LCQ6: Police officers preventing crimes and upholding law and order in accordance with guidelines
In the course of handling law-breaking incidents such as road occupations and riots in recent years, it has been necessary for police officers to use force to clear the scene in order to restore social order. Some police officers have subsequently been convicted by the court of assaulting occasioning actual bodily harm. Some members of the public have expressed the concern that such convictions may deal a blow to the morale of the police force and even cause the perfunctory law enforcement by police officers owing to concerns over undue blame, which will eventually have an adverse impact on law and order. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(1) as it has been reported that the Police have established a working group to conduct a review on the guidelines, procedures and training, etc. in relation to the use of force by police officers and to study improvement measures, of the details and the timetable of the review and study; whether the working group will make reference to the criteria for the use of force by law enforcement officers adopted by western countries such as the United Kingdom and the United States; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;
(2) whether "appropriate force" is clearly defined in the guidelines issued by the authorities on matters related to the use of force by police officers; and
(3) given that the behaviours of some of the participants of demonstrations and assemblies have become increasingly radical in recent years, how the authorities ensure that police officers will not commit criminal offences as a result of their use of force during law enforcement in chaotic situations?
Hong Kong has long been one of the safest cities in the world. This is due in no small part to the efforts and contributions of the Police. In 2016, Hong Kong's crime rate hit the lowest in 44 years, with crime rate per 100 000 population standing at 827. Compared with 1997 during Hong Kong's return to China where the crime rate per 100 000 population was 1 038, the crime rate has declined by 20 per cent. The work of the Police is particularly important in achieving such good results. I believe that the general public in Hong Kong recognise, support, trust and respect police officers, especially frontline police officers, and are grateful for their efforts.
Since Hong Kong's return to China, the number of public meetings, processions and demonstrations have rapidly increased, from about 2 300 per year in the early years of Hong Kong's return to China to over 11 800 in last year, with an increase of over four times. In recent years, some public meetings, demonstrations and processions have become more radical, with the 79-day illegal "Occupy Movement" in 2014 attracting most attention. There was serious road blockage and traffic congestion in the occupied areas, severely affecting the delivery of emergency services and daily life of the public. Even more serious was the Mong Kok riot that occurred in early 2016, of which offences included hurling bricks and wounding others, burning cars, mobbing police, sieging police vehicles, vandalising public properties and pavements. Over 80 police officers were injured in the incident. In face of difficulties and attacks, police officers remained undaunted, devoted to duty, and gave their best. Eventually, they successfully restored public order and public safety so that society could resume normal operation.
The responsibilities of police officers are to prevent crimes and uphold law and order. Therefore, they need to possess the necessary power to discharge their duties. The public should express their views and participate in meetings or processions in a lawful and peaceful manner. The Police will endeavour to provide facilitation to ensure such events are conducted in an orderly and safe manner. According to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Hong Kong Bill of Rights Ordinance (Cap. 383), the public has the right to freedom of expression, but the exercise of such a right carries with it special duties and responsibilities, and thus is subject to certain restrictions provided by law. Such restrictions are necessary for the respect of the rights or reputations of others, protection of public order or morals, etc. If someone engages in illegal acts in a radical manner, or if public order, public safety and the lives and properties of the public are threatened, police officers must exercise professional judgment in light of the actual circumstances, take appropriate actions, including whether the use of force is necessary to achieve the lawful purpose, whether the use of force is reasonable, etc., to prevent public order and public safety from being endangered.
The Police have established guidelines on the use of force. 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. Police officers shall give verbal warning prior to the use of force as far as circumstances permit, while the person(s) being warned shall be given every opportunity, whenever practicable, to obey police orders before force is used. Generally speaking, "appropriate force" means the minimum force reasonably necessary for a lawful purpose in the circumstances. Once that purpose is achieved, the Police shall cease to use force. In formulating guidelines on the use of force, the Police have made reference to overseas practices and taken into account the uniqueness of various scenarios.
The objective of Police's enforcement is against unlawful actions, and force will be used under strictly necessary circumstances. Every police officer, whether newly recruited or serving, has to go through rigorous training on the use of force in order to fully understand how to use different levels of force in a safe and effective manner, including the use of verbal advice/verbal control, empty-hand control, oleoresin capsicum foam, batons and firearms, as a means to achieve the relevant lawful purpose. The training is classified into three categories:
(1) Fundamental Training – to equip trainees with the skill of using different levels of force in a safe and effective manner;
(2) Decision-making Training – trainees will learn to decide, in accordance with the principles on the use of force and the relevant regulations of the Police, whether to use force and the level of force to be used under various circumstances and when faced with threats; and
(3) Tactical Training – by means of simulated cases and scenes, trainees will learn how to handle suspects, suspicious vehicles, etc. so as to enhance their ability in handling similar circumstances in real-life cases, and strengthen co-operation among team members and their capability in tactical deployment.
In response to the major incidents that occurred in recent years, the Police have kept on reviewing its operational contingency strategies, guidelines and training. The Police have started the relevant work and set up in last October a steering committee under the chairmanship of a Senior Assistant Commissioner. The work in relation to the review of policies and guidelines on the use of force has been passed to the steering committee for follow-up actions. A working group, led by an Assistant Commissioner, has been formed under the steering committee and comprises staff and departmental representatives to follow up matters relating to the modification of guidelines, procedures and training on the use of force. Relevant work also includes making reference to overseas experience. The work of the working group is currently in progress.
The HKSAR Government fully recognises and supports the work of the Police. We have increased the Police's manpower, and will keep on enhancing their equipment and training. The Security Bureau and the Police attach great importance to the occupational safety of police officers during their execution of duties, and from time to time examine and enhance the protection offered to officers. By purchasing and renewing operation equipment and protective gear, including shields, helmets, emergency rescue apparatus, etc., we ensure that the personal safety of frontline officers during their execution of duties will be duly protected. We will continue to keep in view the occupational safety and welfare of police officers, and will maintain close communication with relevant bureaux for making timely improvement.
As mentioned by the Chief Executive at the Question and Answer Session in the Legislative Council on January 11, frontline officers face enormous pressure in maintaining public order as a result of some political incidents in recent years. I would like to take the opportunity to thank the Police for their contribution, and encourage each and every police officer to keep up their efforts and face difficulties with courage. The general public knows that a highly effective and capable police force is crucial to Hong Kong's continued prosperity and stability. The Security Bureau fully supports police officers in remaining steadfast in their duties and staying united to uphold law and order, so as to ensure that Hong Kong will continue to be one of the safest cities in the world.
Thank you President.
Ends/Wednesday, January 17, 2018
Issued at HKT 16:55
Issued at HKT 16:55