New tactics to handle jail disturbances

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 07 April, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 07 April, 2010, 12:00am

New tactics to defuse prison disturbances have been devised by a Correctional Services Department taskforce, under which a 30-strong platoon will be split into smaller units for a swifter response.

The changes come despite an absence of large-scale violent incidents in recent years. However, officers have had to enter cells more frequently to subdue troublesome inmates.

A member of the 170-strong Correctional Emergency Response Team, principal officer Chan Siu-hang, said the new tactics, known as close-quarters combat, would ensure a prompt response in different situations.

Brawls and assaults often happened inside cells, workshops or along corridors, where officers had little room to move, he said.

The new tactics, designed last year, will see the platoon split into teams of three to five members. Each of them, dressed in full gear including newly designed fire-resistant uniforms, will be assigned to different roles and equipment.

In a media demonstration last week, one officer with a pepper-ball launcher attempted to control the situation from a distance when two colleagues using shields approached a group of 'rioting inmates'. Another two officers with close-combat skills then quickly subdued the 'prisoners'.

Apart from handling jail disturbances, the team is also responsible for cell searches at institutions throughout Hong Kong. It handled 10 operations last year, compared with three in 2007. Lam Yiu-lai, head of the escort and support group which manages the response team, said cell seizures included gambling paraphernalia, weapons and drugs.

But he insisted the increased number of operations did not reflect worsening cell conditions, as officers might take action ahead of special events, including this summer's soccer World Cup.

'It is our normal duty to maintain prison order, and we are ready in support whenever necessary,' Lam said, adding that the department had also allocated equipment including gas masks, helmets, knife-resistant vests, arm and leg guards and pepper spray to individual institutions for quicker action in case of sudden incidents.

In 2007, there were 687 fights between prisoners in Hong Kong. The figure dropped to 574 in 2008.

The team will recruit about 30 members from within the department this year and they will undergo physical and psychological training. They will also cover tactics needed to quell violence.