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Speech by Commissioner of Police


Following is the speech by the Commissioner of Police, Mr Tsang Yam-pui, at the Foreign Correspondents Club on Hong Kong Police Force's role in Pearl River Delta integration today (July 31):

Ladies & Gentlemen,

Earlier this year I had the opportunity of visiting Sydney in Australia and addressing a luncheon for businessmen there. I talked on a theme of "Hong Kong - A Safe City" and whilst discussing the clear advantages of both living and conducting business in Hong Kong I also made reference to what I see as the amazing paradox which has underlined Hong Kong's development since the 1997 handover.

During that speech I suggested that whilst the past six years have witnessed Hong Kong jealously guarding its 'uniqueness', self-administration and status as a separate entity on the one hand, it has at the same time sought to claim its place as a major player within the process of integration occurring within the Pearl River Delta region.

Underpinning what appears to some people to be a contradictory relationship between Hong Kong and the Mainland we have seen the strategies employed by both private and public sector organizations in Hong Kong who continue to shift their focus in order to meet the challenges raised by the socio-economic mesh now being woven with our Mainland neighbours.

As an organization the Hong Kong Police Force is no different in this respect and indeed the effect of closer integration with the Mainland has led to a certain irony. I say this because in 1997 many forecast a dramatic deterioration in Hong Kong's crime situation as integration gained momentum. What has happened in reality since however is quite the opposite. Through force of circumstance Hong Kong Police have been required to forge increasingly close links and cooperation with our Mainland counterparts. This has enabled us to not only maintain safety and stability on our streets but also preserve Hong Kong's unique image for low crime and good public order.

In a policing context the realities of working within very diverse legal, judicial and administrative frameworks prevent the Force here or police on the Mainland from talking in terms of "integration" between us as organizations. However within the context of the cross boundary economic and social integration which is happening all around us there has been tremendous scope, as well as already tangible progress in terms of liaison, cooperation and knowledge sharing with Mainland law enforcement.

This fact was reasserted for me in early June this year when I visited the Mainland to conduct annual bilateral talks with counterparts in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou. As seen in all my previous dealings with Mainland authorities I was once again tremendously encouraged by the reception I received, as well as the wholehearted commitment revealed by Mainland Police to cooperating with us here in Hong Kong. Work on joint cross-boundary anti-crime operations have certainly received prominent press coverage in recent years and have undoubtedly been very effective in real terms. However these high profile initiatives aside, I have also been exceptionally pleased to see how far we have come in terms of developing channels for exchanging criminal intelligence, cross training, joint research programmes as well as sharing best practice.

One of the priorities for the Hong Kong Police in recent years has been to combat serious and violent crimes and in particular those which involve the use of genuine firearms. It is in this area that our close working relationship and exchange of intelligence with our Mainland counterparts has been particularly important and has resulted in our ability to restrict instances of such crime to a very satisfactory level.

The importance of our success in gun crime cannot be overstated and indeed this achievement mirrors successes in many other areas, such as drug trafficking and a variety of cross-border economic crimes.

It would be foolish for me however to attempt to say Hong Kong is without its crime problems. Of course it is not. Fluctuations in crime patterns and specific problems surface routinely. However what I wish to stress is that the overall situation within Hong Kong remains very stable.

This view I believe is borne out by the half yearly figures we released recently for the first half of 2003. We did in fact see a noticeable increase in the volume of overall crime in the first six months of the year in comparison to the same period in 2002. What is vital however is that we have continued to succeed in curbing the majority of priority, serious crimes. This is very encouraging. The number of homicides, kidnappings, rapes, indecent assaults, serious narcotics offences, missing vehicles and Triad-related crimes were all down. Particularly encouraging was the significant decrease in the number of robberies which dropped to a daily average of 8 cases, the lowest daily return recorded since 1970.

Particularly gratifying in the area of robbery has been the Force's neutralization in May and June this year of four armed robbery syndicates, with the arrest of 14 persons (including 6 illegal immigrants and 1 two-way permit holder) and the seizure of 6 genuine firearms. One of the syndicates is believed to have been responsible for 14 serious robbery cases, including a cash-in-transit robbery in Kwai Chung in March where a security guard was murdered. Again self developed, but perhaps more importantly direct intelligence exchange with the Mainland allowed us to intercept these dangerous criminals before they could fulfill their intention of committing robbery within the SAR.

But of course not everything is a success story. Two well publicized incidents involving the use of firearms in the murder of two Hong Kong residents occurred within one week in June. These quite correctly raised public concern and drew much media attention. However they remain isolated incidents and do not suggest a trend for increased use of genuine firearms for murder, and if anything these cases have served to strengthen our resolve to prevent the smuggling of firearms into HK.

In reviewing what has caused the rise seen in overall crime figures, we have discovered a significant increase in the number of minor opportunistic thefts being perpetrated. Similarly notice must be made of an increasing trend towards offences which harbour an 'anti-social behaviour' element.

In the case of thefts January to June this year recorded a 35% rise in the number of cases reported. This represented 78% of the increase seen in our overall crime figure. Minor miscellaneous thefts were by and large the primary contributory factor, whilst significant increases were also seen in theft from vehicle, pickpocketing and shop theft. Clear patterns for these offences have emerged, with blackspots identified, and already increased patrols and enhanced enforcement action and crime prevention publicity have been directed towards this problem.

A rather disturbing phenomenon now confronting us however is the increase seen in what I would describe as criminal anti-social behavour. We can see that an increase in personal and social pressures is fuelling a tendency towards violence or the propensity to challenge authority. There has been a clear and significant increase recorded in categories of crime which involve a common element of violence. Offences include instances of serious assaults, criminal damage, criminal intimidation, assault against police, resisting arrest, as well as disorderly conduct/fighting in a public place.

A basic understanding of the nature of the offences I've listed will show that personal frustrations and pressures are key motivating factors. Unemployment, disenchantment with what is happening in society generally as well as overall economic woes have undoubtedly contributed to an increase in those types of offences. We are now actively adopting strategies to address this issue.

However the questions remain. Are we seeing the deterioration in crime within Hong Kong that many anticipated would follow our return to Mainland Chinese sovereignty, and are the increases seen in certain areas of crime a result of the process of enhanced integration with the Mainland? Again a review of crime trends and crime statistics over a longer period of time has given us the answer.

I had called recently to review the crime statistics for the decade 1992 through to last year; a period which encircles the socio-political changes surrounding the latter years of British rule, the run up to the handover, the handover itself and of course the establishment of Hong Kong as a Special Administrative Region of China. If we are looking to find evidence of a deteriorating crime situation in Hong Kong and a correlation between it and the rapid moves towards greater integration with the Mainland after 1997, the cold facts and figures point to a dramatically different picture. As I stated earlier crime patterns fluctuate from day to day, month to month, year to year. A consistent, and perhaps more realistic impression can be formed by crime trends reviewed over a longer period. If we were to take and compare the general trends for key crime areas in the five years before, and then five years after, the Handover what would this reveal? The results are quite dramatic. Rather than a deterioration we see:

Overall Crime     down 13.9%
Violent Crime    down 15.2%
Rape     down 10%
Burglary     down 30%
Murder     down 22.7%
Robbery     down 47.2%
Robbery with Firearms     down 57.9%

So in essence Hong Kong remains safe and very much a stable society in terms of crime. Certainly the deterioration in the overall crime situation which was predicted to accompany greater integration has not materialized. That said, and as highlighted earlier we are not without concerns and indeed several of these result directly from increased integration with the Mainland. More specifically current trends reveal crime problems experienced as a result of the gradual relaxation of restrictions on the number of Mainland residents visiting Hong Kong in recent years.

With what has been a tremendous increase in the number of arrivals from the Mainland, particularly those traveling on Two Way Permit arrangements, has come a corresponding increase in the number of persons from the Mainland being arrested for crime.

The rise in Two Way Permit holder arrivals since 1997 has been particularly dramatic, with the half million seen that year rising to 4.4 million in 2002. The number of Mainland visitors arrested for crime increased from 749 to 1,860 in this period.

The issue of female Mainland visitors working as prostitutes in Hong Kong has also caused considerable public concern. There are other Mainlanders who have been involved in illegal gambling, taking up of illegal employment, selling illicit cigarettes or pirated goods, mendicancy, illegal hawking, or just overstaying their two way permit deadline in order to give birth in Hong Kong. These are the problems which arrest and immediate repatriation alone cannot solve. But again, our ever improving links and cooperation with Mainland authorities is leading to clear successes and solutions to these issues

April this year saw one of our most proactive steps in this area to date, when an Inter-departmental Task Force under the chairmanship of the Hong Kong Police Force was established. The Task Force comprises representatives from directly involved disciplined services, as well as the Labour, Lands and Food & Environmental Hygiene Departments. Its role is to target two way permit holders involved in crime and other illegal activities by liaising directly with Mainland issuing authorities in order to impose effective, stringent controls on the application process of Two Way Permits. It also seeks to establish means to bolster effective screening of those coming in at Hong Kong Immigration control points, as well as develop strategies for enhancing street level enforcement against illegal activities.

There is little doubt that further challenges related to integration with the Mainland will continue to confront us in the years ahead. Indeed the recently announced scheme to allow residents from different parts of Guangdong Province to visit Hong Kong on an individual basis will see the number of Mainland visitors surge even further. The number of illegal activities involving these visitors is anticipated to show a corresponding increase. In response I have deliberately included the maintenance of vigilance against crime committed by Mainlanders as one of my six Operational Targets for the year. Mainland issues remain a principle policing focus for us and with the support of our Mainland colleagues is a situation I believe we will deal with effectively and overcome.

Hong Kong as a community enjoyed stability and safe streets for the years running up to 1997, as it does to an even greater extent now as we move beyond this historical marker. The huge growth in Hong Kong's exchanges with the Mainland and particularly the large increase in the number of Mainlanders coming here will undoubtedly continue to bring immense economic benefits to Hong Kong. It has also of course the potential to compound some of the problems which we have already experienced, as well as introduce wholly new challenges which require a credible and effective response. These are however issues we will address in full as they arise, for as has been the case with the challenges coming our way in the past, the Hong Kong Police Force is prepared and equipped to maintain the stability we have all come to expect and require.

Thank you.

End/Thursday, July 31, 2003


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