ON a brisk inspection tour of Wan Chai Police Station, Chief Secretary Anson Chan Fang On-san peered cautiously over the shoulder of a young constable and asked politely, but firmly, for a quick demonstration of his computer. It was a very bad call. Perched embarrassingly behind the public enquiry counter - where a throng of hungry reporters and minders had an unimpeded view of every stage-managed action - Mrs Chan could never have imagined her innocent request would prove so burdensome. The problem was not a lack of effort. For the officer, his hands clenched and trembling under the stress of the civil service matriarch's glare, repeatedly punched keys; watching, waiting and hoping for something to happen. Anything. However, it was an eternity before the information materialised. By the time the data eventually spewed forth, the Chan entourage had moved to the back of the station for a press briefing. Mrs Chan laughed off the scene, that took place earlier this year, but behind the farce, the incident summed up the sluggish introduction of computers into the force and showed a possible deeper malaise: an undisguised problem of poor management. Over the years, police have endured a thin diet of computerisation. Indeed, for an organisation so sophisticated in so many respects, meagre support and technology have been given to hard-pressed officers. The force's much-lauded showpiece, the Command and Control Centre, cannot be ignored. It stands as one of the most advanced police systems in the world; having the eagle-eye capacity to track officers and monitor operations. That means lightning-fast deployment in crisis times. However, there's an inglorious flip side. While hi-tech mainframe systems dot police corridors, personal computers are a scarcity. For instance, it's not unusual to see detectives using laptops to keep up with the paper chase in drawn-out investigations - their own laptops; almost all of them bought out of frustration at the lack of change and the problems they have in typing out form after form. For this, they receive not a penny of compensation from the Government. But, against this archaic backdrop, things appear to be slowly changing. Assistant Commissioner Ben Munford - the man charged with a wholesale electronic upgrade - swears the long-awaited police computer revolution is no white elephant. During the next four years, $524 million has been allocated to help transform each aspect of police operations. Nothing will be spared in a review aimed at modernising operations. So ambitious and wide-eyed have become the small corps of police technocrats at what could be done, that the four-year plan is being re-examined; aiming to expand the programme and hurtle the force into the 21st century - not just keeping pace with the criminals but putting them one step ahead. WHILE senior management is gleefully rubbing its hands at the prospect of new toys and gadgets, the story is not all rosy. The problem: avoiding a temptation to rush too much computerisation too soon on the rank and file after too little for too long. That after such a dearth of technology, the troops may become overwhelmed by its overdue introduction and operations suffer. But such a risk has not escaped official attention. ''It is not my intention to flood the force with computers,'' Mr Munford said musing on this oft-recited technology speech. ''That would be of no use. We first have to have police who know how to use them - and they then have to be trained. ''It's a case at the moment of looking at all of the functions and operations we do and then asking the question, 'can we use computers here?' If the answer is yes, then to what extent. ''We are simply not going to add bells and frills all over the place. I mean, in my view, personal computers, handled wrongly, can be a waste of time - rather than a time saver. ''The problem is that people can always seem to be able to find something to do on these machines; even if there is nothing to do. So we have to strike a balance.'' Although the police first proposed the computer revolution in 1988, it is only now taking shape. However, full blame for the lack of progress cannot rest solely with force management - requisite funding was approved only last year after bitter wrangling over the Government's desire to trade in technology improvements on job savings. Agreement has taken almost five years. In yet another benefit derived from the lengthy police manpower reviews, it is estimated at least 500 police posts will be able to be redeployed because of computers. That means more feet on the beat. That means quicker processing of crime information, greater cost savings, swifter identification of crime trends and, perhaps more importantly, putting the reams of police intelligence - currently stored in all sorts of places - into a central pool. ''We can, in the future, hope to build up a massive inter-connecting web of entities and individuals and show how they are all related,'' Mr Munford said. ''This will be particularly useful for our triad investigations, narcotic syndicate operations and complex fraud matters. It promises to be a fairly powerful investigative tool.'' The Communal Information System is unarguably the linchpin development; more than 2,000 computers will link the territory's stations. The benefits of such progress are manifest; electronic mail networks, message facilities and cross-checking. Even such a straightforward thing as having a register of stolen property. Then there is the report room. Where there are ledgers, pencils and rulers will soon be computer terminals, ink ribbon and printers - avoiding the duplicity of manual record keeping. The savings to manpower are something field commanders dream of; although boning up officers on how to use the equipment will take time. Mr Munford's list of changes is seemingly inexhaustible. THINK of computer-enhanced intelligence, a database for 500,000 fingerprints, the territory-wide introduction of bilingual charge sheets, a fleet-management system, a fuel-management programme, a computer-linked update of all police rules and orders. It doesn't stop there - there is also scope for computerised facial identification, records management, central licensing and registration, traffic operations, accounting and finance, and leave recording. All will feel the influence of the computer. ''We are going to try to be account managers - in terms of IT [information technology] - and look after our major clients: operations, personnel and crime,'' Mr Munford said. ''But we need these improvements to have relevance. In terms of personnel, for instance, I believe a happy soldier is a hard working soldier. ''So, if we can use this system to better effect, so that round pegs get put in round holes, we can have a more responsive, contented police force. This means officers with greater incentive. This means officers who are more prepared to move ahead. And that must be a good thing.''