More than 1,300 armed police and 150 patrol vehicles took to Beijing's streets today as the government stepped up security measures following a series of violent attacks on civilians at public facilities.
As the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown approaches, Beijing authorities have vowed that the units will be their “most important” force on the streets as they make it their “exclusive responsibility” to fight “terrorism and serious crimes of violence”, according to the Beijing Times newspaper, quoting the Beijing Municipal Public Security Bureau (PSB).
With maximum striking force and minimum response time, the new armed patrol units are built with what the newspaper called a double-three standard: each unit will cover a street section less than three kilometres long, and the site of any incident can be reached within three minutes, the newspaper reported.
The armed patrol force comes in the wake of a series of attacks on public places in China which have resulted in multiple deaths and injuries.
An attack on Kunming train station two months ago saw a group of nine suspects hack at commuters with knives for nearly half an hour, leaving 29 dead and more than 140 injured.
Earlier this month, a knife attack on Guangzhou train station left several people injured.
The slow response of local police contributed to the large number of fatalities and prompted doubts over the government’s ability to deal with such sudden, violent incidents.
Ordinary patrol officers were often occupied by many assignments to deal with non-violence issues, such as thieving, family quarrels or prostitution, according to the Beijing Times. They were often not adequately trained or armed to contain organised, large scale violent attacks, either, the newspaper reported.
The new units will each include nine fully armed officers with four assistants and they would rotate to maintain around-the-clock cover.
Maximum visibility will be used by the units to deter violent crimes, the municipal police said.
The armed vehicles will park in public areas or road intersections with dense population, looking for anyone acting suspiciously.
However, the units will cover less than 500km of streets in total, only a fraction of Beijing’s over 21,000km long road network.
The units will therefore be placed at “critical areas”, although the authorities would not give details on where they were or what qualified as a critical area.
Beijing’s new armed patrol force is part of a national effort to maintain the stability in urban areas.
In Shenzhen, city government staged a two-hour long anti-terror drill amid a heavy downpour on Sunday, mobilizing a large number of armed forces including tactical units and armed helicopters.
Following the attack in Guangzhou train station last week, top level officials with the Ministry of Public Security visited train stations in Changsha, Beijing and Shanghai to inspect the implementation of security measures.
Liu Siyue, an accountant in Beijing’s Chaoyang district, said he was disturbed by the increase in security forces on streets.
“More than once I have been asked for my ID card by a policeman when walking in downtown areas. I feel very uncomfortable about this,” he said.
But Li Yuanyuan, a public servant in Dongcheng district, said she felt safer with the presence of the new patrolling force.
“It is the price we pay for safety. It is unavoidable,” she said.
“A few more attacks can make us as terrified as the Americans.”