From riots to autopsies: retired officers look back
As Cheung Chau police station celebrates its centenary this year, its retired officers are looking back at their time on the island. They say aside from the turbulence of the 1967 riots, their job is mainly about domestic disputes.
"The more peaceful it appeared, the more worried we were," says Pun Fu-keung, who was stationed on the island twice in the early 1950s, and from 1961 to 1962. "While the Cheung Chau locals have always been very united when organising festivals and maintaining order on the island, there's always the fear that outsiders will come and destroy the peace," the 80-year-old said.
He recalled how a 40-foot harbour launch on standby at Cheung Chau was hit by a floating homemade bomb, deafening a sergeant who was on board. Police boats were frequent targets of leftist bomb attacks during the 1967 riots that spilled over from the mainland at the height of the Cultural Revolution.
"They made bombs out of the old fire extinguishers and they floated them in the harbour in the hope that the police boat would hit them," says former sub-inspector Gavin Cooper, who took charge in Cheung Chau for a few weeks in 1961, filling in for a colleague while he was on holiday.
He added that local communists would also hit the wooden police vessels with their metal boats at night during the riots.
"The culprit [for the boat attack] was never arrested even though everyone in Cheung Chau knew who he was," Pun said. "He used to be a person of influence and was even made a justice of the peace."
In more peaceful times, being a policeman on Cheung Chau might seem a plum job for officers. But Pun said they were expected to carry out non-police duties, too. "In the '50s and '60s, we also handled death registrations, and sometimes we even had to do autopsies," Pun said.
"We also repatriated many illegal immigrants from the mainland who thought surrendering to Hong Kong police meant they could stay here."
But one thing that hasn't changed over the years is the rapport between the police and the community. This was seen in the fast arrest of a suspected triad member who went on a chopping spree on the island, injuring two people, in October. Divisional commander Vicky Wong Po-yan said residents kept police updated as to the suspect's whereabouts via WhatsApp.
And for some officers, Cheung Chau became home. "If you want a really good wife, you marry a Cheung Chau girl," says Cooper.