Date
20 October 2017
It was only in 2010 that the Hong Kong police finally introduced a psychometric test into their standard recruitment procedures. Photo: CNSA
It was only in 2010 that the Hong Kong police finally introduced a psychometric test into their standard recruitment procedures. Photo: CNSA

Police force: Why we need to focus more on mental fitness

There was a joke that went around back in the 1990s about Hong Kong’s police force, declaiming that perhaps there are more police officers in the city who have killed themselves with their own guns or been killed by their own colleagues than fierce robbers who have been shot to death.

And another joke, in the 1980s, went like this: when recruiting new officers, the police force only examines their body, not their brain.

Well, the jokes weren’t entirely groundless. To state one fact, it was only in 2010 that the Hong Kong Police Force finally introduced a psychometric test into their standard recruitment process. This calls into serious question as to whether police officers who were recruited before 2010 and who are still in active service today are psychologically fit for their duty.

In comparison, the National Advisory Commission on Criminal Justice Standards and Goals of the United States called upon state and federal authorities as far back as in 1973 to mandate the adoption of the “mental ability or aptitude test” and “psychological examination” as part of the standard recruitment procedures of police officers, according to Psychological Testing and the Selection of Police Officers: A National Survey by Robert E. Cochrane, Robert P. Tett and Leon Vandecreek.

As far as the requirements over the physical fitness of police applicants are concerned, the Hong Kong Police Force currently imposes a 163-centimeter minimum height regulation upon all male applicants.

However, it appears such minimum height standards, which were probably set back in mid-1960s when the average height of adult males in our city was only 165 centimeters, have become both outdated and meaningless since the people of Hong Kong have grown taller and taller over the decades.

Given that, I suggest that the Hong Kong Police follow in the footsteps of its counterparts in the United Kingdom and other English speaking countries such as the US and Ireland and abolish the minimum height requirements on police applicants.

According to article 7 of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 of the US, the minimum height requirements on police applicants could constitute discrimination.

However, what I am concerned about most is actually the mental fitness of the police officers in Hong Kong who entered the force before 2010 and didn’t go through the psychometric test, and whose numbers are estimated to be around 18,000.

It is because based on the findings of a US study regarding the mental assessment of the police officers recruited nationwide, which indicated that an average 5 percent of police applicants are rejected across the country every year for mental health reasons, currently there could be as many as 900 police officers in Hong Kong who are mentally unfit for their job, if the case in Hong Kong is similar to that of the US.

The deviant behavior that some police officers exhibited in recent years does seem to support such inference.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Oct 7

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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JC/RC

Hong Kong Economic Journal contributor

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