Security chief mulls acid drills for traders

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 14 January, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 14 January, 2010, 12:00am

An emergency drill for traders in high-risk pedestrian areas is being considered to increase the chance of catching the perpetrator of recent acid attacks, the security chief said yesterday.

Secretary for Security Ambrose Lee Siu-kwong said in a Legislative Council meeting that the government would discuss, with district councils and traders in high-risk areas, the possibility of conducting emergency drills to familiarise them with what they could do to help arrest the attacker. Lee was speaking just hours before police announced the arrest of two suspects in an attack in Causeway Bay last month.

'Who would be affected and what kind of issues we should pay attention to need further discussion,' Lee said in response to lawmaker Lau Kong-wah's suggestion for the drills, which would urge shop owners to keep watch at the exits of old buildings in the event of an acid attack.

Lee said it was not certain whether the series of acid attacks was carried out by a single culprit or a group, or whether copycat perpetrators were involved.

Had all the attacks in Mong Kok and Causeway Bay been conducted by the same person, the perpetrator would be 'very intelligent', Lee said.

'The culprit threw a bottle of acid in Mong Kok a year ago. As police deployed many officers at Mong Kok on the high-risk day - the same day a year later - the culprit changed the location and made an attack in Causeway Bay instead,' Lee said.

'It is very clear that the culprit is having a match of intelligence with the police.'

District councillors generally welcomed the drill proposal. But some were concerned about whether the exercise would create panic.

Yau Tsim Mong District Council vice-chairman Edward Leung Wai-kuen said unless the suspects admitted to all the crimes, the public was still exposed to further attacks.

He said the exercise should aim to set tasks and roles for traders in the event of an acid attack, to increase the chance of catching the perpetrator. 'If we can mobilise the traders in an organised way, we have a better chance of catching the attacker in the 'golden one minute',' said Leung, referring to the first minute after an attack, deemed the best chance for arrest. 'Some people should stand guard at the entrance of buildings, some should help treat the injured and others should report to the police. The division of labour should be known in advance,' he said.

But he was concerned it might be difficult to pull together traders to act collaboratively and suggested targeting security guards initially.

Central and Western District Council chairman Chan Tak-chor said the intention of the exercise was good, but priority should be given to boosting security in high-risk areas.

Wan Chai district councillor Yolanda Ng Yuen-ting said the drills should go ahead despite the arrests, and even though they could stir up panic: 'Another attacker could turn up tomorrow. And there could be copycats. The government should meet district councils and traders as soon as possible to discuss details.'

Lau said the exercise would more likely instil confidence. 'Shoppers will feel safe to visit places where an attack drill had been done because the attacker would avoid the places, fearing he would be caught.'

In the meeting, lawmaker Cheung Man-kwong questioned whether police had exhausted all measures to prevent future acid attacks.

Lee said police had sent psychologists to the crime scenes to profile suspects.

Police have offered HK$1.7 million for help in solving the attacks.