Inquest will shed light on tragic police shooting
The police force has clear guidelines on the use of firearms. If an officer so much as draws a gun from its holster in the course of duty he or she has to file a report and account for the action to a senior officer. Thankfully, fatal police shootings are rare in Hong Kong. Regrettably, there is sometimes no immediate alternative to protect innocent lives. Such deaths rightly attract intense scrutiny. The findings of an internal police investigation are submitted to the coroner. The inquest provides an opportunity to publicly review police operational rules and actions and perhaps recommend measures that might prevent similar deaths in future.
The fatal shooting of 21-year-old husband and father Ho Sai-tung in Lam Tin on Monday will be no exception. When Ho went looking for his estranged wife and infant son, security guards in Hong Nga Court stopped him and called police. Police say he held a paper cutter to a guard's throat and, when his wife emerged, became emotional and rushed at her. As a policewoman pulled the wife back to protect her, they fell to the ground and Ho stood over them, ignoring warnings to drop the knife. Two officers fired three shots, two of which hit his head and neck. They fired from one metre and he fell on top of the two women, indicating the close proximity of all involved.
Ho's father has questioned the shooting of his son without a warning shot being fired. Police can use a firearm when a civilian's or officer's life is under threat, or an officer believes there will be serious violence in effecting an arrest. Last September a training officer told an inquest into the death of a gangster shot in the back by a policeman while evading arrest that officers were trained to fire at the trunk - the largest visible mass of a target - and that it was an almost impossible task for a policeman to shoot at the extremities, like arms and legs.
On paper the police guidelines should prevent avoidable deaths. But rules cannot anticipate every circumstance that confronts an officer in an emergency. Ultimately an inquest is the right place to examine any questions raised by this tragedy.