TL;DR – He’s a bit right, but also a bit wrong.
Mr Yeoh Lam Keong used to be the chief economist of GIC. He’s now an adjunct professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy (LKYSPP). He’s known to post incisive, well-articulated comments about social and economic issue on his Facebook page. This includes a response to a speech made by DPM Tharman during the last General Election.
His most recent comment, however, fell a bit off the mark.
In his post, Mr Yeoh claimed that there is inadequate community policing in Singapore. He went on to allege:
“Alienation from the police was a big reason for the cause and poor handling of the riots in little India. Alcohol is just a convenient scapegoat.”
What’s wrong about what he said
There were two things wrong with what Mr Yeoh said.
First, it was wrong for Mr Yeoh to allege that alcohol was just a “convenient scapegoat” for the Little India Riot. That was not what the Committee of Inquiry (COI) found. Paragraph 128 of the COI report stated:
“The COI does not think alcohol was a direct cause of the riot, as the accident was. However, it was a major contributory factor, among others, to the nature and escalation of the riot.”
A “major contributory factor” certainly sounds very different from “convenient scapegoat”.
Second, Mr Yeoh was wrong to claim that there is inadequate community policing in Singapore. Community policing has been the cornerstone of Singapore’s policing efforts for over thirty years. It started in 19883, when the first Neighbourhood Police Post (NPP) was set up. The NPP then evolved into the Neighbourhood Police Centre (NPCs).
Fast forward to today, where the police now has in place the Community Policing System (COPS). With the COPS, each NPC will get 2 additional units, a Crime Strike Force (CSF) and a Community Policing Unit (CPU). The CFS conducts proactive patrols and anti-crime operations to prevent, detect and fight local crime.
Working alongside the CFS are the CPU officers conduct daily foot and bicycle patrols within the neighbourhood, effectively enhancing Police presence on the ground. This has increased Police interaction with residents and businesses within the community. It strengthens their bonds with the residents to work together to ensure the safety and security of the community.
These and other measures have made Singapore one of the safest cities in the world. So it’s definitely not fair to say that there is inadequate community policing in Singapore.
What’s right about what he said
Even though some of the comments Mr Yeoh made weren’t fair, we believe that he made it with good intentions. In a comment he left on a friend’s Facebook post about SPF’s response to his comment, he actually thanked SPF for their detailed response. He said that he was glad that SPF clarified, explained, and elaborated their practices such as COPS and SGSecure.
Mr Yeoh also clarified that he was commenting as a concerned citizen. He said:
“I just worry as a concerned citizen and economist that it may be inadequately resourced to keep up this excellent work in the future, especially in our large and rapidly growing population and foreign worker communities… I hope the SPF does not read my comments as having any more intention than just giving my personal views on how to keep Singapore as safe as possible for all citizens”
Most importantly, Mr Yeoh recognised that it was alright to disagree, but both sides need to be civil and work together. To that end, he said this:
“Another good point in our exchange i realise is that a certain level of civility is needed on both sides for constructive public discussion and debate. This will contribute much to community and police mutual partnership and cooperation which I would always be happy to participate in. In this spirit, I apologize if i had sounded unnecessarily strident and hope we continue to regard each other as partners in helping to improve our society together.”
It’s good that people care enough to criticise
Even though Mr Yeoh’s comment about the community are alienated from the police was wrong, there’s nothing wrong with his point about the police need to be better resource. Then Commissioner of Police Ng Joo Hee said so himself during the COI of the Little India Riots.
And it’s good that we have people like Mr Yeoh who are willing to raise balanced, well-reasoned criticisms. At least that shows that he cares. And we really need more people like that. People who have different perspectives, courage to disagree, yet willingness to work in close partnership with the government.
Let’s hope we have more Yeoh Lam Keong’s.