HK Police careers in tatters
Updated: Jun 25, 2020
In Hong Kong (HK) a career in the Police force is no longer as admirable as it once used to be. The HK Police Force (HKPF) have been turned in to scapegoats for a regime that governs by illegitimate means, egged on by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) that is determined to increase its control of the Special Administrative Region (SAR). The Police are mere pawns, disposable chips, in a much larger political game of detente.
Throughout the civil unrest in HK beginning in 2019, Carrie Lam has been urged to find a political solution to end the crisis, to overcome the stalemate between the government and its pro-Beijing lawmakers on the one side, and the pro-democracy lawmakers and the anti-government protesters on the other.
The protesters' five demands could not have been made any clearer, yet the Chief Executive's stubborn refusal to concede in a conciliatory fashion to anything beyond the withdrawal of the proposed Extradition Bill (more formally named the Fugitive Offenders and Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Legislation (Amendment) Bill 2019) has pushed the HKPF into an unenviable role. Instead of being seen as upholders of the law who serve the public, they are increasingly seen as the notorious villains who enact rule BY law, whose mantra could be "might is right" (see our blog Lawfare not Warfare).
Instead of resolving the conflict through peaceful means, with dialogue, negotiation and compromise the HKPF has instead been granted extra funding for more overtime hours, more uniformed officers, and more equipment and armoured vehicles. There is no confidence that a political solution is coming any time soon.
Under intense ongoing pressure, some members of the HKPF have begun to crack. We have already seen some officers resign amidst the protests, and others have publicly expressed their disdain for the behaviour of colleagues on the force.
The latest news suggests that recruitment difficulties reflect the disdain with which the force is considered. The HKPF received the lowest satisfaction rating among all disciplinary forces, according to a survey conducted in December, 2019. The Hong Kong Public Opinion Research Institute (PORI) interviewed 1,062 people by phone between November 21 and 26, 2019. The HKPF received 35.3 marks out of 100, with 40 per cent of the respondents giving zero marks. This research by PORI was conducted after six months of large-scale protests in the SAR.
Sure, sometimes angry and vengeful protesters have made life tough for the Police (see our blog Not without reason) with things like doxxing, and shining bright lights in officer's faces. But, let's not get into a discussion of tit for tat here. Without a proper commission of inquiry to investigate the rights and wrongs of these weeks of protest and police action, it would be unfair and pointless to begin the task with a few more paragraphs here.
At any rate, so far the CE has been adamant, that The Complaints Against Police Office (CAPO) and the Independent Police Complaints Council (IPCC) are sufficient, and honest, and entirely up to doing whatever investigation is necessary. For the CE and the HKPF it doesn't matter that hardly anyone else agrees (see our blog, Evolution of a Police Inquiry). International bodies have widely condemned HKPF behaviour, though the criticism has been ineffective in stemming the brutality of aggressive tactics used by the force.
An IPCC report that has never been officially released following an investigation by the Police watchdog into the conduct of the city's officers throughout recent unrest has revealed "many shortcomings", the HK Economic Journal reported. The 300-page IPCC report noted a failure to separate peaceful demonstrators from violent protesters. The Journal reported on 13 January 2020, citing unidentified informants. The probe also determined there was a lack of communication among frontline Police commanders during protests and insufficient "cease-fire" guidelines when using tear gas, the report said.
In the last few months we have seen a few more unsavoury incidents that are further proof that there are deep issues and persistent problems within the HKPF. And, as we head in to May, with renewed protest action and a relaxation of the government's social distancing rules there have been some other significant incidents that do not reflect well on the Police force:
1. 27 March, 2020, a woman Police Officer refused to wear a mask while being treated in hospital, requiring medical staff to be put in quarantine.
2. 19 April, 2020, a female Police Officer attending an off-duty dinner with a group of 9 other colleagues in Yuen Long was attacked by a Police Sergeant when she intervened in a dispute between others. All the officers were in breach of the government's social distancing regulations. When the attending emergency unit officers arrived at the restaurant, the first group had already left the scene, abandoning the injured officer who was in need of hospital treatment.
3. 30 April, 2020, a video of domestic abuse against a six year old child by a member of the Police force went viral on social media (see below).
4. 29 April, 2020, two journalists were arrested in Clear Water Bay while investigating a news story concerning questionable behaviour of Assistant Police Commissioner Rupert Dover.
5. 5 May, 2020, two police officers were arrested in Tuen Mun on gambling charges.
6. 7 May, 2020, a Police station sergeant and another officer were arrested after they were found to be in possession of 25kg of the drug methamphetime also known as 'ice'.
"Police say initial investigations suggest that the cases involving the two officers were linked to the biggest ever seizure of methamphetamine on record at an empty shop in Jordan.
Five arrests were made last Tuesday over a 296-kilogramme haul worth some HK$158 million.
The sergeant arrested on Thursday was believed to have been involved in last week's drugs find."
Yahoo News reported "HKPF Organised Crime and Triad Bureau Station Sergeant arrested today for possessing more than 2kg of methamphetamine."
This is SERIOUS; the fox was put in charge of the chickens! The Police have been officially OUTTED in their relationship with criminal Triads (mafia) including the CCP!
7. 8 May 2020, two more police officers arrested for their suspected involvement in a methamphetime case. RTHK reported that the four Policemen arrested related to drugs were from the same station. RTHK "Police on Friday announced that they would review the force's internal management, as it emerged that two more police officers had been arrested on suspicion of involvement in a methamphetamine case."
8. 8 May, 2020, 8 police officers who belong to the special duty team of the Sham Shui Po Police District, were arrested on suspicion of obstruction of justice and/or misconduct in public office. The arrests relate to an incident in February in which the officers who were on patrol are alleged to have assaulted homeless people staying in a park and smashed their belongings.
9. 9 May, 2020, HKPF officers attack and detain two journalists doing their reporting work as observers at a vigil.
10. 10 May, 2020, Apple Daily showed inconsistency of HKPF policing: Union members distributing free face masks and sanitary items were ticketed and fined HK$2,000 each by officers for breaching the gathering rule, while there was no Police presence at similar events hosted by pro-Beijing people. [Reddit]
11. 10 May, 2020, amidst widespread protest action on Mothers' Day in HK, two student reporters were harassed by Police and removed from the shopping mall. One of them, a boy variously reported to be either 12 or 13 years old, was called 'a child labourer' by officers on-site who mocked him for his height, according to a Facebook post by Student Depth Media. One officer, who appeared to be angry, was seen being restrained by another in media footage. The boy remained calm when challenged by the officers, and the whole fiasco has underlined the fact that HK does not have any registration or accreditation system in place for media workers. There were differing views about the apparent danger and wisdom of young people observing protests in a media role. Speaking after the incident, The HK Journalists Association Chairperson Chris Yeung spoke to media: “The two students did not breach any law. What the police did was give a bad message, that the pair had done something wrong, which is untrue,” he said. (See our blog on Declining Press Freedom)
The boy's mother publicly expressed her support for her son's work with Student Depth Media, although Police warned her it was unwise to do so and threatened that if it happened again charges could be laid against her.
12. Police say man dies after resisting arrest reported by RTHK 00.10 on Sunday 10 May 2020. The incident happened around 5 pm on Thursday and his death was around 6 pm on Friday; why did it take Police so long to release information? Police have requested a Coroner's report. Pictures at the scene shows this man appears to be a foreign national, he was arrested and restrained for 5-7 minutes with knee held at his back and neck (common practice of HK Police against protesters!). Hong Kong paramedics found suspect was not breathing and had no pulse in police vehicle, department reveals.
Photo: #SOSHK Fight for Hong Kong
These kind of incidents do not help to make being a Police Officer any easier. They bring shame to the profession. If any protester can be labelled a 'lawbreaker', a 'terrorist' or a 'traitor', or even called a 'cockroach', isn't it then fair to stereotype every Police Officer in the same way? They are ALL 'thugs', 'dogs' and 'criminals'. Under the Chief of Police, Chris Tang, isn't their some sense of collective responsibility for how they execute their duties, how the force interpret and follow standing orders, the way they uphold and enforce the law?
It's no surprise at all that finally the prospect of an HKPF internal inquiry into its management strategy was announced in a media statement:
"Police are furious and disappointed about officers suspected to have breached the law and discipline," the force said. "The incidents have impaired public confidence in the police and are very unfair to other officers who have all along dedicated to their duty."
"Police have all along attached great importance to the integrity management of police officers," the statement continued. "To avoid similar incidents, the police management is reviewing the internal management strategy of the force."
As We the People of HK have said before, a thorough independent review into all aspects of HKPF operations since June 2019 is much needed.
So, who should be believed: the CE, the HKPF, international observers and media people, or WE the people of HK? (See our blog : Who to believe)
"While public opinion surveys in October 2019 found support for the HK police force had fallen drastically, just a month later the Police chief claimed the public has full confidence in the force. Public views of the HKPF tend to be polarized. The number of crimes solved by the HKPF has hit a ten year low. Back then the HKPF were still holding their daily media briefings despite many people generally dismissing what they say as biased or outright lies and excuses that conceal the truth.
The protesters have been on the offensive, such as holding an exhibition to illustrate the Police excesses. Police retort that protesters and lawbreakers are spreading lies and misinformation, and that not speaking out against violence risks international support for the protest movement and allows it to fester.
More recently there have been a number of media reports that show how much the HKPF is struggling to find the recruits it needs to replenish its numbers.
The Straits Times reported that the HKPF is showing signs of attrition with resignations increasing and recruitment declining as the city deals with a coronavirus outbreak after months of protests. From June 2019, when the city's protests erupted against a China-backed extradition Bill, to February 2020, a total of 446 police officers quit the force, an increase of 38 per cent from a year earlier. The police recruited 766 people in the same period, down from 1,341 and far fewer than the target of more than 1,800.
One of the former Police officers, Ms Cathy Yau, spoke to The Straits Times: she left the force after the protests began and was later elected as a district councillor. She said that while the police resignations represent a small percentage of the total number of officers, they point to the potential for a "manpower problem" if the causes are not addressed. "An independent inquiry is a must," said Ms Yau. "Because of the protests, the popularity of the Police has plunged."
Another former officer of the HKPF, Canaan Wong, who was interviewed by the Los Angeles Times says the rift between the force and millions of citizens could be irreparable.
“There is far too much video evidence showing front-line police anti-riot officers using excessive force against anyone they catch,” Martin Purbrick, a former Hong Kong police inspector, wrote in an editorial for the newspaper Ming Pao. “This should have been stopped early in the conflict, but Police management either failed or were unwilling to control their officers.”
In early May 2020 it was reported that the HKPF was advertising a mentorship scheme through the Cambridge University Careers Service, targeting third-year undergraduate students. The Police Mentorship Programme Outreach (PMPO) is described as “a proactive recruitment strategy to inspire high calibre Hong Kong students … to join the Force as Inspectors”. In response many HK students attending the university found the decision to promote a Police Force recruitment programme inappropriate and several took to social media to express their frustration: “It’s hilarious that they think they can find people to serve a human-rights abusing, rule-breaking institution among a Hong Kong student body who is in general quite passionately against them”.
"Hilarious" is not my choice of word. The HKPF must be desperate. They show how desperate they are to get new recruits. They are desperate to satisfy their dented egos. They are desperate to silence dissenting views. They are desperate to show strength. They show how desperate they are to please CCP.
The fact is the HKPF have little or no credibility. The HKPF have no moral standing.
In the lead up to the September 2020 Legislative Council elections, the HKPF has a chance to act more reasonably in support of the human rights citizens of the city are promised under the Joint Declaration. Those officers who act without restraint, and who continue to bring discredit to the force must be identified and held accountable.
BELOW: Mother's Day Police action in Hong Kong (10 May 2020)
Update: 12 May 2020, HK's Police chief has acknowledged that the treatment of reporters during protests on Sunday (10 May) was “undesirable” and that officers “should have been more professional".
Update: 13 May 2020, A HK Police Officer was formally charged over theft of HK$56,000 from a wallet handed in at the city’s airport reporting centre.
Update: 26 May 2020, Lands officials find violations at Dover's houses. The Lands Department said on Tuesday it’s found assistant police commissioner Rupert Dover to have occupied government land unlawfully in Sai Kung. Officials also found illegal structures in one of his houses.
Update: 24 June 2020, Ex-police officer admits swindling three colleagues. A former police officer has been jailed for six weeks for conning three of his colleagues into lending him more than HK$55,000 to pay his mother's non-existent medical bills. A judge said former senior constable Lam Chung-man had not only abused the trust of his colleagues in the Sham Shui Po police division but also brought the police force into disrepute.
Update: 25 June 2020, Mandatory drug tests for police officers ruled out. Between 2015 and 2019, six police officers were arrested on drug offences. Three of them were convicted, two were released and one is awaiting trial.