LCQ10: Animal Watch Scheme

     Following is a question by the Hon Chan Hak-kan and a written reply by the Secretary for Food and Health, Dr York Chow, in the Legislative Council today (November 9):


     The Police have recently introduced an "Animal Watch Scheme" (the Scheme) with a view to stepping up work on intelligence gathering, investigation, education and publicity in respect of cases of cruelty to animals.  In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) of the manpower and command structure for the implementation of the Scheme; whether representatives of other government departments are included; the differences in nature between the Scheme and the existing Animal Welfare Task Group established by the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department, in collaboration with the Police, the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department and the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Hong Kong) (HKSPCA), and of the division of work between the two;  

(b) how frontline police officers are briefed about the principles of the Scheme and procedures for its implementation; whether it will be made a mandatory requirement for these officers to attend relevant seminars or receive training; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;

(c) in respect of the enhancement of intelligence gathering, apart from maintaining contact with HKSPCA, which animal welfare concern groups the Police will collaborate with under the Scheme to put in place a notification mechanism for cases of cruelty to animals; and of the operation mode of the notification mechanism;

(d) given that quite a number of animals which are treated cruelly will be sent to veterinary clinics for treatment, how, under the Scheme, information of such cases is gathered from veterinarians, and how veterinarians are encouraged to co-operate with the Police;

(e) based on the many cases of cruelty to animals which occurred in the past few years, whether the Police have identified the black spots of such offences; if so, how they will step up the preventive work at those black spots; and

(f) given that animal welfare concern groups have all along been advocating the formation of an "Animal Police" dedicated to investigating cases involving cruelty to animals, whether the Police have introduced the Scheme as an alternative to the formation of an "Animal Police"; of the authorities' latest attitude and stance towards the formation of an "Animal Police"?



     The Government cares about animal rights.  Over the years, a multi-pronged strategy comprising education, publicity and law enforcement has been adopted to raise public awareness of the subject.  The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Ordinance (Cap. 169) (the Ordinance) sets out clearly the penalty for crimes of cruelty to animals.  With the support of the Legislative Council, the Administration increased the maximum penalty significantly in 2006 from a fine of $5,000 and six months' imprisonment to a fine of $200,000 and three years' imprisonment, so as to enhance the deterrent effect.  

     To further enhance co-operation in handling animal cruelty cases among the departments and organisations concerned, the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD), in conjunction with the Hong Kong Police Force (Police), the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department and the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Hong Kong) (HKSPCA), set up a special working group earlier this year to review the work on handling such cases.  The working group focuses on enhancing mutual support, developing guidelines for higher efficiency, and establishing a mechanism for relevant departments and organisations to provide professional advice, with a view to ensuring an all-round investigation of animal cruelty cases.  The working group will also study the level of penalty imposed by the court for convicted cases.  If the penalty is considered to be too lenient, it will make recommendation to the Department of Justice as necessary.

     The "Animal Watch Scheme" (the Scheme) recently introduced by the Police will step up co-operation among stakeholders for a joint effort to combat crimes of cruelty to animals.  Under the Scheme, the departments and organisations concerned will undertake their duties in a coherent manner.  The Police is responsible for the investigation of animal cruelty cases, and will exchange information with AFCD and HKSPCA regularly.  AFCD, with its special teams for animal management and welfare, will co-operate with other departments and organisations on education, intelligence gathering, publicity and investigation, as well as providing expert advice on animal cruelty cases.  If necessary, AFCD will also carry out postmortem investigation to find out the cause of death of the animals concerned.  HKSPCA provides medical service to animals hurt in the incidents and supports a 24-hour hotline to gather information about animal cruelty cases to assist the law enforcement agents.

     My reply to the various parts of the question is as follows:

(a) The Scheme introduced by the Police aims to strengthen the Police's efforts in the investigation of animal cruelty cases.  Through enhanced co-operation with different organisations and wider public involvement, more effective prevention and detection of animal cruelty cases can be carried out.  For instance, upon receipt of reports of cruelty to animals, front-line police officers will immediately seek professional assistance and advice from AFCD and HKSPCA, so that investigation can be conducted in a more effective manner.  The Scheme and AFCD's inter-departmental special working group complement each other.  With regard to manpower and command structure, the Scheme is co-ordinated by the Support Wing, the Crime Wing and the Police College of the Police and is implemented by front-line officers.

(b) In mid-October this year, the Police introduced and provided details of the Scheme through the television programme "Police Magazine" and the Force's internal communication channels (including Offbeat, electronic Notice Board and internal documents).  The Police have arranged detection training courses and relevant seminars for front-line police officers and also conducted sharing sessions for crime investigation officers and staff of AFCD and HKSPCA on the professional knowledge of handling animal cruelty cases.  Since the introduction of the Scheme, relevant courses and seminars have been well attended by front-line and supervisory officers.

(c) and (d) The Scheme is supported by two professional veterinary associations (i.e. the Hong Kong Veterinary Association and China (Hong Kong) Veterinary Association), which will publicise the Government's messages on combating cruelty to animals to their members (who are practising veterinarians).  Their members will be encouraged to report suspicious persons or suspected animal cruelty cases with a view to strengthening the intelligence networks.  At the same time, the Police and AFCD welcome members of the public and animal concern groups to participate in combating cruelty to animals.  If the public are aware of any animal cruelty cases, they can call the Police or report to AFCD via the 1823 Call Centre.  Upon receipt of the reports, the relevant department will take appropriate immediate action and follow-up investigation.

(e) The Police has not identified any particular modus operandi or black spots of animal cruelty cases, and most of the incidents take place in secluded locations or in the middle of the night.  Apart from stepping up enforcement, the most effective way to curb such animal cruelty cases is to enhance public awareness of respect for life and care for animals.  We will continue to strengthen publicity work in this area.

(f) At present, officers from various government departments, including senior veterinary officers, health officers, health inspectors, police officers and authorised officers from AFCD, may enforce the Ordinance as appropriate.  AFCD has its special teams for animal management and welfare.  The Crime Investigation Teams of various police districts have adequate manpower, experience and professional investigation skills to handle animal cruelty cases.  Subject to the distribution and the trend of the cases, the Police will consider deploying dedicated teams to investigate the cases in a more comprehensive and focused way in order to ensure early crime detection.  The existing multi-agency approach is further strengthened under the Scheme, contributing to more effective prevention and detection of such crimes.  With greater flexibility in the deployment of resources, such arrangements are more effective in combating animal cruelty cases than setting up an "Animal Police" team.

Ends/Wednesday, November 9, 2011
Issued at HKT 13:22