Swapping of posts signals who is next in line for police chief

October 14, 2019 16:39
The police force is facing tremendous pressure amid months of anti-government protests. Photo: HKEJ

Amid all the pressure facing the police force these days, it is said that Terence Mak Chin-ho, the incumbent Assistant Commissioner of Police (Operations), will soon swap positions with Frank Kwok Yam-yung, the New Territories North (NTN) Regional Commander.

As Commissioner of Police Stephen Lo Wai-chung, who is pushing 58, is set to step down on Nov. 18, it is almost a foregone conclusion that Chris Tang Ping-keung, the incumbent Deputy Commissioner of Police (Operations), is going to be the next police chief. And Mak, who is only 49 and regarded as a rising star in the police force, is widely tipped as next in line for police commissioner after Tang.

In fact, Mak has been taking center stage in a police operation codenamed Tiderider to deal with protesters over the past four months, and has appeared at the daily police briefings on multiple occasions to answer media questions.

Unlike some of his colleagues, Mak has rarely put his foot in his mouth at these press briefings. 

Kwok, meanwhile, has been keeping a low profile in the police force over the years.

Yet after the indiscriminate attacks by white-clad men on train passengers and civilians in Yuen Long on July 21, and after the alleged abuses committed against detainees at the San Uk Ling Holding Centre have come to light, Kwok has found himself in the firing line and has become the focus of media attention.

Last week, Kwok appeared at the daily press briefing to respond to media inquiries about, among other incidents, the shooting of a 14-year-old boy by a plainclothes police officer with his sidearm in Yuen Long on the night of Oct. 4.

It is understood that Kwok was specifically chosen by the police department to clarify the issue.

Meanwhile, it is believed that Tang’s assumption of office as the new police chief in mid-November is likely to trigger a chain of personnel changes in law enforcement.

Earlier on, news has got out that Director of Operations Siu Chak-yee will be promoted to deputy commissioner in order to fill the vacancy left behind by Tang.

Nevertheless, a source in the police force has revealed that the extradition bill saga has not only deeply affected the day-to-day operations of the police force, but has also disrupted its key personnel appointments, with some promotions having been “frozen” since September.

Yet as Lo is set to retire within a month’s time, the authorities can no longer afford to defer its decisions over key personnel appointments, hence the swapping of jobs between Mak and Kwok.

According to another source who is highly familiar with police affairs, Mak’s reassignment to the position of NTN commander is only a “horizontal transfer”, and therefore one shouldn’t read too much into it.

The same source explained that it has remained a long-standing tradition within the police force to assign a police chief hopeful to serve as a regional commander for a period of time in order to let him gain more practical experience before finally being re-assigned back to the police headquarters to assume the top post.

As such, Mak’s transfer to the NTN regional headquarters is indeed an indication that he is likely to advance his career within the police force in the coming days, the source said.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Oct 11

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Columnist of Hong Kong Economic Journal.