Police vague about whether anti-Occupy Central officers breached code

The force quotes Basic Law in reply to questions of whether anti-Occupy officers have broken its code of conduct by signing petition

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 31 July, 2014, 4:41am
UPDATED : Thursday, 31 July, 2014, 12:09pm

Police management offered no clear answer yesterday on whether officers who signed an anti-Occupy Central petition ran afoul of the force's code of conduct by compromising its perceived neutrality.

The force also stopped short of offering a promise to keep from using pepper spray or a higher degree of violence than what was applied at the July 2 Chater Road sit-in to remove protesters who did not resist arrest.

Asked if off-duty officers could sign the petition, acting director of operations Cheung Tak-keung said officers "should be politically neutral at all times".

"But according to the Basic Law and the Bill of Rights Ordinance, all Hong Kong residents enjoy the freedom to express their views, and this of course includes police officers," he said.

Police General Orders state that an officer should abstain at all times from any activity likely to interfere with the impartial discharge of his duties or anything likely to give rise to the impression that it might interfere.

Cheung said he believed officers had no problem understanding the code. "I believe our officers are able to make the right decision on their own," he said.

Earlier, Henry Ngo Chi-hang, of the Police Inspectors' Association, said he knew many officers had signed the petition in their personal capacity. He supported their expression of personal political views in this way, he said.

The Chater Road sit-in was staged as a rehearsal for a blockade of streets in the main business hub that the Occupy Central democracy movement has threatened to undertake if the government did not deliver a blueprint for the 2017 chief executive election that guaranteed voters a genuine choice.

On handling future protests, Cheung said: "Whether violence would be used depends on the actual circumstances. It would be best if we could … enforce the law without resorting to the use of violence."

Police are gearing up for Occupy protests that may take place as early as next month in the absence of political reforms that meet the expectations of the movement's organisers.

The force had reviewed its strategies in handling the Chater Road rally, Cheung said.

"We have finished the major part of our review and we believe we will do a better job in any similar operation in future," he said.

Preparation for any major disruption of public order would have no effect on police manpower in the rest of the city, as the force had a "very effective manpower plan", he said.

Overall, crime between January and June dropped 6 per cent from the same period last year, reaching its lowest level since 1980, police figures released yesterday showed.

But the detection rate, at 41.4 per cent, was also the lowest in 10 years when compared to the yearly average figures since 2004. Police said technology crimes, in which both victims and suspects were usually not in the city, were hard to crack.

Cases of blackmail surged almost 70 per cent to 422, with "sextortion" via web video chats making up the bulk of the rise.

Mainlanders arrested for crimes other than illegal employment or prostitution were up 14 per cent to 725, slightly less than the 16 per cent rise in mainland visitors in the same period. But arrests of mainland prostitutes rose 53 per cent to 2,266.