Little India Riot COI: Heated exchange between committee and ground commander

Police at the scene of the riot on Dec 8, 2013.  -- ST FILE PHOTO: MARK CHEONG
Police at the scene of the riot on Dec 8, 2013.  -- ST FILE PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

The public inquiry into the Little India riot resumed on Tuesday on a cordial note, with chairman G Pannir Selvam telling Tanglin Police Division commander Lu Yeow Lim that the purpose of the committee of inquiry (COI) was to investigate the incident, and not "in the purpose of dispiriting anybody".

The hearing, however, quickly took a hostile turn, with a heated exchange between former commissioner of police Tee Tua Ba and the ground commander that night over several issues, particularly over whether or not the police were standing by and "did nothing...by holding the line" while the rioters ravaged Little India on Dec 8 last year.

This even though Mr Tee said that the Deputy Assistant Commissioner of Police (DAC) had "more than hundred men" at his disposal.

DAC Lu, however, clarified that police officers were scattered at various points along Race Course Road, in a theatre of operations "the size of three football fields", and with there were only eight officers with him in his immediate area of operations. This does not include himself and two other senior officers.

Jammed airwaves also hampered his ability to communicate with other pockets of officers, and the combined operations room (COR), while his line-of-sight was blocked by the mob and the accident scene.

He added that the numbers that Mr Tee were referring to was based on GPS data of police vehicles and extrapolated by the COI investigators to determine the manpower on the ground.

That, however, is not an accurate reflection of the number of men that were on the ground that night - several were injured and about 30 were directing traffic, with only 47 officers actively engaging the rioters.

"Based on GPS data I had over 100 men (but) the size of the operations were three football fields...this is how big the area of operations was," said DAC Lu. "This is not like two armies facing off, it was almost like an insurgency. Every decision you make, there is a trade-off. You think standing there, doing nothing doesn't come without risks? I think it was a huge risk trying to hold my position that night."

DAC Lu, who met with two sections of rioters when he arrived at the scene, explained that the force doctrine of the police was to "hold your ground until you have amassed sufficient force".

He added that he made the decision based on the fact that he had not enough manpower at the time he arrived to make any arrests and effectively detain any of the rioters.

The heated exchange between DAC Lu and Mr Tee continued for more than an hour, until they were interrupted by the court transcriber, who could no longer keep an accurate record of the proceedings due to the crosstalk. This prompted Senior State Counsel David Khoo to request for a short recess.