Recently we had news that a rape suspect hanged himself to death in his cell with a computer cable while under detention at the Sau Mau Ping police station. The news sparked discussions among the public and prompted critics to accuse the police of gross negligence in guaranteeing the detainee’s personal safety.
At present the police has a set of guidelines and standard procedures to prevent detainees from harming themselves or being harmed. For example, they are not allowed to use metallic knives and forks when having their meals.
However, these measures are apparently not enough. In a report released by the coroner’s court over a case of suicide of a detainee in 2015, it was pointed out that the police could actually have done more to prevent that detainee from killing himself.
The report also made several recommendations on ways to enhance personal safety of detainees. The measures included the following:
1. Installing more CCTV cameras in the cells and adjusting the camera angles so that the police officers on duty can monitor every corner of a cell at all times; 2. Arranging for regular checks and maintenance of the equipment by contractors to make sure they are always in working order, and 3. Increasing the number of computer screens connected to these cameras to allow duty officers to have a complete view of all cells.
Meanwhile, some civil rights groups have also suggested that the police install CCTV cameras inside their vehicles to record the entire process of any arrested person being put in the car and on their way to the police station in order to prevent any abuse of power by officers.
Yet the suggestion was rejected by Hong Kong’s security secretary on grounds of protecting the privacy of the arrested suspects.
Now, we come to this interesting aspect: while authorities refuse to install surveillance cameras in police vehicle compartments out of privacy concerns, there is currently a plan to equip all frontline law enforcement officers with body-mounted cameras to record behavior of citizens when needed.
How can the authorities justify their double standard over “protecting the privacy”?
I believe there is a need to balance law enforcement and privacy protection.
The police department should stop pulling excuses and immediately start reviewing its policies and guidelines on guaranteeing the personal safety of detainees so as to prevent tragedies, such as the one seen earlier this month, from occurring again.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on May 19
Translation by Julie Zhu
[Chinese version 中文版]
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