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Hong Kong police

A race against time: Hong Kong’s police search team reveal pressures at high-profile events

Team responsible for security checks and arrangements at mass events says they often have very little time to prepare

PUBLISHED : Monday, 11 December, 2017, 7:03am
UPDATED : Monday, 11 December, 2017, 10:41am

When 40 coaches brought guests to the tightly-secured flag-raising gala in Wan Chai on July 1 as the city celebrated the 20th anniversary of the handover, one busload of elderly guests and philanthropists missed the ceremony after their security check could not be completed in time.

This little-known incident was revealed as the police search team told the media on Thursday about the limited time they were often given to complete security procedures ahead of major events due to the high confidentiality of information relating to state leaders.

The force search team is responsible for security checks and arrangements at mass events, for example, President Xi Jinping’s visit to the city during the 20th anniversary of the handover. It is also responsible for collecting evidence at crime scenes.

Underground with the Hong Kong police confined space search team

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the team’s founding. It now consists of six full-time police officers and more than 470 part-time officers drawn from the rest of the force. The part-timers are on duty during major events.

Chief inspector Ng Ching-no, who oversaw the overall security of the handover celebrations, said her team only was given information about Xi’s routes and destinations on very short notice, and that she had to deploy manpower and resources with great time constraints.

Ng said her team only had slightly more than one hour to finish the security check on the day of flag raising, which required the searching of every guest to prevent them from bringing dangerous items into the venue.

“Despite limited time, we still have to be meticulous in our search because we are responsible for any danger or prohibited items brought into the venue,” Ng said.

“The guests from the coach that missed the ceremony were understanding of our situation.”

“Relevant departments [from the state] are very tight-lipped and discreet about giving out information,” said Ng. “Upon knowing some key information, our team worked around the clock to make security arrangements.”

Superintendent Lok Wai-lurk said before any major event, the search team would cordon off the venue for a thorough “defensive search” to remove any dangerous items. This would include searching rooftops and underground water pipes.

Lok said: “It is also a strategy to deter potential terrorists from plotting.”

The force search team also conducts salvage operations in the event of a collapsed building. Chief Inspector Cheng Siu-kin said he had come across a “surprise” during an operation in Hung Hom, after the balcony of a dilapidated tenement building that was 61 years old collapsed in heavy rain in June this year.

“A resident [who is a new immigrant from the mainland] asked if we could fetch a precious family photo for him because it was the only one he had,” Cheng said. “Assessing the risks, two of our staff went into the damaged site and found the photo in 20 minutes … It was unforgettable.”