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LCQ3: Stop and question or stop and search actions by Police

     Following is a reply by the Secretary for Security, Mr Lai Tung-kwok, to a question by the Hon Kenneth Leung in the Legislative Council today (October 30):


     It has been reported that there are altogether as many as two million instances of police officers conducting stop-and-searches and checking identity cards on the streets every year. There are comments that the practices of police officers in conducting stop-and-searches and checking identity cards infringe upon personal privacy and restrict personal freedom. Regarding the necessity of conducting such law enforcement actions by the Police and whether the number of searches is proportionate to and commensurate with the crime rate, etc., will the Government inform this Council:

(a) of the number of instances in which police officers on patrol checked the identity cards of members of the public, the number of body searches conducted on the spot and the number of suspects arrested subsequently each year from 2008 to 2012 (with a breakdown for each quarter by the type of offences in which they were involved);

(b) regarding those members of the public who have not been identified as crime suspects by police officers after checking their identity cards, whether the Police will keep the personal information obtained by checking the identity cards of such persons; if they will, of the use and handling of such personal information (including whether it will be stored in a database), as well as the reasons and legal basis for keeping such information; whether there is a requirement for the Police to destroy such information after a certain period of time; if there is, of the details; if not, the reasons and legal basis for that; and

(c) of the total number of complaints received by the Complaints Against Police Office each year from 2008 to 2012 in respect of checking identity cards or conducting body searches by police officers on the streets, with a breakdown for each quarter by the respective results of investigation into the complaints; whether the Police have reviewed regularly the appropriateness and effectiveness of such practices?



     Under section 54 of the Police Force Ordinance (Cap. 232) concerning "Power to stop, detain and search", if a police officer finds any person in any street or any other public place who acts in a suspicious manner, or whom he reasonably suspects of having committed or being about to commit or intending to commit any offence, the police officer is empowered to stop the person for the purpose of demanding that he produces proof of his identity for inspection. Under section 17C of the Immigration Ordinance (Cap. 115) concerning "Carrying and production of proof of identity", a police officer is also empowered to require members of the public to produce proof of identity for inspection. Furthermore, a police officer is empowered by individual laws such as Public Order Ordinance, Dangerous Drugs Ordinance, Weapons Ordinance and Firearms and Ammunition Ordinance to conduct stop and search action. By means of such actions, the Police will be in a better position to discharge their statutory functions, particularly in the prevention and detection of crimes and offences, as well as in the prevention of injury to life and property.

     The Police fully understand the importance of obtaining public co-operation when stop and question or stop and search actions are conducted. In conducting such actions, police officers shall, first of all, identify themselves and, without prejudicing operational efficiency, clearly explain the reason for stopping the person(s) in question. Any search on the person stopped, if deemed necessary, shall be carried out by police officers of the same sex. Police officers shall also inform the person(s) of the reason for and the scope of such a search in advance. Personal data obtained during the stop and question and stop and search actions shall be properly handled in strict compliance with the Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance (PDPO) (Cap. 486). The Police have ensured that all such actions are entirely lawful, necessary and appropriate.

     My detailed reply to Hon Kenneth Leung's question is as follows:

(a) From 2008 to 2012, the Police conducted an annual average of around 2,170,000 stop and question and stop and search actions. More than 22,500 offences were detected every year on average by way of such actions. Detailed figures of offences detected as a result of stop and question or stop and search actions are at Annex I.

     In the past five years, offences detected by the Police through stop and question or stop and search actions included serious offences, such as robbery and burglary, as well as other "preventive arrest" offences such as possession of dangerous drugs and possession of offensive weapons. The criminal offences detected as a result of these actions accounted for a yearly average of 24.8% against the total number of offences detected. In addition, from 2011 to 2012, more than 7,400 wanted persons and over 4,500 illegal immigrants, overstayers and persons in breach of conditions of stay were arrested by the Police by means of these actions.

     As seen, stop and question and stop and search actions are considerably effective in the prevention and detection of crimes. According to the Police, persons who are contemplating to commit crime would often become hesitant for fear of coming to light once police officers conduct stop and search actions against them. This implies that such actions are a powerful crime deterrent and, therefore, necessary and effective in crime prevention and detection.

(b) The Police shall handle all personal data obtained from identity card checks in strict compliance with the PDPO (Cap. 486). Police officers have to ensure that all such personal data are collected for the lawful purpose of execution of duties under section 10 of the Police Force Ordinance, and that the data collected shall not be more than necessary.

     Upon exercising the power to conduct an identity card check, police officers, notwithstanding that no offence is disclosed, shall record in their notebooks the incident as well as any basic information adequate for identifying the person, such as the person's name and his Hong Kong Identity Card number. There are two purposes for such a record. First, to provide proper accountability for the actions taken by the police officers; and second, where necessary, to help the police officers recall the actions they took on a particular occasion. Used notebooks are generally kept for three years before disposal.

     During an Identity Card check, a police officer, if having reasonable grounds, may verify the person's Identity Card through the computer system. Such a checking record will be stored in the system for three years, and the officer shall also record the incident in his notebook.

(c) Figures of reportable complaints received by the Complaints Against Police Office (CAPO) from 2008 to 2012 in respect of stop and question or stop and search actions conducted by police officers are at Annex II. From 2008 to 2012, the CAPO received an average of 219 concerned complaint cases each year, representing about 0.01% of such actions conducted in the same period. In other words, for every 10,000 stop and question or stop and search actions, approximately one complaint case was received on average.

     In addition to regular reviews on the internal orders and guidelines of stop and question and stop and search actions, the Police provide training to officers of various ranks to ensure that such actions are properly carried out. Through day-to-day supervision and guidance to their subordinates, frontline supervising officers also ensure that all stop and question and stop and search actions are performed in compliance with the law and procedures. Furthermore, the Police have been keeping a close watch on the number of complaints and complaint cases arising from these actions. Suitable administrative measures are also taken to prevent actions that are improper or in violation of relevant orders.

     President, notwithstanding the inconvenience that may be caused to members of the public during such stop and question or stop and search actions by the Police, I must reiterate that the deterrent effect of such actions on crime is beyond any doubt, and that such actions are, in a certain degree, effective in the discovery and detection of crimes. I hope that Members and the public will understand this and continue to support the enforcement work of the Police, so that Hong Kong remains one of the safest cities in the world.

     Thank you, President.

Ends/Wednesday, October 30, 2013
Issued at HKT 15:25


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