18 January 2019
Station Sergeant Man Tat-fai (inset) from the Railway Police District and his team have netted 200 pickpockets, ensuring safe rides for millions of the city's commuters and tourists. Photos: HK Police, HKEJ
Station Sergeant Man Tat-fai (inset) from the Railway Police District and his team have netted 200 pickpockets, ensuring safe rides for millions of the city's commuters and tourists. Photos: HK Police, HKEJ

Pickpocket busters: How Man and his team keep commuters safe

Did you know that the Hong Kong Police Force has a dedicated anti-pickpocketing team?

Meet Station Sergeant Man Tat-fai from the Railway Police District. His beat covers the city’s 230-kilometer MTR network and its 93 stations, where most cases of pickpocketing and bag snatching take place.

Man said with the dropping rate of theft cases, many locals have lowered their vigilance, taking a nap or their eyes glued on their smartphones, while taking public transport.

However, unscrupulous individuals are out there, waiting to pounce on their victims at their most unguarded moments, he said.

Having served for over 30 years in the force, Man has become a sort of an anti-pickpocketing expert, offering advices and training to fellow officers under the force’s peer adviser scheme.

When he took part in anti-pickpocketing operations in the early days of his service at a task force sub-unit, his identity was revealed and his face became quite familiar among the culprits so much so that their operations were often compromised.

Nonetheless, years of experience have taught Man how to pinpoint pickpockets in a crowd.

“You first get familiar with the crime scene, work out different contingency plans and then dispatch teammates to go into a crowd to chase the targets,” Man said.

Man and his team have hunted down and arrested more than 200 pickpockets, including a number of seasoned culprits who previously had always been able to elude arrest.

Battle of wits

He said pickpockets are not only clever but also prepared to fight it out with their victims and law enforcers.

In one case, three suspects working together tried to steal a computer tablet from the backpack of a tourist passenger on a packed MTR train.

Fortunately, Man and a fellow officer were at the scene and just as the suspects were in the process of committing the crime, they intercepted and arrested them.

However, two of the suspects managed to run away as Man had to assist his colleague in subduing the third one.

Man’s team pursued the suspects and managed to track them down and arrest them a week later.

During the trial, the defendants’ counsel challenged the accuracy of Man’s account of the crime.

Man asserted that he remembered exactly the suspects’ faces as he was deeply upset about letting them get away the first time.

His statement was eventually accepted by the judge, who sentenced the three offenders to 36 months behind bars.

Man, while determined to arrest offenders, is equally passionate about guiding those convicted to rehabilitate themselves.

With his retirement from the service approaching, Man has shifted the focus of his work from “fieldwork” to passing on his expertise to fellow officers.

Police units have often invited Man to share his first-hand experience in anti-pickpocketing operations, in particular how to “scan” the crowd and identify suspects.

A total of 347 pickpocketing cases were reported in the first half this year, compared with 510 a year ago.

Indeed, Hong Kong’s trains, buses and other public places are now safer from pickpockets and shoplifters than ever before.

The latest statistics show that 35.3 burglaries and theft cases were reported per hundred thousand population in Hong Kong in 2015, compared with 47.2 in Tokyo, 164.9 in New York, 648.5 in Paris and 818.9 in London.

– Contact us at [email protected]


Read more:

A Pakistani superintendent and his Hong Kong police story

A Hong Kong Police story from a Eurasian superintendent

Ethnic minority officer grabs spotlight at HK police briefing

Indian-origin policeman credits success to ‘Project Gemstone’

Man urges that vigilance must prevail at all times, even though Hong Kong’s overall crime rate is remarkably lower than that of many other metropolises. Photo: Xinhua

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