Police force red-faced as officers flunk exam
A top level inquiry is under way in the Hong Kong Police Force after an unprecedented number of officers failed the latest examinations for promotion to senior and chief inspector.
Police unions described the dramatic slump from the normal pass rate of between 60 and 100 per cent to single digits in last month's Professional Standard III examination as alarming.
In one police district, Tsuen Wan, everyone who sat the exam failed.
Despite requests, the police public relations bureau declined to release detailed figures, only confirming that the overall rate was low. However, officers with a knowledge of the situation told the Sunday Morning Post that the pass rate ranged from around 12 per cent to 15 per cent at the 'high' end down to single digits.
A police spokeswoman confirmed that a probe was launched to find out why so many officers failed, describing the examination as 'part of the force's quality assurance mechanism'.
Democratic Party lawmaker James To Kun-sun, chairman of the Legislative Council's security panel, expressed 'serious concern' yesterday and said he would raise the matter with senior police management and his Legco colleagues.
The results were released last week and provoked a flood of complaints from among the more than 100 officers who sat them.
Many of the complaints are thought to have stemmed from the fact that while the questions posed were all well within the syllabus, some were framed in an 'unconventional manner' and others were more topical than in past years.
Aside from angry calls to police staff union representatives, blog entries and messages on the social networking site Facebook - apparently from serving officers - attacked those who set the questions.
One blogger said: 'Whoever set these exam questions should be involved in a car crash, and die' in reference to one of the questions, which referred to a court case involving the police use of private cars to set up a roadblock to stop road racers.
Tony Liu Kit-ming, chairman of the Local Inspectors' Association, said the sudden drop in pass rates was alarming.
Liu said he had been in touch with the force's staff relations division to ask the exams division of the Police College to conduct a review.
'I have had lots of complaints from my members who sat the latest Standard III exam, and they are very frustrated,' he said.
'By any statistical analysis this is a very significant drop. It's a problem and we have to look into it.
'As I understand it, the scope of the questions were within the syllabus, but perhaps they were a bit unconventional. I think there were one or two questions to test the reasoning and general knowledge of the candidates, which might have made a difference. We will have to wait and see what the review finds.'
The union chairman outlined four possible reasons for the slump in the pass rate: that the quality of inspectors has dropped significantly; a problem with enthusiasm and training; that the exam was too difficult and/or that the marking was too strict.
Only officers who have spent two years as probationary inspectors are eligible to sit the exam.
The chairman of the Overseas Inspectors' Association (OIA), Ron Abbott, said senior police management would brief the chairmen of the four police staff associations on the matter. He said the OIA believed that exam questions should be topical, challenging and set at a reasonable level, especially given that the exams in question are required for candidates to advance to senior inspector rank and upwards.
'Obviously the force is looking into the matter and hopefully questions will be asked not only why there was such a low pass rate on this occasion, but also why there was such a high pass rate in recent years,' he said.
Abbott said he and other members of the OIA had seen the papers and believed the questions were reasonable.
'Before being approved, the questions would have been vetted by a number of experienced officers and also subsequently marked by several officers of superintendent rank.
'There may well be issues that we are totally unaware of, so for now we'll wait to hear what management have to say before commenting further.'
A police spokesman said results had fluctuated over the years but admitted that the most recent exam results were low. The spokesman said that high standards were set in the force's professional qualifying exams.
'The pass rates in the recent Standard III professional exam are low. Occasionally, candidates sitting the force's professional exams do not perform as well as they or the force expects.
'Whilst the Examination and Assessment Division of the Hong Kong Police College is responsible for executing these force examinations, the force's examinations board oversees the whole process.
'There is clear force policy and guidelines on how the examination should be conducted.
'The examination is part of the force's quality assurance mechanism and requires officers to undertake self-study to ensure satisfactory performance.
'Candidates are expected to have the professional knowledge and experience, and to utilise higher order thinking skills such as analysis, synthesis and evaluation, which are required at chief inspector level.
'It is noted that the pass rate for the October 2010 examination is significantly lower than had been previously recorded.
'The Police College is examining the possible causes for the low pass rate in the October examination.''
Legco's To said: 'These results are obviously of serious concern. Without knowing the exact details it is difficult to say whether this is the result of the exam papers, the abilities of the candidates or the marking regime.
'It is certainly something I will take to the security panel and take up with the senior police force management.'
Another officer with knowledge of the police examination system said: 'It seems a number of the questions set were quite topical, and while not 'off-the-wall' were a bit different from the usual. This may have led to the response and the low pass rate.
'Not only is it quite embarrassing, there are concerns among the senior management that this type of airing of dirty laundry on the Web and in public forums could be damaging to the force.'
There was a dismal pass rate for the Professional Standard III exam
In Tsuen Wan police district, this number of candidates passed: 0
What the exam entails
Paper A - Law, Police Practice and Procedures in relation to Crime
Paper B - Law, Police Practice and Procedures in relation to Evidence and Courts
Paper C - Law, Police Practice and Procedures in relation to Traffic, Narcotics, Gambling and Miscellaneous Offences
Paper D - Law, Police Practice and Procedures in relation to Force Management