The Sars outbreak last year prompted Hong Kong's biggest landlord, the Housing Authority, to devise the tao of law enforcement, a training programme to equip its 1,300 housing officers to become enforcers of better community hygiene. 'Traditionally, their role had been to help maintain a happy and harmonious living environment at the estates,' said Grace Cheung, manager/human resource development (general). 'Many of our residents look upon these staff members as friends - people they can turn to in their daily lives or who will refer them to social workers if they have family or financial problems. 'Now, in addition to building a harmonious community, our officers had a new task as disciplinarians. It really was a paradox.' The Housing Authority introduced two measures in the interests of public hygiene. The Public Cleanliness Offences Ordinance increased the penalty for discarding rubbish from $600 to $1,500 while a marking scheme allots points to litterers. Any person who accumulates 16 points faces having their tenancy terminated. To Man-kuen, senior manager/human resource development (housing management), said: 'We realised this could result in difficulty and even confrontation for our officers. 'We knew a lot of residents would argue with the officers, so we started to talk to our senior officials, to our staff unions, to officials from other government departments and even to the police.' The Housing Authority felt it needed to help officers approach the task they faced positively rather than as a difficulty - hence the name of the programme. The word tao reflects the Chinese philosophy of finding a positive way to handle a challenging tasks. Instead of focusing on the negatives or punishment, housing officers learned to show residents how littering was a bad habit that could have an adverse impact on society. By encouraging behavioural changes, they were actually helping people to live in a better environment. The training took a multi-pronged approach, sourcing skills from various sectors. The first stage involved mentoring from senior staff members, who continued to support the officers after the training was complete. A series of experience-sharing seminars was organised in collaboration with other government departments, including the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department, which is responsible for prosecuting lawbreakers such as street hawkers. These officers are used to dealing with difficult people, and know the procedures of prosecution. They proved a valuable asset in the multifaceted training scheme. Housing officers were also sent on self-defence courses. These were necessary especially in light of the fact that almost half of housing officers are women. 'We want our people to have confidence that, if the going gets rough, they can still handle the situation,' he said. 'We also wanted them to learn physically to contain another person without hurting them.' The self-defence training also equipped officers to deal with violent situations. Another dimension to the training programme was the e-learning platform. Staff members could log on at any time to view videotaped sessions of the prosecution training and to network with other staff members via a chat room, creating a sense of community among the prosecutors. Winnie Lau, senior manager/human resources development (general), said the training not only equipped officers with new skills but gave them a more positive mindset. 'Our ultimate objective was not to punish but to educate people that cleanliness is now very important and we must keep our environment clean and hygienic,' she said. 'The multipronged design of the training programme also ensured its sustainability.' Mr To said the benefits of the programme had been both tangible and intangible. Before its launch last June, about 50 prosecutions were recorded a month. After the launch, this figure jumped to 500, but there was less conflict and only three cases of confrontation were reported. Now, he said, communities living on housing estates were taking more care of their environment and the number of prosecutions continued to drop markedly. On one estate, an elderly resident who had to be disciplined had voluntarily joined the clean-up campaign only a month later, proof that the message was getting through, Mr To said. Before the Housing Authority invests in training, it refers to its business strategy. Training, therefore, is linked to the organisation's real needs. Mr To said one thing that made the programme special was its low cost. Many of the resources were sourced in-house or from other government departments, the Judo Association charged a reasonable price for its self-defence courses, and the e-platform had ongoing benefits. 'We have to be careful how we spend our money, which is public money,' Mr To said.