Police care cards for those with disabilities are a welcome step
But responsibility for treating people fairly and assessing mental competence in suspected criminal cases still rests with officers
It is important for mentally impaired people not to be stigmatised. It is equally so for the police to know when they are dealing with people with such problems, so that they may exercise the appropriate discretion to avoid misunderstandings that can lead to injustice. The unveiling by police of a private “care card”, available on a voluntary basis at the request of parents or guardians to help officers identify disabled people, their disability and their needs, is therefore welcome.
It may seem an overdue initiative in a law-abiding, compassionate society, but it is the incident that prompted it that sets it apart.
In May last year, a 73-year-old man died in hospital after being pushed to the ground while walking his dog in Sha Tin. Police later laid a holding charge of manslaughter against a young autistic man named Au, after locking him up for 50 hours without his medication. Police obtained a confession, but Au’s brother said he often repeated what he had been asked and was not capable of handling police questioning on his own.
Officers finally dropped the charge after establishing that Au was in an institution at the time of the incident, and nine officers faced disciplinary action over a number of allegations, including failing to arrange medical care and asking misleading questions during a video-recorded interview under caution.
Police did not follow a guideline stating that, as far as practicable, they should take statements from mentally impaired people in the presence of a guardian, relative, social worker or someone from outside the force.
Parents or guardians can decide whether to get the care cards, which can alert police to emergency contacts, medical needs and behavioural issues.
That said, the card does not lessen the responsibility on the police to exercise diligence in assessing the mental competence of someone under investigation.
It has been issued to help them, those with disabilities and their carers, but not everyone will carry one.