The first senior police officer at the scene of the fatal accident in Little India told the Committee of Inquiry on Tuesday that the police was "grossly outnumbered" against an increasingly boisterous crowd that was about 200-strong.
Assistant Superintendent of Police Jonathan Tang said at the public hearing that he arrived at the scene at about 9.40pm with another officer. He explained that he did not immediately make any arrests as his main mission then was to form a human barrier.
The human barrier formed by him and five other officers was to give rescuers the space and time to extricate the body of the accident victim and to ensure the safety of the occupants of the bus that seemed to be the focus of the rioters. This even as the officers and bus were being pelted with stones, glass bottles and other objects by the mob.
"We would deal with them later... It's not that we didn't want to deal with these fellows," said ASP Tang, 28, referring to the men in the crowd who were "active rioters". "But to deal with them meant splitting my manpower and I had judged that my main mission was to help (the Singapore Civil Defence Force rescuers) extricate the body.
The officer from Kampong Java Neighbourhood Police Centre said that rioters were "harassing" the SCDF officers who were trying to extricate the body of a foreign worker who was pinned under a bus that ran him over along Race Course Road earlier.
"If there was no human barrier, there would not have been any extrication and the body would have still been there and the crowd would have gotten to the body and who knows what would happen next," said ASP Tang.
He also told the committee that while he did consider firing a warning shot with his service revolver as doing so would only agitate the crowd, which had grown to about 400. A warning shot would also remind rioters that his men were armed and the officers might be overrun and have their weapons seized by the rioters.