Riot gear for Guangzhou’s feared urban security officers

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 31 August, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 31 August, 2013, 4:02am

Guangzhou officials have defended the city's decision to outfit a controversial urban security force with body armour as a necessary action to protect them from violent attacks by street hawkers.

Guangzhou Vice-Mayor Xie Xiaodan said the new equipment, which includes riot helmets, full-body shields and knife-proof vests, was not intended to intimidate, as some residents have charged.

I don't agree with the criticism that this is a backtrack. None of this gear is for offensive purposes, but rather is defensive in nature
Guangzhou Vice-Mayor Xie Xiaodan

"I don't agree with the criticism that this is a backtrack," Xie said at a press conference on Thursday. "None of this gear is for offensive purposes, but rather is defensive in nature."

The Guangzhou move comes amid simmering public anger across the country over a series of violent incidents involving urban management officers, known as chengguan in Putonghua.

The officers, who enforce local health, safety and sanitation laws, have been accused across the mainland of thuggery and corruption.

Last month, six urban management officers were detained in Hunan's Linwu county for the beating death of a local watermelon vendor.

Many Guangzhou residents say the body armour suggests the urban management force is preparing for more confrontation with the public, not less. The equipment includes heat-resistant gloves, cameras and encrypted radio transmitters.

"The new equipment delivers a message of violent enforcement, which will only make people uneasy," a commentary in the Yanzhao Evening News said on Wednesday.

An editorial in the official Nanfang Daily called the equipment inhumane, raising concerns that its purchase marked a backward step in efforts to improve the image of the force.

"Law enforcement or combat?" wrote one Sina Weibo user.

Wrote another: "Is this really necessary? I'm shocked."

Xie, whose portfolio includes law enforcement, said Guangzhou's 4,000-member urban management force had been hard-pressed to manage the 300,000 hawkers in the city, many of them migrants from outside the city, he said.

There have been 510,000 operations against illegal hawkers so far this year, of which 199 were classified as violent, he said. Some 99 urban management officers have been sent to hospital.

Xie did not did not mention how many hawkers had been injured.

At the press conference, Xie said urban management had a long history in China, saying the practice "dates back to ancient times".

"In the Song dynasty capital, a team of 500 people specialised in city management," Xie said.

One microblogger retorted: "Then how about you go back to the Song dynasty and be mayor."