Crime alert

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 27 June, 2001, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 27 June, 2001, 12:00am

Armed robbery at a Nathan Road jeweller's; two police officers shot in an anti-burglary operation in Mongkok; Constable Leung Shing-yan gunned down in an ambush at a Tsuen Wan housing estate - news headlines over the past three months tell of an alarming number of violent incidents.

Does it mean that Hong Kong's reputation as one of the world's safest cities is under threat? At first glance, it might look that way. But rational assessment suggests a pattern of gun-related felonies which erupt only occasionally. Yet these are quite distinct from the crimes that threaten ordinary residents on a daily basis, making people afraid to leave their homes or venture into the streets at night. That kind of fear is unnecessary here, and one of the things tourists praise about the place.

But like every major city, the SAR has its share of criminal gangs constantly looking for soft targets and big hauls. Recent years have seen a rash of cases. 'Big Spender' Cheung Tze-keung's gang had an eight-year run of armed robberies, kidnappings and related crimes before he was captured on the mainland and executed. Notorious gangster Yip Kai-foon met a similarly violent fate, and was paralysed during a police shoot-out in 1996. Lesser mobsters are usually brought to justice eventually, to pay for their crimes in decades behind bars.

But the time it takes to track down the latest criminals, and the ease with which they obtain mainland weapons is worrying. Constable Leung's killers are still at large. Also, the frequency with which guns are smuggled across from China is a matter of serious concern. Black Star pistols were involved in Monday's robbery - People's Liberation Army weapons frequently feature in SAR crimes, posing questions about the level of PLA security and to what extent it could be tightened.

Police Commissioner Tsang Yam-pui went to Guangdong last month to help set up a joint taskforce. However, it is early days to expect results. Under the Organised and Serious Crimes Ordinance, police can seize assets and double the sentences of anyone charged under its provisions. For those arrested on the mainland the penalty is graver. What matters here is that they are caught soon, letting life go back to normal.