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LCQ3: Police complaints mechanism

     Following is a question by Professor Hon Joseph Lee and a reply by the Secretary for Security, Mr Lai Tung-kwok, in the Legislative Council today (November 5):


     In the early hours of the 15th of last month, a local news agent recorded a video footage of a subdued participant in an assembly being allegedly kicked and punched by police officers in Tamar Park, Admiralty. Regarding the use of force by police officers, will the Government inform this Council:

(1) as the Police guidelines on the use of force stipulate that police officers may use minimum force as appropriate only when such an action is absolutely necessary and there are no other means to accomplish the lawful duty, of the meaning of "minimum force", and whether it includes kicking and punching persons who have been subdued; if it does not, of the level of force to which such an action belongs; of the respective forms of force and weapons involved in the "minimum force" that may be appropriately used under different circumstances;

(2) as the Police said on the same day after the occurrence of the aforesaid incident that the Complaints Against Police Office had received a relevant complaint and would handle it in accordance with the established procedures, of the details of the "established procedures"; and

(3) of the number of complaints received by the Police in the past three years about police officers having allegedly assaulted other people while on duty and the details of such complaints, including whether the complaints were substantiated in the end and the penalties imposed on the police officers involved in the substantiated cases?



     Regarding a case of police officers' suspected assault of a protester in Admiralty on October 15, given that the Police have received formal complaints and reports about the case and that the case is under criminal investigation, the Administration considers that, as a matter of fairness, it is inappropriate to provide comment in public, lest the investigation be affected.

     The Administration's reply to the Hon Lee's question is as follows:

(1) The Police have the responsibility to maintain public safety and public order, as well as to safeguard life and property in accordance with the law. On occasions where an act causing danger to others is occurring or is about to occur, the Police shall, based on the circumstances at scene, make assessments and exercise professional judgment to take appropriate actions, which include using the minimum force required for public safety and public order. Police officers maintain self-discipline with a high degree of restraint in the discharge of duties. The Police have very clear guidelines and rigorous training to instruct their officers not to use force unless it is necessary and there are no other alternatives to accomplish their lawful duties. The level of force to be used shall be minimal and reasonably required under the prevailing circumstances. Prior to the use of force, police officers shall, as far as circumstances permit, give warnings while the person(s) involved shall be given every opportunity, whenever practicable, to obey police orders before force is used. The use of force shall cease once the purpose of which has been achieved. Generally speaking, the force to which the Police may resort includes the use of empty-hand control, OC foam, batons and firearms. The meaning of "minimum force" depends on the prevailing circumstances at scene and no particular decision would fit all cases.

(2) Public complaints against police officers are handled under a statutory two-tier police complaints mechanism. According to section 11 of the Independent Police Complaints Council Ordinance (the Ordinance) (Cap. 604), a complaint received by the Hong Kong Police Force (HKPF) must be categorised as a reportable complaint if the complaint relates to the conduct of a member of the police force while on duty or in the execution or purported execution of his duties, whether or not he identified himself as such a member, and, at the same time, meets other conditions that make it a reportable complaint under the Ordinance in that, for instance, it is made by a complainant directly affected by the police conduct, irrespective of whether the allegation involves any criminal elements. Such a complaint shall be investigated by the Complaints Against Police Office (CAPO) with the investigation report submitted to the Independent Police Complaints Council (IPCC) for examination in accordance with the statutory requirements under the Ordinance.

     The CAPO under the HKPF is specifically responsible for handling and investigating public complaints against police officers, including general complaints as well as the criminal investigations involved. To ensure that complaints are handled in a fair and impartial manner, the CAPO is independent of other Police units. In the course of the investigation of a complaint case, if criminal elements are detected, the CAPO shall instigate criminal investigation and may consider classifying the case as "sub-judice" in which case the involved criminal allegations shall be handled first, and, where necessary, advice from the Department of Justice shall be sought. Only upon completion of the criminal investigation and the related judicial proceedings shall CAPO re-institute the mechanism of the complaint investigation.

     The person concerned in the suspected case of unnecessary use of force by police officers mentioned in the question, in reporting his case to the Police, had indicated that it was a complaint against police officers. As the allegations were related to the complainees' conduct in the discharge of duties, the case was referred to the CAPO for following up. A dedicated special investigation team has been set up under the CAPO to handle the case under the established mechanism and procedures. The CAPO has decided to commence criminal investigation towards the case and has classified the case as "sub-judice". The CAPO shall re-institute the mechanism of the complaint investigation only upon completion of the criminal investigation and the related judicial proceedings. A complaint investigation report shall also be submitted to IPCC for examination in accordance with the statutory requirements under the Ordinance. The complaint is related to the "Occupy Central" (or referred to as the "Occupation Movement"). Given that the IPCC has decided to refer all reportable complaints arising from the "Occupy Central" to the Serious Complaints Committee (SCC) for monitoring, the CAPO shall, in accordance with SCC's requirement, report the investigation progress of such reportable complaints on a monthly basis.

(3) According to the CAPO, a total of 829 complaint cases involving allegations of assault by police officers were handled between 2011 and 2013. Of the allegations involved, over 84% were endorsed by IPCC as "not pursuable" or "withdrawn", while the remaining 16% were mostly classified as "no fault", "false" or "unsubstantiated" upon thorough investigation, without any case being classified as "substantiated".

     Upon analysis of the statistical data, the CAPO pointed out that a substantial number of complainants alleging that they had been assaulted by police officers were themselves involved in some criminal cases while lodging such complaints to the Police. The complainants or their legal representatives generally used the substance of their complaints as defence in the criminal trial. Once the criminal cases were closed, the complainants would often take the initiative to withdraw their complaints or refuse to contact or respond to the CAPO. As a result, a considerable number of complaints involving assault were eventually classified as "not pursuable" or "withdrawn" every year.

     Between 2011 and 2013, a total of three allegations involving assault were endorsed and classified as "not fully substantiated" by IPCC, i.e. there was some reliable evidence to support the complainants' allegation but such evidence was insufficient to fully substantiate the complaint. Upon examination, the Police considered that the cases were stand-alone incidents involving individual officers' integrity, and was unrelated to Police's procedures and guidelines. To follow up, the Police took disciplinary actions against the three officers involved, including warnings and disciplinary proceedings.

     Thank you, President.

Ends/Wednesday, November 5, 2014
Issued at HKT 15:03


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