Saturday, November 13, 2010

iTODAY: Taking a tough stance on gang activity

From iTODAY:Taking a tough stance on gang activity

Zulkifli Bin Othman | Nov 13, 2010 6:00

Law and Home Affairs Minister Shanmugam warns those involved will face very serious consequences

SINGAPORE - Revenge, not a staring incident, was the probable motive behind the Downtown East slashing which claimed the life of a polytechnic student. And both groups involved were heading for a showdown.

In the two cases of armed rioting at Bukit Panjang, there was a getaway vehicle ready for the assailants. So far, 13 knives have been recovered and 15 suspects - including the Thursday arrests of three more males, aged between 19 and 49 - have been nabbed in connection with the attacks that left a 20-year-old man seriously wounded.

With a clearer picture of the youth involved emerging from ongoing investigations - and after 40 suspected gang members were picked up in an islandwide blitz - the police are now looking into using one of the most powerful laws in its books for a new crop of gangsters.

The Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act, which allows for detention without trial and was enacted in 1955 to deal with secret society members, drug traffickers and organised crime syndicates, could well be used against today's teenage thugs.

Mainly "street corner" gangs was how the Criminal Investigation Department's Secret Society Branch head Davin Ng described them: Youth who adopt the names of traditional gangs to gain recognition from their peers, spoiling for violence over trivial matters or traditional rivalries they know little of.

Many of their members come from dysfunctional or broken families and hang out mostly at places such as game arcades and heartland malls.

Home Affairs and Law Minister K Shanmugam has a message for them: The police are taking "a firm stance" against gang activity and those involved "will face very serious consequences".

In his first comments on the attacks, which have sparked rising concern and calls for stronger police action, he said: "The concern is understandable because these are not random acts. They were senseless violence. They were revenge attacks ... We accept that we have to deal with this concern effectively.

"Rest assured, if a gang is operational and is likely to cause trouble we will move in," said the Minister, who took over the Home Affairs portfolio on Nov 1.

Despite this, the crime situation remains "stable", he added.

In an update at a press conference, police said the number of youth arrested for overall crime has gone down by 9 per cent to 2,086 in the first six months of this year, compared to the same period last year.

These offenders, who range in age from seven to 19 years old, accounted for 24 per cent of all offenders arrested for overall crime in the first six months of this year.

However, the number of youth arrested for rioting in the first six months has gone up to 278, compared to the 263 arrested in the same period last year.

What is clear, said Mr Shanmugam, is that both attacks were neither racially motivated nor "completely random".

In the case of the Oct 30 fracas, 19-year-old Darren Ng was chased and then slashed by chopper-wielding youth in front of passers-by at Downtown East. He died five hours later in hospital.

Five alleged attackers - Tang Jia Min, 21; Ho Wui Ming, 20; Chen Wei Zhen, 19; and Edward Tay Wei Loong, 18 and Louis Tong Qing Yao, 16 - have been charged with murder.

Nineteen youth who turned up in court to support Tong also ended up being arrested on Wednesday for suspected secret society activities.

As for the Bukit Panjang attacks, Mr Shanmugam said investigations have revealed that revenge could also be a motive.

In the meantime, the police are also using preventive and proactive strategies to deal with street gangs, including giving talks to secondary school students and other rehabilitative programmes.

Mr Shanmugam added that Minister of State (Home Affairs) Masagos Zulkifli, who chairs the National Committee on Youth Guidance and Rehabilitation, will soon be giving details on the pro-active measures to manage youth crime.

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