THE Police Commissioner, Li Kwan-ha, will retire this year, prompting an unprecedented series of reforms to the force's structure and internal policy direction. Mr Li's retirement will be within 90 days of his 57th birthday in July. Government and police sources say this schedule gives Mr Li - Hong Kong's first local commissioner - the chance to depart with dignity after celebrating the police's 150th anniversary. It will also serve to inject life into a largely lacklustre rank-and-file. It is understood Mr Li originally hinted at staying on for up to three years. However, his unofficial angling for an extended term was ignored by senior government figures, mainly because of Mr Li's lack of visible leadership and concern over his apparent reluctance to project a positive public image for the 27,000-strong organisation. Since being rebuked, Mr Li has not submitted a proposal for an extended term and, in any event, it is now considered too late for him to realise his desire. ''If he really wanted to stay on, he has left it too late in the process for such an application to be granted,'' one source said. ''Everybody is just waiting for the time to come.'' Deputy Commissioner (Operations) Eddie Hui Ki-on is expected to become the next police chief. As reported by the South China Morning Post last month, Mr Li's exit will accelerate a comprehensive reshuffle of the police hierarchy with local officers filling the top desks. In recent weeks, Peter So Lai-yin has taken over as Deputy Commissioner (Management). The reshuffle of senior ranks will re-focus attention on the implementation of as many as 50 major reforms to police policy, human resources, structure and the role of civilians. In March, 1993, private consultants Coopers & Lybrand completed a review of the force's senior command structure, a study partly initiated by Mr Li and his senior commanders. Since then, a team has been assessing the report and their study is expected to be completed next month. A review working group, now chaired by Mr So, has been directing the work of the study team. A steering committee, chaired by Mr Li, has the ultimate say on the implementation of their recommendations. Only those proposals with no financial implications have been considered. For instance, new procedures for the handling of dangerous drug exhibits - mainly an anti-corruption move - have been put in place. However, the bulk of reforms concentrate on shifting resources and possibly contracting out traditional police functions to the private sector, which will take longer to assess. Interpol will be boosted to cater for an anticipated upsurge in cross-border criminal activity in the next few years. One of the major priorities is to push more manpower into the New Territories where personnel levels are not satisfactory. Chairman of the Police Superintendent's Association, John Hui Chiu-yin, said the majority of the changes would be welcomed and were designed to improve efficiency. ''It will all be for the better,'' he said. ''It is all about the way we manage the force and the way we deploy our manpower.'' ''However, we would be hoping for gradual changes so that people have the chance to adapt.'' to it. Mr Li has been a steadying influence for the police. During his four-and-a-half year term, one of his most notable achievements has been developing crucial links with mainland police. However, critics claim he has not been prepared to fully accept his public image responsibilities; so much a part of modern policing. In addition, concern over the future role of expatriate officers in Hong Kong remains an impediment to progress.