POLICE chiefs have begun a crackdown on officers who neglect to pay their tax on time. Section commanders have recently been instructed to counsel police who have either failed to pay up or whose tax payments are deducted from their salary. The new measures aim to decrease indebtedness among police, a problem highlighted by the Director of Audit last year. A report said one in 17 officers could have financial problems. However, the tightened accountability measures stop well short of banning the late payment of tax or considering disciplinary action. This is despite apparent manoeuvring by some in the force to adopt a tougher attitude to decrease the rate of garnishee orders issued to police. Garnishee orders, issued by the Inland Revenue Commissioner to the Director of Accounting Services in cases of salaries tax default, require the director to deduct unpaid tax from the officers' wages. In 1992-93, 2,444 police staff, or eight per cent of the force, received such orders. This compared with an average of five per cent of all civil servants. The force's chief welfare officer, Chief Superintendent Ian Blair, believed the police system was operating smoothly. He said police officially ''disapproved'' of the late payment of tax. ''As you are aware, great concern was expressed about the number of police who have been on the receiving end of garnishee orders,'' Mr Blair said. ''We disapprove when police officers do not pay their tax on time and, all we can say, is that we are now addressing the problem of indebtedness in the force. ''If a garnishee order is served, the officer's commanding officer will get to hear about it and will take appropriate action.'' Mr Blair stressed the counselling procedure was being more heavily emphasised, but had always been in practice. The force's renewed tax drive has been linked with new procedures on the way police can obtain a loan. Assistant Director of Audit Johnsman Au Chung-man said: ''We have been concerned for some time about what we see as insufficient co-ordination in lending in the police force.'' He said the police had neglected to implement proper systems to identify those potentially in debt. ''To be honest, indiscriminate lending helps nobody - and it certainly does not help the lender to overcome his pecuniary embarrassment.'' Mr Au said another comprehensive police audit would be conducted within 12 to 18 months to monitor indebtedness among police and the force's effort to reduce the problem. Last week, the South China Morning Post revealed that the Police Welfare Fund was now insisting on full financial disclosure from potential clients - reversing a long-standing policy of allowing officers to obtain loans without divulging personal details.