When are police officers justified to use their service firearms?
Some people would say that they may do so when, in the performance of their duty, they face a situation where a suspect poses a danger to their lives. But should they fire their weapon when there are so many people around?
The matter has come under scrutiny after an officer shot a man in his 50s who was wielding a box cutter at the Sham Shui Po MTR Station during the morning rush hour on Wednesday. The suspect remains in critical condition.
Two officers from the Police Tactical Unit, a male and a female, were patrolling the station at around 7.40 a.m. when it was crowded with commuters. They saw a suspicious-looking man and accosted him near exit D2 inside the station, but the man suddenly took out a box cutter from his backpack.
A footage from a security camera of a store nearby showed the female officer giving a verbal warning to the man, but the man began brandishing the cutter at her, apparently in an attempt to attack her. The situation forced the officer to back up and lean against the door of the store.
Then the officer drew her firearm and fired a shot at the man, hitting him in the abdomen, before other officers came and were able to subdue him, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports.
The man was placed under arrest for assaulting a police officer and possession of an offensive weapon. He was sent to Princess Margaret Hospital for treatment. He is said to be in critical condition.
Police later identified him as a 55-year-old construction worker, who holds a Hong Kong identity card and had no record of mental illness. It is understood that he has a criminal record; he was sentenced to seven days in prison for assaulting a police officer in 2013.
While the shooting incident did not disrupt train services, a witness said some people who heard the gunshot panicked, although most commuters remained calm and no chaotic situation ensued.
The female officer who fired the shot, 31, has been with the force for six years. She appeared composed after the incident and turned in her gun to the police identification bureau for inspection.
In a statement issued on Wednesday night, police said a preliminary investigation showed that the officer in question used correct judgment in shooting at the suspect, and that she followed police guidelines on the use of force in light of the situation.
The incident was the first time a female police officer shot a suspect since the police department allowed all female police officers to carry a firearm while on duty.
Democratic Party lawmaker James To Kun-sun, who is deputy chairman of the Legislative Council’s Panel on Security, said he believes the officer in question was facing a threat to her personal safety before deciding that shooting the man was the quickest way to stop his attack, although he still asked the police department to conduct a full and fair investigation.
Pro-Beijing lawmaker Gary Chan Hak-kan from the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, who chairs the panel, expressed concern as to whether there was a chance that passersby could have been hit by a stray bullet as a result of the officer’s action.
He said the officer should be punished if further investigation showed that the shooting was done against police guidelines.
Lam Chi-wai, who chairs the Junior Police Officers’ Association, believes the officer in question made a reasonable decision by shooting the suspect, noting that there was an incident in the past in which a police officer ended up crippled for life as a result of a cutter attack.
– Contact us at [email protected]