of lawlessness in Geylang."

A deployment of 300 pairs of boots on the ground should bring noticeable police visibility to both locations, added Mr Ng. But efforts to maintain law and order in Geylang and Little India have "already stretched police resources to near breaking point".

"My planners tell me that police presence is defined as a police patrol passing a point once every 15 to 20 minutes... This is a useful benchmark, but one which we cannot come close to achieving in either Little India or Geylang on present levels of resourcing."

franchan@sph.com.sg

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