LAW AND ORDER

Hong Kong police force set for manpower boost after shortcomings exposed by Occupy

Hush-hush plan would see 500 new posts used to strengthen units that manage public order after pro-democracy sit-ins exposed limitations

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 14 February, 2015, 12:32am
UPDATED : Saturday, 14 February, 2015, 9:37am

Hong Kong's police force looks set to get its biggest single injection of manpower in years with the addition of 500 new officer posts - in a move primarily aimed at strengthening the specialist unit that handles public order events.

Security sources have told the South China Morning Post that a hush-hush proposal put together by force management - which has been given the green light by the Security Bureau - would see 500 new positions added to the force's current "establishment" of 28,726, the majority of which would be used to boost the Police Tactical Unit (PTU) which at present had 2,000 officers.

News of the manpower boost plan is likely to reignite the debate over how the police handled last year's Occupy Central protests, the unprecedented nature of which split the city, stretched the force and exposed shortcomings at the sharp end of its public order operations.

To cope with the size of the protests, officers had to be drafted from units across Hong Kong.

One source with knowledge of the move told the Post that between 250 and 300 of the new posts would go towards creating two new PTU companies whose primary task would be the policing of public order events. The source added that the plan had been put together "very quietly" due its sensitive nature.

"There really is a concerted effort to keep the whole thing hidden," the source said. "Occupy certainly showed up a number of deficiencies in the PTU [including] significant staff shortages at both officer level and among the rank and file," said the source.

The Police Tactical Unit provides an immediate manpower reserve for use in any emergency. Unit companies are attached to all regional land divisions of the force and are available for internal security, crowd control, anti-crime operations, disaster response and riot control throughout Hong Kong.

Another source with close ties to law enforcement said it was unclear how the proposal would pass through the machinery of government.

"They might try to put it in the upcoming budget because that way it may not require the scrutiny of the Legislative Council's Finance Committee," the source said. "[But then it risks getting] caught up in the fight over political reform, which is almost certain to turn the budget aftermath into a quagmire," the source said.

Previous post-handover police commissioners are reported to have lobbied for an increase to the size of the force - but failed.

The move comes at a time when other areas of the force, such as the units which tackle money laundering, commercial crime and cybercrime are facing shortages - some of which are caused by a brain drain to the more lucrative private sector.

Earlier this week, the Post revealed that only 50 investigators are assigned to the police anti-money laundering unit that faced a record deluge of more than 37,000 potential cases last year.

The disclosure came as questions are being raised by lawmakers about the unit's ability to assess complex money-laundering cases given an exodus of experienced investigators to the private sector.