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Hong Kong police

Keep innocent citizens out of dangerous police work

Co-opting the public to help chase down suspects should happen only in the most exceptional circumstances

PUBLISHED : Monday, 19 February, 2018, 1:37am
UPDATED : Monday, 19 February, 2018, 1:38am

If the duty of police is to safeguard a law-abiding society from lawbreakers, a question arises as to when hot pursuit of wrongdoers in a vehicle poses a greater danger to innocent citizens than allowing the suspects to get away for the time being.

This is particularly so when police co-opt other drivers to help. An instance in the New Territories that resulted in the deaths of two men in a vehicle being pursued is a case in point.

Discussion of this issue must hinge on the principle that barring the most exceptional or dire circumstances, such as stopping an offender from deliberately hurting others, people must not be put in harm’s way to increase the prospects of arresting or disabling a suspect.

The tragic incident in question did not meet this test, however irresponsible the behaviour of the pursued driver.

The chase began after police saw a seven-seater vehicle changing lanes recklessly, raising the suspicion of driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

Refusal by the driver to pull over prompted a police chase, during which the drivers of at least three other vehicles were told by a traffic officer to slow down to try to stop the seven-seater.

Finally it crashed into the vehicles and a road divider on the Fanling highway, killing its occupants, aged 26 and 37, and injuring five people in the other vehicles.

The last time something like this happened more than seven years ago, when seven people were injured in an operation against an illegal road race, we said it sounded like the stuff of Hollywood movie stunts. It still does.

The police chief apologised. Happily, at the time, it seemed that in future roadblocks, preferably using unmarked police vehicles, co-opting civilians would be permissible only in exceptional cases.

More than seven years later, a chief inspector from the New Territories North traffic unit said the officer in the latest incident had acted according to guidelines for safeguarding the public.

However, it was good to hear later from a police spokesman that an investigation had begun. It must include a review of policy and the guidelines for enforcement.

The guiding principle must be that the safety of innocent citizens must remain paramount. The bottom line must be that innocent people are not to be involved in roadblocks without truly exceptional justification.