Hong Kong/China (20/12). Hong Kong police plan to ask the government to boost officers’ pay and bolster supplies in the wake of citywide Black bloc riots, according to a leaked internal document. The riots triggered a blowback effect. The Hong Kong Police reforms will need more men and ergo a bigger budget.
Commissioner of Police Chris Tang wrote to the more than 30,000-strong force about plans to ask for more pay and welfare, as well as efforts to boost frontline manpower. Tang also said the police were looking to procure new equipment and refine strategies in response to the unrest.
The call for reform in structure, men power, equipment and tactics and strategies become apparent after it was revealed the rioters understood police operations and countered the police effectively. It become known as the cat-and-mouse game.
Former Hong Kong Police officers were critical of the way the police is dealing with the riots, claiming the police is using traditional riot control tactics originating from the 1967 communist-related disturbances, applied colonial era laws, and on several occasions failed to distinguish between the majority of protesters who were peaceful and the minority who turned to violence.
The commentary written by Martin Purbeck is not entirely accurate. The Hong Kong Police has undergone a change in command, and faced its biggest challenge in its history. The combinations of strategic intelligence operations, social movement and strategy led to the seven month unrests. Rioters have warned that the riots will restructure and return.
Commissioner Tang hosted an internal dialogue with officers on November 29 and wrote a follow-up memo to address “over 140 questions and suggestions” which were not discussed at the session. The 18-page memo was posted on the Reddit-like online forum LIHKG on Tuesday.
In the document, Tang said that the force submitted documents for a salary review in March, but would add “supplementary information” on salaries and conditions of service based on Operation Tiderider – the codename given to the police operation handling the protests, now in their seventh month.
Police constables currently start with a monthly salary of HK$24,110, while the figure for inspectors is HK$42,665. Last week, the government told lawmakers that officers have been paid a total of HK$950 million in overtime from June to November.
The Civil Service Bureau approved a request from police to adjust the maximum hours of overtime pay, Tang added, but did not specify what the new upper limit was.
Tang said that in terms of workforce, around 1,000 people are expected to be employed under the Post Retirement Service Contract (PRSC) (Police Staff) Scheme in the first batch of hires. Another 119 people have been hired under the government’s Post Retirement Service Contract (PRSC) Scheme.
Officers have also asked for more welfare support, including educational subsidies and housing arrangements. An officer apparently asked if injured colleagues could use hospitals run by the Chinese People’s Liberation Army – a suggestion that Tang dismissed as “unworkable” because of legal reasons, among others.
The leaked document revealed Tang’s response to suggestions of allowing officers to carry firearms around the clock, including outside of working hours. He did not endorse the idea but said that there were “established mechanisms” in place to regulate the issuance of personal weapons to officers, which requires the unit commander’s approval.
Responding to recommendations that police reduce neighbourhood patrols and switch to a “standby mode” system, Tang said that the force will “review and assess areas of improvement.”
Tang also put forward the idea of standardising district-based emergency response teams to curb violence and promised upgrades to weapons, equipment and safety gear.
While Tang maintained his stance against an inquiry into alleged police abuses – one of the five demands of protesters – he expressed reservations about the use of specialised weapons.
“Weapons such as the Remington shotgun can indeed strike a wide area, and is definitely effective in dispersing rioters, but we must also consider there are people and vehicles on the scene that are not participating in violent activities,” he wrote.
The use of such weapons should strike a balance between operational needs and public safety because they could cause unnecessary harm, he said. In the meantime anti Hong Kong police posters are widely circulated on social media.
Tang said that the current strategy for dealing with violence was to “balance hard and soft approaches” and to “use the right method at the right time.”
“If the situation permits it, the police should consider using more humane and flexible methods to avoid escalation… but we will never tolerate law-breaking activities,” he added.
“For example, in recent days when rioters occupied the university campus, our criminal investigation unit will definitely follow up on every arrested person.”
The leaked document also hinted at possible tensions between the police and the District Council, which saw a major shakeup as pro-democracy candidates won a landslide victory in the election last month.
Some newly elected district councillors have said that they plan to use their position in office to pursue complaints against the police.
While police representatives have occasionally attended District Council meetings in the past, Tang said that the force had “no responsibility to attend meetings which had nothing to do with maintaining security, or meetings that are unreasonably targeting the police.”