Police watchdog must work to raise confidence among public
Confidence in the Independent Police Complaints Council is at seven-year low, mirroring the fall in trust the public has in the force itself
Atrustworthy police complaint and advisory system is an integral part of a healthy civil society. It guards against abuse of power by law enforcers and identifies room for improvement during the course of maintaining law and order. In Hong Kong, the tasks are carried out by the Independent Police Complaints Council. It is important that it is not just doing its job without fear or favour, but also seen to be doing so.
This is sadly not always the case, though. If the annual survey commissioned by the council is any guide, public perception of its independence and impartiality is at a seven-year low. Only 39 per cent of the respondents expressed confidence in its work, down from 48 per cent two years ago. The no-confidence level also surged from 20 per cent to 34 per cent.
The negative perception appears to be in line with the pressure facing the police following the pro-democracy Occupy protests in 2014 and the Mong Kok riots early this year. While some praised the police for doing a good job in maintaining law and order, others considered the use of force as excessive. This was reflected in another survey that showed only 60 per cent of the respondents were satisfied with the police, the lowest among all disciplined forces.
The drop in confidence may not be surprising in light of the prevailing sentiments. But it is nonetheless a cause for concern for a watchdog whose work is pivotal to the protection of civil rights and liberties. Some complaint cases in relation to the protests and riots remain outstanding. The council has to prove that cases handled by the police will be reviewed independently.
It is good that the watchdog has shown its teeth by rejecting the police decision to clear a superintendent of any wrongdoing in the case in which a mentally ill man had been wrongly accused of killing a 73-year-old man. The suspect was locked up for 50 hours on a holding charge of manslaughter, even though he had an alibi and could not answer questions properly. The watchdog’s ruling shows that abuse of powers will not go unchecked.