Step up safety in Geylang, say MPs, grassroots leaders

Police Tactical Unit officers on patrol at Geylang Road at 2am on March 29, 2014. -- ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE
Police Tactical Unit officers on patrol at Geylang Road at 2am on March 29, 2014. -- ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

Fewer alcohol licences, stricter operating hours for businesses among measures suggested

Geylang Members of Parliament and grassroots leaders want more done to keep the area safe, and say the measures should go beyond ramping up police patrols.

Moulmein-Kallang GRC MP Edwin Tong wants fewer alcohol licences issued, stricter operating hours for businesses near residential estates, and a stop to foreign worker dormitories sprouting near Housing Board flats.

Associate Professor Fatimah Lateef, MP for Marine Parade GRC, who has overseen a series of measures such as lighting up dark alleys, believes a comprehensive review is needed.

Geylang has come under fresh focus after Police Commissioner Ng Joo Hee said last Tuesday that he was more worried about the area than Little India, where a riot involving foreign workers took place last December.

Testifying at the Committee of Inquiry into the Little India riot, he said crime rates in Geylang were disproportionately high and hostility towards the police rife.

Mr Tong told The Sunday Times that the red-light district, with its many bars and lounges, peddlers selling contraband cigarettes and drugs, as well as shops and vendors which stay open late into the night make Geylang more of a potential trouble spot than Little India and increase the risk of violent crime.

"It is difficult for grassroots-dri-ven initiatives to address these problems," he said. As the people who descend on Geylang do not live there or are foreign workers, mostly from China, "the police have to step up", he added.

He also highlighted the predicament of those living in Blocks 38 and 39 Upper Boon Keng Road, off Lorong 3 Geylang. The HDB flats are beside a row of terraced houses which have been converted into dormitories for workers from South Asian countries.

Many of the workers drink alcohol at the void decks of the blocks late into the night and some urinate at the playgrounds. Mr Tong said the problems have not been solved despite his asking police to increase their patrols.

He said: "I think the solution is to stop the houses from being used as dorms. They are just too near the HDB flats."

Grassroots leader Lee Hong Ping, 45, who labelled Geylang "Little Chinatown", said crowds of foreign workers from China can cause traffic jams when too many of them gather on the pavements and spill onto the roads. Residents have also complained about not feeling safe at night.

Prof Fatimah said she has filed a question on security in the area for next month's Parliament sitting. In the meantime, "we will continue to engage the authorities".