Why this 'sorry' from the police is not enough

May 13, 2015 15:58
Police chief Stephen Lo (right photo) is under pressure to publicly apologize for the wrongful arrest and detention of an autistic man (left) for manslaughter. Photo: Apple Daily, CNSA

Finally, our police force is saying sorry.

For the first time since newly retired police chief Andy Tsang assumed command four years ago, the top brass are regretting a job gone awry.

There were no such regrets for the conduct of their men during last year's protests and for other incidents in which they were accused of abuse of power, but that's another story.  

This gesture was prompted by the May 2 arrest and detention of an autistic man for manslaughter in connection with the death of an elderly man. 

The high-profile arrest, complete with a media briefing, riveted an incredulous public and galvanized rights groups.   

The police expressed regret to his family for the "unhappy experience" but denied any wrongdoing after claims they had fabricated evidence.

Officials also promised to review the procedures for handling cases involving "mentally incapacitated persons" and boost police training.

On Tuesday night, a press release was issued exclusively to the Chinese media after repeated attempts by the police to defend the arrest.

This is the first crisis management test for newly appointed police commissioner Stephen Lo, who is facing intense pressure from dozens of lawmakers and rights groups to publicly apologize.

The lawmakers are also demanding an internal investigation into whether officers on the case broke any rules.

It's too early to say if the gesture to the man's family has appeased everyone concerned but if nothing else, it gives Lo an opportunity to make amends for his men.

The 30-year-old man was arrested after a 73-year-old resident of Mei Lam Estate in Sha Tin district died following an alleged assault on a basketball court on April 13.

The suspect was arrested on a Saturday and held for 50 hours during which his family said he was unable to take his regular medication and his personal needs were not met.

As his detention without formal charges was beyond the 48-hour legal limit, the police decided to charge him with manslaughter even though they had the suspect's alibi in hand.

On Tuesday night, the Sheng Kung Hui Welfare Council, which manages a community center in Tuen Mun where the suspect lives, confirmed that it had submitted CCTV evidence to the police showing the suspect was home when the alleged assault took place.

The evidence was sent within 48 hours of the arrest.

On the basis of that evidence, the police had sufficient proof not to hold him any longer. A police officer in charge of the case later said it took time to verify the evidence.

The man was not released until May 5, a Monday. All charges were dropped two days later.

It's not enough that the police have said sorry to the man and his family. They owe the rest of us a formal apology.

Granted the concerned officers did nothing illegal, they committed an injustice with sloppy police work.

There's neither sense nor comfort in putting our safety and security in the hands of a police force we can't trust. The first obligation of the police is to maintain that trust at all times and in all circumstances.

The next words out of their mouth had better be "sorry Hong Kong".

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EJ Insight writer