Little India Riot: Special Operations Command to get 300 more officers to deal with mass public disorder

SINGAPORE - Police manpower resources will be beefed up and its officers better equipped to deal with large-scale public order incidents, said Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean in parliament on Monday.

For instance, 300 more officers will be added to the Special Operations Command (SOC), doubling its current strength of deployable front-line troopers trained in riot control. "We will commence the build-up immediately, and progressively build up its capabilities over the next two to three years," said Mr Teo, who is also Home Affairs Minister.

Mr Teo was speaking on the ministry's response for the first time since a report by the Committee of Inquiry (COI) into the Dec 8 riot in Little India, was released last week. He added that Police Tactical Troops from the SOC, which are on round-the-clock stand-by duty will increase from eight to 12. The additional troops will be "configured for rapid deployment on lighter and more mobile platforms".

The number of officers in each troop will also be raised from 35 to 44, and the officers will be provided with "additional equipment to improve their sense-making and operational capabilities", enabling each to deal more effectively with a wider range of situations and crowd size.

As for overall police manpower, more than 1,000 new positions to support new initiatives such as frontline Community Policing, Safer Roads and investigations have been added to the force between 2008 and this year, said Mr Teo. "More than 97 per cent of these additional posts have been filled," he said. "Overall, police has increased its headcount by about 15 per cent over the past 10 years from about 9,000 to about 10,300 officers... the police will continue to review its structures and processes so that officers can be more effectively and productively deployed to where they are most needed."

To continue to attract and retain good officers, however, the police has enhanced its employment terms and provided more upgrading and education opportunities for inservice officers. The force has also raised the retirement age of uniformed officers from 50 to 55, and re-employed more retired officers.

More civilian officers have also been recruited to take on specialised roles, for example in forensics and cyber-crime, to complement uniformed officers. "However, there are natural limits to how much further we can grow the force without compromising standards. Indeed, the COI has recognised this and made the observation that quality rather than just quantity should be the major consideration in augmenting our force of fully fledged police officers," he added.

Besides increasing manpower, police has also been using improved deployment strategies and invested in technology as a "force multiplier" said the minister. For example, more than 18,000 police cameras that have been installed at 3,300 HDB void decks and multi-storey car parks have been effective in deterring crime, he noted. All 10,000 HDB blocks will have such cameras by 2016.

"This combination of better operational deployments and technology have contributed significantly to keeping crime low and solving cases," said Mr Teo. "For example, the number of unlicensed money-lending harassment cases has been cut by more than 50 per cent compared to five years ago."

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