With the passage of time and better access to education, the red shoulder tabs once seen under junior police officers’ identification numbers, which indicated a pass in an English-language proficiency test, have vanished into history. Well into the 1990s, local guidebooks mentioned these insignia, making clear to tourists that in case of difficulty these were the officers to approach. “The Hong Kong Police are usually courteous and helpful,” noted the Golden Guide to Hongkong and Macao (1969). “Most understand some English; constables with a red backing to their shoulder badges being reasonably proficient in the language. All officers – those with badges on their epaulettes – speak English.” Those without red flashes were assumed to be unable to answer simple questions in the “devil language”. Basic English-language competence now forms part of the police recruitment selection process. Nevertheless, as recent troubles would indicate, today’s policemen are quite capable of switching off their language abilities as “the exigencies of the service” dictate. More than a few times in recent months, I have observed “English channels” switched off, should the situation render them convenient. In any disciplined service, rank badges, shoulder flashes and so on exist primarily so individuals can be identified . “He wore red tabs upon his chest – and even on his under vest!” goes the old British Army doggerel about a recently promoted full colonel whose scarlet collar flashes, among other insignia, defined his place within the military hierarchy. Being able to tell, at a glance, the difference between a colonel and a corporal – or a police constable and the commissioner – is an essential practical requirement. Their absence causes confusion and potential conflict , as can be seen between frontline police and the public in Hong Kong today. Identification markers mean that should those arrested feel, rightly or otherwise, that PC Chan and his colleagues roughed them up, spoke to them in an unacceptable manner or otherwise misconducted themselves, then the officers accused can be readily identified. Straightforward mechanisms for complaints exist and, after due investigation, recourse can be expected should the allegations prove to be true. Difficulty in identifying police officers without visible identification has been a major source of public dissatisfaction during Hong Kong’s ongoing civil unrest. Individual police in full “raptor” gear, including face masks, respirators, body armour and Darth Vader-style helmets, could not possibly be identified in a line-up. Identification numbers, visibly positioned and which, in calm circumstances, can be indicated upon request, would help to re-establish shattered public trust in what was not so long ago a highly respected institution. Not unnaturally, their absence has fuelled conspiracy theories about “black cops”, including the now-commonplace belief in systematic police-gangster collusion. When grilled about this deficiency, at a Legislative Council security panel meeting in June, Hong Kong’s Secretary for Security, John Lee Ka-chiu, sat, swivel-eyed, gibbering nonsense about there being no space on the uniforms due to “a design change”. A moderately intelligent six-year-old could have come up with a more plausible denial. But, alas, as Hong Kong’s protests have trudged on, there has been no improvement in this senior official’s “clarifications”.