Female police officers trained to take heat out of protests

Female police group play front-line role when emotions rise on the city's streets

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 14 October, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 14 October, 2012, 4:13am

The number of protests Hong Kong police have attended has nearly tripled in the past two years, but the force says it has the resources to manage "escalating passions" in the city.

Its secret weapon? An all-woman formation called Tango.

"If they see a row of us women cops in front of them, the protesters won't get as riled up," company member Wang Chi-chu said.

The company was formed in 1992 when police assisted in the deportation of 143,700 Vietnamese refugees who had come to the city during and after the Vietnam war.

"We needed more women officers to interact with the elderly and female refugees," said company commander Louisa Chui Po-chu. "So Tango was formed and we've been operating since." The group now has 211 members.

Tango members volunteer to serve in the company on an on-call basis and members need at least 12 months' experience and a recommendation from their supervisor to be considered.

Chui said Tango officers had been deployed more often in recent years. In 2010 the company responded to 16 protests, rising to 40 last year.

Tango has worked on crowd control at 25 protests so far this year.

"Before, protesters were not as emotional, but in the past few years, there have been more protests and they have become more passionate about their causes," chui said, adding that 30 per cent of the company's work was done during holiday celebrations and public events.

Another company member, Yuen Hon-ling, said officers needed to maintain a balance.

"We have to respect protesters' freedom of expression, but we also need to protect social rules, public property and other members of the public's right to access public spaces," she said.

Yuen said she had never been injured while working as part of Tango, and there was always backup available at the scene.

Some of Tango's assumptions seemed unfair, said Ann, a 32-year-old bookstore owner and social activist.

"I've been to 10 protests in the past year, including a national education protest and a protest about activist Li Wangyang's death, and participants have never acted aggressively," she said, "Police act as if protesters are a public nuisance, but we are there trying to do some good for our communities.

"Besides," she said, "the idea that female officers are better at dealing with rowdy protesters because of their gender just sounds a little sexist."