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Speech by Commissioner of Police (English only)


The following speech is delivered by the Commissioner of Police, Mr Tsang Yam-pui, at Asian Securitex 2002 Conference today (June 12):

Ladies and gentlemen good morning. It is a real honour for me to address the Asian Securitex 2002 Conference today. Before I start my talk, I would like to congratulate the conference organisers for securing the attendance of such an impressive line-up of security professionals and other prominent speakers to address this forum over the next two days. The speakers' own areas of expertise, together with their personal standing in their own fields will, I am sure, provide genuine authority to the very important topics to be discussed. I am also very impressed by the range of issues on the conference agenda. These issues are, in themselves, particularly relevant at this time, highlighting significant implications not only for the private security industry, but for all sectors of society.

We shall, for example, hear later today from a speaker who will discuss the changing role of corporate security in the wake of the September 11 tragedy. There can be no sector of any community, in any part of the world, that has not been affected by the terrorist attacks in the U.S. last September, or by their aftermath over the course of the past nine months.

Thankfully, on this issue, for us here in Hong Kong there is, so far no evidence of any direct threat to the security of the SAR. However, we are keenly aware that an absence of any specific threat can never preclude the fact that one may exist. Therefore, we in the Hong Kong Police, like organisations in the commercial sector, including the private security industry, have been required to urgently evaluate, and reassess our thinking in terms of overall security measures and contingencies. Those of us with responsibilities for security in any form know only too well the work and commitment this response has entailed.

I also note that during the course of tomorrow's proceedings the conference will hear from two experts on the issue of Biometric applications to the security industry. To the layman such technology represents futuristic concepts verging on the realms of science fiction. It means that what we have seen in movies like the latest 'Star Wars' epic, we can in a way now see, in reality. There is much hope that futuristic biometric technology will revolutionize the way we approach security in many fields. From a policing perspective this technology presents possibilities for all manner of crime prevention and detection strategies. In other parts of the world technologies of this kind are already being linked to data basis of known criminals for use as an anti-crime tool. Similarly vehicle registration recognition technology presents a whole new dimension to strategies for combating vehicular crime. Closer to home, and within our own Police stations such technology presents a host of options for general station security, or even Police custodial management. Certainly the possibilities in this field are very exciting.

Of great interest to the Hong Kong Police Force is also tomorrow morning's talk by the Privacy Commissioner, Raymond Tang. He will discuss the case for striking the right balance between the public's right to privacy, and their requirement for security.

Certainly the public concern over use of CCTVs as a crime prevention and detection tool in the SAR's public areas, falls very much within this domain. I am sure the Privacy Commissioner's insight into this topic will be most illuminating.

I note that my address today will be followed by what promises to be a very stimulating talk, entitled 'Public Policing versus Private Security'. And although I have no intention of entering into discussion over the core issues of this subject, I would like today to focus my talk on how the relationship between public policing and private security has developed and is now operating here in Hong Kong.

A great deal of academic research exists on this very subject. As the title Public Policing versus Private Security may suggest, this relationship has not always been the most harmonious in some countries. In many individual legal jurisdictions, problems between the two professions have, and continue to raise considerable concern. In most countries the provision of policing services has traditionally been the exclusive responsibility of the state. In recent years however a good number of jurisdictions have evolved to an extent where elements of the overall policing remit have been taken up by private security organisations. On the one hand public budgets have been scaled back leading to a depletion of public policing coverage, on the other hand demand for additional security products and services has grown. As a result, many of the previous core functions of the police in many overseas countries have been supplemented or even taken over by the private sector. Whilst these developments have fulfilled an obvious demand in these jurisdictions, they have also led to the problem of inter-agency rivalry and, sometimes, led to confusion over where boundaries for different responsibilities lie. In Hong Kong however I am pleased to note that a close and clearly defined relationship exists between public and private security interests. Hong Kong continues to enjoy the services of a well funded and well trained police force which secures the legal, political and community support for providing the full range of core policing functions. Through this, clear delineation of our own Police responsibilities and those for private security have been straight forward.

The world of private security has of course also had a very important role in providing protection to the people of Hong Kong. With the rapid growth in Hong Kong, throughout the 1980's and early 1990's, in the number and range of private security companies, the need for firm regulatory measures, designed to promote and encourage higher standards in the industry, was recognized. Achievements made on this front were also identified as being vital to us in the Hong Kong Police. Improved standards in private security can in many respects greatly assist the police force in the fight against crime.

From the outset therefore the Hong Kong Police has adopted a proactive approach towards assisting the security industry to improve and raise professional standards within its ranks. At the forefront of this philosophy has been the Hong Kong Police Crime Prevention Bureau, or CPB; a unit which will be known to many of you here today.

On behalf of the Force, CPB has played a prominent role in the development of the security industry in recent years. This has been of fundamental importance as the industry has not only grown in size but has moved into new and more challenging areas of protection work.

In early 1995 there were a total of 117 000 registered 'watchmen', as they were then called. At that time, the Government, as well as the security industry itself realised that there was a need to introduce a more effective licensing scheme to regulate private security in Hong Kong. The Force played a major role, working in partnership with the industry to shape and determine the legislation necessary to achieve this. The result of this co-operation was the replacement of the old 'Watchman's Ordinance' with the enactment, in 1996, of the Security and Guarding Services Ordinance. This legislation has not only laid down statutory guidelines for security work, but also established a statutory authority to consider and determine applications for licenses by security companies.

The Police Force has a major role to play in this set-up, which presently administers 190 000 security permit holders, of which an estimated 100 000 are actively employed in the field at any one time. Under conditions laid down by the Ordinance the Force is responsible for not only conducting background checks on applicant security companies, but also carrying out thorough and detailed physical inspections of these applicants. We in turn subsequently report to the Security and Guarding Services Authority on whether a company and the quality of the services it will provide is 'fit and proper' for a license.

As an organisation we appreciate that if we merely provide assessments on applicants, we would not be doing enough. Therefore it was our objective to help the private security industry to establish and even raise their standards. We also took on the responsibility of assisting security service applicants to achieve the standards required. This will be the case whether the 'security work' a company intends to provide involves the provision of security guarding services, provision of armored transportation services, or the installation and maintenance of security devices or systems.

To this end, the CPB offers to all new security service applicants a half day briefing on the standards they are expected to achieve, as well as what CPB would look for in its inspection of the company. Armed with this knowledge and guidance, applicants can prepare themselves accordingly.

The CPB also gives professional advice to new or existing service providers who are looking to introduce fresh products or services to the market. Information relating to legal constraints, what potential markets exist, or which Government Departments need to be addressed in terms of providing a particular product or service, can all be provided by the Bureau. The Bureau also advises on the range of 'pitfalls' which may hinder service and product providers.

I am very pleased to say that the co-operation we provide to the industry has been met in kind from private security companies themselves, and evidence of a solid working relationship exists. Nowhere has this been more clearly seen perhaps than with the universal problem of false alarms.

As many in the audience today will be able to testify, the sounding of false alarms from security devices has been a long-standing problem. This leads to general nuisance and more importantly, a significant drain on manpower resources to respond to these alarms. Different Police Forces, and the jurisdictions in which they operate, have formulated different policies to address this problem. The introduction of financial penalties, implementation of phased police response, or the transfer of policing the problem entirely to the private sector, have been some of the initiatives adopted to address this concern.

In Hong Kong the problem was a serious one with an average of approximately 50 000 false alarms being recorded annually during the years 1993-1997. As an organisation we in the Hong Kong Police remain committed to responding to alarms ourselves. We have never advocated turning this responsibility over to any private patrol or security company. However by the end of the 1990's we were finding this to be placing too heavy a drain on our manpower resources. Therefore, by working closely with the industry through the Hong Kong Security Association, a 'Code of Practice' was established in April 1999 aimed at filtering out false alarm calls before reports were passed on to Police. This code of practice has proved invaluable in highlighting problem areas and reasons for false alarms. As a result, we have seen a steady decline in the number of false alarms recorded since 1997. Indeed the statistics for 2001 reveal a dramatic 33% decrease over the figures for 1997. This achievement is made all the more impressive by the fact that the number of registered alarm systems has grown by 9% in the same period. This is therefore an outstanding example of Police-industry co-operation.

Ultimately the Hong Kong Police and the private security industry share many of the same goals. Our Police Force Ordinance entrusts us with the duty to protect and preserve life and property; which is also a central theme for any company in the security industry.

As I stated earlier, it is in the interests of the Hong Kong

Police that the local security industry adopts and practices the highest standards of integrity, efficiency and effectiveness that can be attained. As a public organisation we are committed to assisting the industry to achieve this, and with an active workforce of over three times that of the Police Force itself, the industry has a major support role to play in the fight against crime.

We do however appreciate that the industry, like the Force, is changing, and both the police and private security have come a long way in recent years in terms of the quality of service we provide. Similarly we have both gone through our ups and downs. The terrible loss of one of my constables who was shot by a ruthless killer last year, was tragically reflected in the industry's loss of a security guard in an equally violent attack. Whilst mourning the loss of these two men, we recognise the dangers associated with our respective areas of work, as well as the need to be as well trained and professional as we can.

Similarly we have shared in successes such as the capture of armed robbers from a Tsuen Wan 'cash in transit' robbery last year in which a security guard played a most courageous role. On top of this we have seen an overall and continuing decline in the number of burglaries seen across the HKSAR. This phenomenon can, in no small part, be attributed to the efforts and professionalism shown by members of the industry.

As is the case for us in the Force, today's achievements by the industry are only important today, and private security like the Force must move forward to improve their service even further.

In this vein I note that the Security and Guarding Services Authority has recently endorsed the introduction of a trade test for the industry by the Vocational Training Council Security Services Training Board. This is yet another initiative geared at promoting greater professionalism to the services within your service. I applaud this initiative. In conjunction with this, the Vocational Training Council has also designed, enhanced training programmes for the security industry. I am given to understand that a number of security companies have already applied for these training programmes. All this bodes well for the future.

In closing therefore I would like to congratulate the industry on the advances it has made. As Commissioner of the Hong Kong Police Force, the organisation primarily responsible for safety and stability in the Hong Kong SAR, I am pleased to say that the private security industry plays a vital role in the overall effort towards keeping Hong Kong as one of the safest cities in the world. I would therefore like to thank the industry for what it has done for Hong Kong and long may your good work continue.

Thank you very much.

Police Report No. 5

Issued by PPRB

End/1235 hours, Wednesday, June 12, 2002 (NR)


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