Police chief must repair the force's tarnished image

May 18, 2015 12:44
Stephen Lo (inset), who took over as Hong Kong's police commissioner recently, needs to act fast to help his force regain public confidence. Photos: HKEJ

Shortly after Stephen Lo Wai-chung took over as the new police commissioner earlier this month, Hong Kong's police once again came under fire for alleged mishandling of a series of cases.

Apart from the recent high-profile HK$28 million kidnapping case that boggled the public mind, the police's decision not to press charges against three anti-Occupy protesters who had been accused of assaulting journalists has also drawn fierce criticism from the public.

In the wake of public pressure, the Department of Justice was forced to reopen investigations in some cases.

Most recently, the police was caught in another scandal as it came to light that they had arrested a wrong person in a murder case in Shatin, dealing further blow to the police's reputation which is already hanging by a thread.

When he took office, Commissioner Lo pledged to uphold the rule of law and remain impartial, and also stressed that he wouldn’t "go back on his word".

Given his pronouncements, he cannot afford to ignore the various scandals.

Regarding the case in which a mentally handicapped man was wrongfully arrested for murder, it is very likely that the police didn’t follow due process and may have committed some rights violations, according to the testimonies of his family members.

Lo and his high-ranking subordinates should immediately apologize to the man and his family for the police's mistake and conduct an independent inquiry into the wrongful arrest.

Public confidence in the police force hit a record low during the term of the former police commissioner Andy Tsang Wai-hung. His successor Lo should now seize the opportunity to mend fences with the general public.

During the Occupy movement last year, the police was obviously taking sides and adopted double standards in making arrests.

While police officers tolerated anti-Occupy groups and their sometime violent acts, they were tough on pro-democracy protesters and even resorted to violence, a complete violation of the rule of law.

In the eyes of the public, the police is no longer politically neutral and impartial. Instead, it has become a brutal and unrestrained armed force that won’t hesitate to suppress our civil rights.

The seven police officers caught on camera beating up a pro-democracy protester at a dark street corner last year are yet to be brought to justice.

In the meantime, the way the police handled the assault on TV reporters by anti-Occupy protesters has also sparked huge controversy. The suspects were allowed to wear shower caps and surgical masks in a police lineup, making it impossible for victims to identify the suspects. The process gave the impression that the police were trying to help the accused get away with their crime. 

In the case of the wrongful arrest of a mentally handicapped man for murder, the police has even come under the suspicion of trying to frame the man for a murder that he didn’t commit.

After being detained for more than 48 hours, the innocent man was only allowed to go after a series of bureaucratic procedures. And the police didn’t officially drop the charges against the man until three days after his release.

There is now little doubt that the mentally challenged man was treated unfairly, and that the wrongful detainee has some grounds to sue the police.

The entire incident reflects poorly on the police and shows their unprofessional behavior even in a case of a non-political nature. 

And in the latest case of violation of civil rights, a service outlet of radio network D100 at Sheung Wan MTR station was harassed by a police constable, who is said to have questioned the staff whether they were supporting the "yellow ribbon", a reference to the recent pro-democracy protests.

Given all these incidents, it’s time for Commissioner Lo to break his silence and reassure the public of the impartiality of the police.

Only through apologies and independent inquiries, wherever warranted, can the police force redeem itself and regain public confidence.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on May 15. [Chinese version 中文版]

Translation by Alan Lee

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Former radio talk show host; Columnist at the Hong Kong Economic Journal