Police and politics - where to draw the line?
Officers' union plans to get force to clarify what constitutes participation in political activities, after retiring superintendent attends rally
A police union that represents junior officers will discuss tomorrow whether the force should refine its definition of what constitutes participation in political activities.
The move comes in response to retiring superintendent Gregory Lau Tat-keung's participation in Sunday's pro-police rally in Mong Kok that degenerated into a brawl between supporters and detractors of a teacher who had been caught on video using foul language on officers.
Ricky Chu Man-kin, secretary general of the Independent Police Complaints Council, said the rally was of a political nature.
Lau's attendance sparked a debate on whether he had breached internal rules, although he was on pre-retirement leave. By last night, the force had received 508 complaints.
"It is now time to review the relevant internal regulations, particularly after what happened on Sunday," said Tung Yiu-ming, vice-chairman of the Junior Police Officers' Association.
The union planned to ask police management to clarify the definition of participation in political activities as laid out in the general orders of the force.
Chu said whether Lau had broken the police code of conduct should depend on whether his remarks at the rally affected the force's impartiality in executing its duties.
Lau expressed willingness to bear responsibility if he was found to have breached the rules. He also sought a review of officers' rights. "Where do we draw the line between officers' freedom of speech and their rights as citizens?" he said.
University of Hong Kong law professor Eric Cheung Tat-ming said officers' demand for more civil rights should not compromise the independence and impartiality of the force in exercising its duties.
Besides reviewing the code of conduct, the police could also consider introducing several sets of regulations for people of different ranks who wanted to take part in political activities, he said.
In a separate incident involving officers' questionable behaviour at Sunday's rally, a video posted on YouTube showed a member of the Police Tactical Unit hurling abuse at protesters.
Video: A police officer shouts at protesters (warning: obscenity in Cantonese)
A police spokeswoman said officers had to maintain a high level of personal conduct and discipline whether on duty or not. All internal rules were reviewed regularly to keep pace with changes in society, she added.