Senior frontline police officers are being asked to postpone their retirement to bolster manpower amid growing concerns about public order and the prospect of handling a potentially chaotic Occupy Central movement next year.
According to several sources, in recent weeks the force's management has approached "significant numbers'' of senior inspectors - long-serving officers with key experience of frontline policing - who are due to retire over the next 12 months and asked them to stay on beyond their official retirement age.
The move - described by long-serving officers as very unusual - is in part the result of a general shortage of officers of senior inspector rank.
But the main impetus behind the push is worries at the very highest levels of the force about discontent on the streets and the need to cope with the Occupy Central movement, which is threatening to bring Central to a standstill through civil disobedience next year in a push for universal suffrage.
The extension would also buy time for police chiefs to push through promotions into the senior inspector ranks.
Under civil service regulations, force management can ask officers to stay on for 90 days beyond their formal retirement date.
The unprecedented drive to keep experienced officers on also comes at a time when the compulsory retirement of police officers at age 55 has become an issue for debate in the ranks.
A source close to the move described it as "unprecedented'' and confirmed it was targeting senior inspectors. "The reason is Occupy Central, although the official line is to allow for a smooth succession plan for inspector promotions," the source said.
Last night a police spokesman would only say: "The force has put in place comprehensive human resources management strategy and mechanisms to maintain force operational efficacy on an equal opportunity basis.''
The spokesman added that, as of July 1, the force had 1,766 posts of inspector and senior inspector rank, of which 1,696 were presently filled - leaving a shortfall of 70.
Another senior officer with almost 30 years of experience, said: "A significant number of senior inspectors are due to retire and personnel wing has very recently been contacting them asking them to consider staying on in service after their normal retirement age. But only for an additional period of 90 days.
"We know that the force has a horrendous shortage of officers at that rank.''
Another source with knowledge of the move said: "With mass protests planned for next July, the force fears many senior inspectors will leave in order to avoid what will be an operational and logistical nightmare.''
It is understood that a number of the officers offered the extension have already said they are not interested.