“No enough”
  It takes a major riot for police to admit they do not have enough men because of the rapid population expansion.
Apr 6, 2014  

(Synopsis: First it was public housing and transport, then doctors and healthcare, now we’re 1,000 policemen short.)

SOME eight years ago, a young doctor who was having supper at a Geylang hawker stall was set upon by six to eight thugs.

Accusing him of staring, they assaulted him in the face and abdomen, inflicting multiple facial fractures and damaging a facial nerve.

In a three-hour operation, doctors inserted two metal plates around one of his eyes. For his sister, the bigger shock was to come.

When police arrived they declined to arrest the assailants, even though she provided them with two of the motorcycle numbers her brother had taken down.

She was told it was a civil case and she had to report to the Magistrates’ Court and let it decide if any action was to be taken.

It was only 10 days later, after a public furore erupted, that they agreed to reclassify the case and go after the assailants.

Since this high profile 2006 case, there have been a series of others in which police regarded public beatings by a stranger as a civil case, unless:

** The victim is a political leader, an MP, or a civil servant, or

** The attacker uses a dangerous weapon or the victim is grievously injured.

Many Singaporeans were shocked and angry, questioning the role of the Men in Blue in protecting citizens.

Commentator Alice Cheong wrote “What is the world coming to? You mean we can get away with assaulting a stranger in Singapore? I thought Singapore is a safe place that one can walk the street after night fall.”

That – and fewer patrolling policemen – led some Singaporeans to believe that the police are too short-handed to deal with the expanded population.

Another indication came in 2007 when a law was passed that allows the military to conduct civilian security operations.

This includes the power to search, detain and use force against suspects.

Last week the Commissioner of Police Ng Joo Hee admitted what people had long suspected.

His message at the official inquiry into the Little India riot was that security-conscious Singapore is seriously short of policemen because of the rise in population.

In 1994, there were 222 officers for every 100,000 residents here. Now there are 163. He wanted 1,000 more officers.

“Cities of comparable sizes like Hong Kong, Tokyo, New York, London, operate with two or three times more officers than Singapore does per resident,” he said.

This is the latest complaint of shortage due to rapid immigration –next to public housing and transport, healthcare and university places.

The police have not connected the shortage to making a victim of a non-grievous assault lodge a Magistrate’s complaint.

“It’s to discourage indiscriminate use of process for mischievous or malicious complaints, which would otherwise result in harassment of the defendant, wasting public time and resources,” said a spokesman.

This shortage – like insufficient public housing, healthcare and others – has serious consequences. It deals with internal security, something Singapore is serious about.

The huge immigration – although recently reduced – is leading to a rise in friction between groups of foreigners and between Singaporeans and migrant workers.

At the same time, the economy is trying hard to attract foreign wealth and talent.

All this requires a greater presence of police officers on the ground.

A major concern is that if investors lose faith in their ability to crack down on violence and lawlessness, they may go elsewhere.

This is particularly the case if they feel their families are now inadequately protected when trouble breaks out.

The riot in Little India, the biggest in 40 years, has already raised speculation whether more may be in store.

Last month a dormitory of 50 Indian and Bangladeshi clashed with sticks over a live TV cricket match between Bangladesh and West Indies (Indian-supported).

During the Inquiry, the Police Commissioner warned that his bigger worry is Geylang where thousands of foreign prostitutes ply their service.

“Geylang is a potential powder keg ... There is an overt hostility and antagonism towards the police,” he said.

The reluctance to record some categories of violent crimes has prompted cynics to ask whether it has kept crime figures lower than in real life.

There is an added controversy when police are ready to arrest four public peaceful protesters – but not someone who beat up a member of the public.

“Do they regard violent crime as less important than political activism,” asked an opposition member.

This may embolden thugs to become more active, knowing as long as they don’t inflict serious injuries on someone, the police will not act.

It may also encourage the setting up of civilian vigilante groups for defence.

To Singaporeans, the danger of police shortage is less worrisome than police inaction against public attackers, where injuries are not serious.

“Asking a victim to sue his attacker in a civil court is the height of folly,” said a law student.

Several years ago a migrant from Hong Kong, who had served 18 years as a police officer and two years as a lawyer in the former British colony, wrote: -

“I enjoy the quality of life here, which includes excellent law and order. But I am amazed by the state of law in this area.”

“In Hong Kong the slightest injury as a result of personal violence is Common Assault and is actionable either by civil or criminal procedures,” he added.

The vice and gambling dens of Geylang will make way for a new city of up-market condos – but in 20 years’ time.

  (This article was first published in The Star)

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