The number of police with unmanageable debts has risen to more than 200, with the officers owing an average of $530,000, according to the latest survey of the problem. The average unmanageable debt - defined as debt beyond the ability of the officer to repay - in the second half of last year was more than five times the sum recorded five years ago. The total of 202 indebted officers represents a 14 per cent increase from a year earlier. Frontier legislator Cyd Ho Sau-lan said heavy debts compromised the force's morale and social standing. 'It is very alarming for disciplinary forces to engage in such personal debt that they might engage in illegal activities,' she said. It meant officers did not have a positive value system. Ms Ho said the Government should help officers suffering from a sense of helplessness. 'The most important thing is to build up their value in life. If they had satisfaction they would not turn to gambling,' she said. 'We must look at what pressures police officers are under to lead them to do such things and we must look at psychological aspects to help members of the police force.' But Deputy Commissioner Dick Lee said the rate of increase in the number of officers with unmanageable debts had slowed since the height of the Asian financial crisis. 'We attach great emphasis on [the problem of] indebtedness and have been trying to help the officers,' Mr Lee said. 'Of course, we hope there is not a single case of indebtedness. We need to face the problems if we are aware that they exist.' The number of indebted officers rose from 177 in the last six months of 1999 to 198 in the first half of 2000, with each owing an average of $506,000. The biggest increase recorded in the force's six-monthly debt survey came after the Asian financial crisis, with a 27 per cent jump in the first half of 1999 to 165 cases. Mr Lee said 12 officers were dismissed or ordered to retire because of unmanageable debts last year. There were nine such cases in 1999 and four in 1998. Analysis of the new figures revealed that about 75 per cent of indebted officers blamed their situation on personal investment failures or the financial troubles of family members. A further 16.8 per cent blamed overspending, while 7.4 per cent blamed gambling. Since 1997, the force has launched a series of programmes to encourage officers to lead sound lifestyles, save money and manage their finances. On December 15, Sergeant Ho Hoi-kwan, 48, was found dead with a gunshot wound to the chest in a car park in Tso Wo Hang Village, Sai Kung. Friends said he was fond of gambling and was heavily in debt.