Police were criticised yesterday for drawing up new guidelines on how officers should deal with verbal insults without having first consulted the public and the statutory body that handles complaints against police.
In a regular meeting with the Police Complaints Council, the force's director of management services Alan Lau Yip-shing said police would consider whether any crime had been committed before taking action. "Such as, if any assault or acts preventing officers from discharging their duties have taken place," he added.
Council member and lawmaker Dr Helena Wong Pik-wan said the guideline should be put on hold pending further discussion. "I am worried about whether officers will have a clear, easily understandable and implementable guideline," she added.
Verbally insulting an officer is not an offence in Hong Kong.
It is understood that under the new guideline, officers will be instructed to initially tell the person insulting them to stop. If the insults continue, officers can warn them that they will be able to arrest the offenders for disorderly conduct in a public place or assaulting, resisting or deliberately obstructing the police in the execution of their lawful duties.
It is also understood, however, that the new guideline is not applicable to public protests and triad gatherings. For the latter, police can arrest suspects for "unlawful assembly".
Lau dismissed suggestions that officers may react to being insulted and misuse the guidelines. "Officers have to act in good faith, meaning whatever they do has to be lawful and necessary when they discharge their duties ... they will have to be prepared to account for their actions and bear the responsibilities," Lau said.
He said that a survey showed officers supported the change.
Complaints committee council chairman Jat Sew-tong said the force had agreed to consider views expressed by council members before the guideline was issued.
Police also explained to the council their refusal to open the eastbound lane of Hennessy Road to marchers in this year's January 1 protest rally, much to organisers' anger.
Hong Kong Island senior superintendent Nelson Cheng Yiu-mo said it was to safeguard emergency access. He said the westbound lane and tram tracks had been adequate this year.
He also revealed that of the 225 video clips taken at 122 public events last year, 57 clips from 15 events had been kept. Footage has to be deleted within 31 days if no charges have been laid.