Hong Kong police need to review rules after unlawful killing
- The death of a taxi driver following complications arising from his arrest makes the case for video cameras to be installed in officers’ vehicles
Hong Kong police are reputedly Asia’s finest, with the officers trained to deal with all sorts of situations in a professional manner. That does not mean there is no room for review and improvement though, especially when individual cases of mishap happen from time to time. A case in point is a taxi driver who died after he had been headlocked by an officer during his arrest in 2012. It would do well for the force to thoroughly consider the recommendations put forward by jurors at an inquest.
Chan Fai-wong, 65, died of the bronchitis he contracted as a complication of the neck injury he suffered following his arrest over a dispute with a Japanese passenger outside a toll booth at the Western Harbour Tunnel. Security camera footage showed he was handcuffed at the back and lifted onto a police van by officers, one carrying his legs and the other with an arm around his neck. Officers who testified during the two-week hearing denied any wrongdoing. But the jury ruled that it was unlawful killing in a 3-2 majority verdict.
There have been no fewer than five cases of suspects dying in police enforcement actions over the past 20 years, but this unlawful killing verdict is the first in many years and such a rare ruling makes a valid case for a review of enforcement rules. The use of force during arrests is not unusual; but it should be proportional to the level of resistance encountered. The camera footage showed that Chan did not struggle after being handcuffed and carried onto the police van. What happened afterwards remains unclear, because the vehicle was not equipped with a video camera.
The recommendation by the jurors to install cameras inside police vehicles is worthy of consideration. This is not just for the protection of the arrested. Given police operations may lead to disputes and complaints from time to time, it is also in the interest of officers to have their actions documented. Currently, those in certain operations are equipped with body cameras. It therefore makes sense to equip police vehicles with the same equipment.
Maintaining law and order in a sophisticated society makes the job of the police challenging. The response of the police chief to the case has set the right tone for reviewing rules and procedures.