Retired expat police officer's book tells of life on the beat in 1970s Hong Kong

Retired officer Chris Emmett has written a revealing book about what it was like being a policeman in the city decades ago

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 14 September, 2014, 6:15am
UPDATED : Sunday, 14 September, 2014, 9:48am

Everything changes and everything stays the same.

That's what struck Briton Chris Emmett yesterday when he returned to Hong Kong for the first time since retiring from the police force in 1998 after a 28-year career.

Now living in the rolling green hills of the Yorkshire Dales in England, the 66-year-old former senior superintendent is here to promote a book that recalls his early years as a policeman in Hong Kong during the 1970s.

"I was surprised how little it had changed," he said, referring to Wan Chai. "I thought this area was a big business centre now, that Hong Kong would have grown out of it but maybe it's my age; if I was 22 and not 66, maybe I would feel different about it," he joked.

"But the prices have changed, it used to be HK$2 for a beer."

Titled Hong Kong Police Man, Emmett's book is a behind-the-scenes look at life on the beat from his first days of arriving in Hong Kong.

The 262-page memoir offers a perspective on the life of an expatriate policeman, a view that is becoming rarer as the number of overseas officers in the force dwindles; there are expected to be fewer than 100 by 2015.

In 1994, the force recruited its last batch of expatriate officers, then introduced a Chinese language requirement as part of its efforts to localise the force.

"That's only natural, as the police force should always reflect the community it polices," Emmett said.

Part of his research for the book included talking to expatriate officers currently in the force. "There was a very strong working relationship between the expatriates and locals when I was in the force and nothing's changed," he said.

The book details a drug bust on Connaught Road West, which has changed dramatically since his days on the beat.

"It used to be the main waterfront, now it's about 200 metres inland," Emmett said. "There was a lot of drug trafficking down there and it was an intimidating place to be."

Another chapter in the book details how, shortly after becoming a detective, he was called in to meet the "big boss", the detective senior superintendent of police. That man was a young Li Kwan-ha, who later went on to become the first Chinese police commissioner in 1989.

As for the Occupy Central civil disobedience movement, Emmett denounced it as "beyond irresponsible" and dismissed criticism of the force being politicised.

"There are no political motives, there are only operational motives," he said. "For 25 years, Hong Kong has had a tradition of peaceful, dignified history of demonstrations and now we have a small group of people who want to disrupt the community."

He referred to the current situation in South Yorkshire in Britain, where police have been criticised for failing to act in time to stop the sexual abuse of children between 1997 and 2013 by gangs of men, mainly of Pakistani background.

"The police knew about this but they did nothing because they were afraid of being accused of racism and a political backlash," Emmett said.

"In Hong Kong, the police are not afraid of political backlash, they just get on with it."