Police conduct 18 full strip-searches a day

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 28 October, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 28 October, 2008, 12:00am

Lawmakers, alarmed at police conducting more than 1,600 full strip-searches in the three months since new guidelines took effect, are setting up a sub-committee to examine police search procedures.

They said the number of Level III strip-searches, involving removal of underwear - 18 a day - was unacceptably high.

Their comments were made at a meeting of the Legislative Council's security panel after police figures showed that between July and September, when 8,086 people were detained, 1,674 strip-searches were conducted.

Police also conducted 7,586 Level I searches that did not involve removal of any clothes, and 2,513 Level II searches involving removal of some clothing. Some detainees were searched more than once.

Legislator Emily Lau Wai-hing said she was surprised at the number of strip-searches. James To Kun-sun said the number was unacceptably high, with nearly a fifth of detainees being strip-searched.

The Security Bureau said the government would further review and update the search guidelines, which were introduced after complaints that arrested suspects were being unnecessarily strip-searched.

The principal assistant secretary for security, Apollonia Liu, said police were very cautious in carrying out searches that involved removal of underwear and would not require detainees to remove all their clothes at once. A person who had stripped to the waist would be allowed to put those clothes back on before removing the lower garments.

Legislator Audrey Eu Yuet-mee said the Level III category did not accurately reflect strip-searching by police and suggested the three-level system be reviewed.

The lawmaker for the legal sector, Margaret Ng Ngoi-yee, pointed out that a position paper submitted by the Bar Association to the government last week had said that police policy that all detainees should be searched every time they entered a police detention facility was unreasonable.

Separately, however, Deputy Commissioner of Police Andy Tsang Wai-hung said at a Police Association function that the force had an 'operational need' to conduct searches when detainees entered cells at different times in order to fulfil a 'duty of care' to the detainees and to prevent crime.

Meanwhile, Civil Human Rights Front representative Iu Shing-chi questioned whether police were using such searches to target peaceful protesters.

He said police had started detaining protesters since 2006, including activists resisting the demolition of the Star Ferry Pier and redevelopment plans for Wedding Card Street in Wan Chai. Some had complained they had been strip-searched.

Bare facts

Between July and September, police detained 8,086 people

The number of strip-searches conducted: 1,674