Drunk man snatches Hong Kong policeman’s gun and fires three shots, injuring two officers
One policeman shot in hand and leg, the other grazed by bullet, in incident which sparks calls for safety review
Two Hong Kong policemen were on Thursday shot by a drunk man who snatched a gun from one of them, sparking calls for top brass to review the design of officers’ holsters.
It was the third time in four years that a member of the public fired an officer’s weapon, or what stopped while trying to.
The suspect fired three shots, Commissioner of Police Stephen Lo Wai-chung revealed after visiting the officers at Prince of Wales Hospital in Sha Tin.
The man was understood to have pulled the trigger twice while the gun was still in the holster at the officer’s waist, and fired the third shot after managing to draw the gun.
The two injured constables had had surgery and were in a stable condition by Thursday evening.
The incident happened at a flat in Mau Lam House, Kwong Lam Court – a Home Ownership Scheme complex in Sha Tin with 1,836 flats in three houses. A team of five officers had been sent there after a family called to report that a man was drunk and creating a disturbance at home.
“When two of the officers were trying to put the man – who was excited and appeared heavily drunk – under control, the man suddenly snatched a holstered gun from one of them and fired three shots in a row,” Lo said at the hospital, adding that one constable was shot in his right hand and right leg, while a bullet grazed the other’s right leg.
A police source said the dispute erupted at about midnight. He described the scene as “chaotic”, with the pair of officers trying to pin the suspect to the ground. But the suspect resisted.
“One of his hands was already handcuffed, but he managed to reach the holster in such a messy situation,” the source said. “They were wrestling on the ground.”
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Shum Wai-nam, the co-founder of Civil Rights Observer, a group founded in 2014 to monitor police policy, said he was puzzled by how the man could take the gun so easily and open fire.
“The design of the holster should maintain the stability and safety of the handgun. The force must find out the cause and fix it, otherwise it will not only jeopardise the safety of officers but also members of public,” Shum said.
A frontline police officer said the force had used the same specially designed holster for about 25 years.
“The straight-pull is designed to prevent the gun from being snatched easily as the gun is fixed in position by a metal clip inside the holster. This requires a special technique to pull the gun out,” said the officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
He said every officer underwent three handgun training sessions every year.
“We are also taught about what to do when a mugger reaches for our holster in different scenarios. But, to be fair, there are countless scenarios in reality, and we can’t learn them all,” he added.
Hong Kong Police Inspectors’ Association chairman Jimes Lee Jim-on expressed the same view. “We learn counter-techniques. But situations are ever-changing,” he said.
Graftbuster turned legislator Lam Cheuk-ting from the Democratic Party said no holster could guarantee full safety as the design should balance ease of drawing the gun quickly with preventing it from being snatched.
“Officers would fail to pull the gun quickly in an emergency if it required too many security steps,” Lam said.
The suspect was eventually subdued and arrested by officers at the scene. He was detained by police.
Lo did not explain how the suspect got hold of the weapon, but promised that the details of the incident would be disclosed to the public after a thorough investigation.
“Frontline officers often face and handle breaking and dangerous situations. This is one of the challenges of officers’ duties,” he said.
This is not the first time a suspect has snatched policeman’s gun and fired it.
In 2014, three policemen and a health care assistant at the emergency ward of North District Hospital were injured when a man from the mainland grabbed an officer’s gun and fired six shots. The weapon was still holstered at the officer’s waist when the shots were fired.
Last September, a 39-year-old man attempted to snatch a gun from a patrolling officer on a street in Sai Wan, but was immediately brought under control. The man was later convicted of one count of attempted possession of arms without a licence.