Police should make first move to mend fences with public

November 15, 2019 18:38
Police clear barricades on a road in Central on Wednesday. As a step to rebuild mutual trust between the public and law enforcement, the police should behave strictly in accordance with the law, says the author. Photo: HKEJ

Once seen as Asia's finest, the Hong Kong police force has seen its public image and credibility plummet to rock bottom amid months of anti-government protests.

There are complicated and inter-related socio-political factors that have led to the increasingly tense relations between the police and the public, and between the government and the public.

One is that the boundary between “two systems” under “one country” has become increasingly blurred.

Beijing’s continuing political interference in the city’s affairs has given rise to widespread resentment among the people over the erosion of freedoms and the rule of law, and this has fueled the ongoing resistance movement.

Meanwhile, the escalating violence of “valiant” protesters and police brutality have produced a chemical reaction that has resulted in the collapse of mutual trust between members of the public and law enforcement.

In order to rebuild that mutual trust, I believe that the party vested with public power (i.e., the police) should first behave strictly in accordance with the law.

As Philip Dykes, the chairman of the Hong Kong Bar Association, wrote in an open letter to his members on Oct. 16, “all government's acts must comply with the law and be subject to effective review and legal scrutiny”.

“There is nothing more corrosive to the Rule of Law than violence inflicted on members of the public by apparently unaccountable state agents,” he stressed.

Moreover, in order to repair relations with the public, the party vested with public power should take the value of human life very seriously, and respect human dignity when enforcing the law.

Police officers must never prevent and hamper humanitarian and legal rescue efforts carried out by medics and lawyers during the crackdown on protesters and the subsequent arrests, or else public resentment at law enforcement would only run deeper and deeper in the days ahead.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Nov 14

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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HKEJ columnist

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