HK Magazine Archive

Why Do Hong Kong Police Put Black Hoods Over Suspects' Heads?

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 24 March, 2016, 12:09pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 19 October, 2016, 5:01pm

In America, you’ve got the “perp walk”: an arrested suspect will be walked through a public place, allowing the media the chance to get that money shot. Criticism of the practice is widespread: It unfairly prejudices the public against the suspect, some say. It’s humiliation for humiliation’s sake. Then again, without it how else would we get all our celebrity gossip? 

In Hong Kong anyone who is arrested also has their faces covered with a black hood or bag, to protect their identity. There’s a presumption of innocence until you’re proven guilty, so police take the time to hide you from the public glare—especially if you’ve been charged with a serious offense. 

Read More: Sex, Violence and Triads: Dark Side of Hong Kong

You’ll also frequently see the black hood come out when suspects are taken back to crime scenes to assist in crime scene reconstructions. Crime reconstruction—or re-enactment, strictly—is a curiously Asian form of police forensics: It’s particularly popular in Japan, South Korea and Thailand, where the media attend with gleeful enthusiasm. But with Hong Kong’s anonymity procedures, the black-bagged crime reconstruction is a specifically Hong Kong visual: the handcuffed suspect going back through his (alleged) actions, stepping back in time. 

Why do it? Perhaps it shakes something loose in a suspect’s mind and he lets something slip. Perhaps it’s part of a guilty confession. Maybe it just makes for a great photo of the detectives doing their detecting—take last May’s four-hour-long reconstruction of the kidnapping of Bossini heiress Queenie Rosita Law. And of course, a video of a crime scene reconstruction is a powerful tool in front of a jury. 

An entertaining little history tidbit: in the 70s and early 80s the black hoods were available, but not easily accessible. So police would make do with whatever was lying around: They’d even grab plastic bags and cut two eyeholes. In the mid-80s, the hoods came into more common use.

Admittedly, the black hoods have the unfortunate side-effect of making the suspect look like they’re being extraordinarily rendered to some anonymous American torture dungeon. But as we all might well say—isn’t that the price of freedom?