Geylang is the ‘potential powder keg’ waiting to explode

SINGAPORE — While concerns about public order have been focused on Little India after it saw Singapore’s first riot in more than four decades last year, the police are more worried about Geylang because “all the indicators for potential trouble are there”, Commissioner of Police Ng Joo Hee told the Committee of Inquiry yesterday.

He brought this up while explaining that the riot on Dec 8 came as a surprise to the authorities, unlike the situation in Geylang, to which they have been paying close attention.

“If Singaporeans are irked by the littering, noise and jaywalking in Little India, they will certainly and quickly sense that there exists a hint of ‘lawlessness’ within the streets of Geylang,” said Commissioner Ng.

“Geylang presents a complex and complicated social ecosystem, tinged with a definite criminal undertone. This is in stark contrast to Little India, untidy though it may be.”

Police estimates show that about 100,000 people who are non-residents visit Little India on a typical weekend, creating “significant congestion” and social nuisances.

However, Commissioner Ng called Geylang a “hot spot” for crimes such as illegal gambling and drug dealing, and where “unsavoury characters of all persuasion are fond of congregating”. Most worryingly, there is overt hostility and antagonism towards police presence there, he added.

He related how crowds of hooligans have obstructed officers from carrying out their duties. An officer was beaten up recently while trying to detain a gambling stall operator. On another occasion, a police car was vandalised and its windscreen smashed.

Said Commissioner Ng: “Unlike Little India, all the indicators for potential trouble are there in Geylang.” Crime rates have improved, but still remain worryingly high, he said, despite the police deploying disproportionately large amounts of resources there.

Last year, Police Tactical Troops were sent to Geylang for anti-crime patrols 41 times, compared with 16 times in Little India.

“By describing in some detail our policing effort in Geylang, I want to make a simple but significant point. There is nowhere else in Singapore which is policed more intensely as the 20-odd lorongs on either side of Geylang Road,” said Commissioner Ng. “We do this because there are clear indicators — intelligence, if you like — that the Geylang area, in contrast to Little India, is a potential powder keg.”

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