Alfian Sa’at Says Singapore Police Force Is Childish
The Singapore Police Force (SPF) hasn’t been having it easy of late. Unnecessary police reports over trivial matters aren’t the only things troubling the police these days — online criticism has also been thrown their way.
When former Government of Singapore Investment Corporation chief economist Lam Keong Yeoh criticised the SPF in a Facebook post over its handling of the 2013 Little India riots, the SPF felt inclined to rebut him.
But this has only added fuel to the fire, with Singapore playwright Alfian Sa’at intervening and giving his two cents’ worth — labelling the SPF’s reply to Mr Yeoh’s opinions as “childish and unbecoming”.
Inadequate Community Policing?
It all began on Monday (June 5) when Mr Yeoh shared an article on his Facebook page from British newspaper The Independent .
The article blamed British Prime Minister Theresa May for reducing the number of police officers on the streets, thus making the country more susceptible to attacks — as seen in the recent London and Manchester terror attacks.
And Mr Yeoh echoed these views — citing the 2013 Little India riots as a prime example of how Singapore has followed in the footsteps of the UK, resulting in “inadequate community policing” in Singapore.
He believes that the alienation from the police, and not alcohol, was the main reason behind the riots.
According to him, community policing is of utmost importance to our national security and he quoted The Independent to reiterate his point:
Police officers embedded in the community, there to help, there to listen, there to understand the community they serve. It is in the community where the best intelligence is learnt and gathered, from the people who notice a change in behaviour of their friends and neighbours, allowing early intervention and monitoring.
SPF Fires Back
Mr Yeoh’s damning criticism didn’t sit too well with the SPF, and they surprisingly fired back at Mr Yeoh in a lengthy post.
They claimed Mr Yeoh’s accusations were inaccurate and merely highlighted his ignorance of their community policing efforts and the actual developments of the riot.
They also cited evidence by the Committee of Inquiry (COI), which stated that although the riot was sparked by a fatal road traffic accident, alcohol played a major part in escalating things.
They maintained their stance that community-based policing has always been a priority for them and cited the various schemes implemented over the years to meet the community’s needs and ensure safety; such as the Community Policing System in 2012 and SGSecure movement in 2016, which includes a mobile application to report suspicious activities.
The SPF also said they have been conducting daily house visits, and the frequent engagement with locals in the neighbourhood had helped to foster a better understanding of the situation on the ground — debunking Mr Yeoh’s idea that there is a lack of community policing intelligence in Singapore.
They took pride in the fact that Singapore is one of the safest countries in the world, with over 90% of Singaporeans displaying confidence that the SPF are well equipped to handle any adverse situations.
Ending off their tirade, they bemoaned the fact that Mr Yeoh’s ignorance may, in turn, misinform others.
They then cheekily suggested he try his hand out at community policing to get a better idea of the job of a policeman.
Alfian Sa’at Steps In
Singaporean playwright Alfian Sa’at, who is usually quite vocal over social media, caught wind of the drama and decided to join in the fun.
He questioned whether the auxiliary police officers stationed in Little India had enough training in handling such migrant workers, due to the language barrier, and mentioned that miscommunication or haughty behaviour by the police could have led to the alleged alienation.
Mr Alfian also reminded the police that they shouldn’t just focus on the Singaporean community, but look towards understanding the foreigners better, especially for officers whose job is to police them.
Then he couldn’t resist ending off with snarky remarks, firstly implying that the SPF was being defensive, and saying that people should understand where a commentator is coming from.
He also told the SPF that it was unbecoming and childish of them to suggest that one should join the police before criticising its practices.
Defending The Police
The SPF has not responded to Mr Alfian’s comments, but a netizen valiantly tried to defend the force.
He claimed that Mr Alfian, like Mr Yeoh, is simply a keyboard warrior and that the questions he posed weren’t critical due to his lack of knowledge as to the context of the issue.
We think it’s interesting that people like Mr Poon think that one has to be involved in the issue before they can criticise. After all, many of our politicians have little or no experience in a particular line before heading a ministry; for example, Minister for Health Gan Kim Yong is not a doctor, Minister for Education Ong Ye Kung was never a teacher and Minister for Transport Khaw Boon Wan was never a bus driver or train driver.
Yet these ministers presumably have the right to criticise health workers, teachers or bus drivers respectively when things go wrong. So why can’t Singapore citizens criticise the police force even though we may not have done the job ourselves?
Mr Yeoh took to Facebook again on Wednesday (June 7) regarding this saga, providing more statistics and information to back up his arguments.
He quoted former Commissioner of Police Ng Joo Hee, who sought another 1,000 more police officers, reported Today in a 2014 article.
Geylang and Little India already stretched police resources to near breaking point. To keep up this tempo week after week, month after month, year after year, is ultimately unsustainable.
He also said that there was one police officer for every 614 people in Singapore — a figure that pales in comparison to other big cities like Hong Kong.
The fact is that unless we can find a new way of policing, especially when dealing with large congregation and mass crowds, that does not require the brute force of numbers, any increase in police presence without a corresponding increase in headcount cannot be sustained for long and will always be at the expense of reduced presence somewhere else.
The concerns pointed out by both Mr Yeoh and Mr Alfian make sense, and while the SPF may have sounded overly defensive, they too provided evidence to prove that community-based policing is not being neglected here.
Hopefully with such constructive debates, both sides will be able to better understand each other’s concerns and predicaments — as long as it doesn’t devolve into personal attacks.
Perhaps more can be done to attract and encourage Singaporeans to serve in the SPF as the shortage of bodies seems to be the crux of the issue.