Hong Kong police launch card scheme for mentally ill after blunder with autistic suspect

Force insists voluntary scheme will not stigmatise mentally disabled people

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 22 November, 2016, 7:02am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 22 November, 2016, 9:11am

Police yesterday rolled out a system using cards for mentally disabled people so that officers can identify them in advance, after the force made a blunder in handling an autistic suspect last year.

The force insisted the voluntary scheme would not stigmatise the disadvantaged group.

The “care cards” are available at police stations, hospitals, and other centres. Guardians can fill in the card holder’s details, emergency contact, medical needs and behavioural characteristics.

Chief superintendent from the crime wing, Irene Ho Yuen-ha, stressed it was not an identity card to prove mental illness, but a tool to inform officers that the person might have special needs.

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“The card will not bring bad labels to [disabled people]. They do not need to wear the card but keep it in their wallet,” said Ho. “It is up to the guardians to decide to get a card or not, and how much information they want to fill in.”

Police Commissioner Stephen Lo Wai-chung first announced the measure in July, as he admitted the force made mistakes in dealing with an autistic suspect who was arrested for allegedly killing an old man in Sha Tin in May last year.

Ho said the information on the card could help avoid misunderstandings when officers handle similar situations.

“Autistic persons tend to repeat someone’s words like a parrot,” Ho said. “If the suspect repeated our words, we might misunderstand that he or she was admitting to the crime.”

She added that the entire force, or 28,000 officers, had been trained in the past four months before the scheme’s launch.

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But legislator Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung slammed the police for shifting the responsibility of identifying mentally disabled people to parents or guardians.

“Many MIP [mentally impaired persons] had already carried similar cards. One-off police training is not enough.Officers should be able to identify MIP,” Cheung said, urging the force to disclose its rules of handling people with mental disabilities.

Last year, police laid a holding charge of manslaughter on an autistic man after locking him up for 50 hours without his medication. Officers dropped the charge when they finally accepted his alibi, which prompted the man’s brother to file a complaint.

All nine officers involved faced penalties after a number of allegations were substantiated.

They included failing to arrange medical care for the man and asking misleading questions during a video-recorded interview under caution.

From yesterday, the force also issued a notice to relatives, guardians or social workers for when they are chosen as the “appropriate adult” to accompany mentally disabled suspects to give a statement in a police station. The notice listed out their rights and duties as an ‘appropriate adult’.