Hong Kong’s Independent Police Complaints Council to step up monitoring of the force, new chief pledges
Anthony Francis Neoh promises to be more proactive than his predecessor but dismisses suggestions watchdog needs greater investigative power, and says declining trust in the force arising from social disharmony cannot be laid squarely ‘at the door of police’
The new chairman of Hong Kong’s police watchdog on Tuesday pledged to be more proactive in reviewing the practices of the force, and said he would even take issues to the city’s leader when necessary.
The promise by Anthony Francis Neoh comes as the force recovers from a public confidence crisis in recent years following criticism of their handling of major protests, including the city’s 2014 Occupy demonstrations.
Neoh was speaking after attending his first regular meeting as head of the Independent Police Complaints Council (IPCC), which reviews probes carried out by the force itself into complaints against officers.
The council makes recommendations to the police commissioner as well as Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, but does not hold the power to directly investigate complaints on its own.
Neoh shrugged off suggestions the watchdog needed direct investigative power. But he conceded the IPCC had an “obligation” to push for better management, supervision and training in the force – a task his predecessor Larry Kwok Lam-kwong was accused of shirking.
Barrister Anthony Neoh named to lead Hong Kong police watchdog in bid to restore public confidence after Occupy movement
“We already have the Complaints Against Police Office in the force, and the IPCC can meet aggrieved complainants in person. Public money has to be put to good use,” Neoh said, referring to the force’s internal unit for handling complaints.
“But we could instead be more proactive in making use of our power to review and make recommendations. Even if the police do not accept IPCC suggestions, we can file them to Hong Kong’s chief executive.”
Neoh said he was “apolitical and only looking at the law”, since at 72 years old he had no one left to please.
In the past he had “even told former Chinese premier Zhu Rongji he was wrong, and he did not tell me off”, Neoh said.
But Wong Ho-yin of NGO Civil Rights Observer said he was disappointed Neoh would not fight for direct investigative power.
“The former IPCC chairman was not very active in making recommendations,” Wong said. “We hope the new chief will help push for practices more in line with human rights.”
The appointment of Neoh, a former chairman of Hong Kong’s Securities and Futures Commission, was seen by many as a step to restore trust in the police watchdog after surveys showed public confidence in the force had been dented since the Occupy pro-democracy street sit-ins of 2014.
Citing his experience from 1976 to 1979 as assistant director of Hong Kong’s anti-graft watchdog, the Independent Commission Against Corruption, Neoh said public faith in police was paramount but the onus was on the commissioner rather than the watchdog.
Trust issues arising from social disharmony could not be laid squarely “at the door of the police”, he said, but it was nevertheless reasonable to expect the force to reflect on its actions.
“The police had not dealt with such a situation since 1967,” Neoh said, in comments believed to be in reference to Occupy.
“It was a time for them to reflect and for the IPCC to help them reflect.”