Police efficiency assured without expats, officer says

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 31 August, 2014, 4:40am
UPDATED : Sunday, 31 August, 2014, 4:40am

Barry Smith was 21 years old when he landed at the old Kai Tak airport after a long-haul flight from London in February 1983.

He didn't speak a word of Cantonese and had never been to the British colony, but he was about to police the streets of Hong Kong.

Now 52 and the senior superintendent and district commander at the Marine Outer Waters District, Smith is one of the few "officers on overseas terms" left in the Hong Kong Police Force, but don't expect him to get emotional about it.

"The days of the expatriate police officer are over, and rightly so," he said. "Hong Kong is now a part of China and there is no need for Hong Kong to go outside of Hong Kong to recruit officers. Why would you recruit someone who can't speak, read or write the language?

"There's a nostalgic point of view that it is the end of an era, but it doesn't affect the force at all in terms of efficiency and capability. I think it will be a case of quietly exit stage left and no one will even know we've gone."

Born in Singapore, Smith moved around as a child, as his father was in the Royal Air Force and was posted in various locations. His interest in Hong Kong was first piqued when he was a teenager at boarding school in England and watched a weekly TV series called Hong Kong Beat that documented expatriate officers in the city. "We loved it as kids. We thought it was great seeing these English guys in shorts in Hong Kong."

Highlights of his career included being at the front line of the 2005 World Trade Organisation riots, where hundreds of Korean protesters tried to storm the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre in Wan Chai, as well as 12 years in the elite Special Duties Unit, also known as the Flying Tigers, which included a two-week selection process he will never forget.

"One of my best friends died on the third day of heatstroke; it was that kind of tough."

Having overseas officers in the force brought different perspectives: "We brought that open-minded approach and we both learned from each other's cultures. There will be a gap in that cultural mix, but it will be filled quite easily by these overseas-educated officers."