Police complaints a cause for concern

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 09 July, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 09 July, 2011, 12:00am


A 50 per cent surge in the number of complaints over a year is a serious issue for any organisation. When the institution concerned is the Hong Kong police force, there is more reason for the alarm bells to ring. If the numbers are indicative of public satisfaction in the force's performance, one cannot help wondering if they suggest law enforcement officers' standards are falling.

The Independent Police Complaints Council rightly said it is a cause for concern that the number of allegations jumped 57 per cent year on year to 7,952 last year, although the percentage of cases found to be substantiated remains steady at around 14 per cent. The cases involved neglect of duty, improper manner or offensive language. While some cases involving officers' behaviour could have been avoided through better training in communication, it is the complaints of a more serious nature that warrant closer attention. The allegations of fabrication of evidence and assault have increased by 60 per cent and 33 per cent respectively. The increase should be taken seriously by the force's management.

The low substantiation rate probably belies the scale of the problem. This is because many cases were simply withdrawn. The internal investigation by police, followed by a review by the council, often takes more than a year to complete. The rest are informally resolved, not pursuable or curtailed. It would be less worrying if the increase in complaints was more due to growing awareness of individual rights and confidence in the watchdog. Otherwise, the force has every reason to be concerned.

Police leaders may well argue that people's satisfaction with the force, as repeatedly shown in opinion polls, remains high at 60 to 70 per cent. But there is no room for complacency. A good image can easily be eroded if more people are unhappy with the way they have been treated by the police. It is imperative for the management to tackle this issue and enhance public confidence in the force.