Has generation snowflake infiltrated Hong Kong’s mighty police force?

Yonden Lhatoo sets aside his usual sympathy for Hong Kong’s police force to question whether officers have become too soft and oversensitive, given all their politicking and theatrics these days

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 28 July, 2018, 2:01pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 28 July, 2018, 10:41pm

There’s no doubt Hong Kong’s police officers have become far more political these days than they ought to, but are they getting a bit too soft as well?

The Junior Police Officers’ Association, which represents two-thirds of the 30,000-strong force, is up in arms over a perceived insult by development minister Michael Wong Wai-lun last week.

Wong, a former deputy security chief, was holding a sharing session with youngsters at the Hong Kong Book Fair when he quoted a famous Japanese author while contextualising some social problems: “Criminals are not necessarily all bad guys – there are many objective factors behind a crime or reasons to be sympathetic. Likewise, not each and every cop is a good guy.”

It was enough to cause deep offence among the sensitive souls tasked with protecting this city, and they fired off a letter of complaint and condemnation to the hapless minister.

“The association expresses deep regret over the minister’s remarks. The comments could mislead members of the public to believe the minister intended to criticise police officers,” the letter read. “This has deeply hurt the officers’ confidence.”

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Really? Confidence-killing stuff, huh? Looks like generation snowflake has infiltrated the ranks of “Asia’s finest”, too, and we may indeed have to start designating “safe place” sites where softies in uniform can take shelter from the harshness of life.

The quote Wong cited is not only a benignly apt generalisation of the human condition, it applies quite accurately to our law enforcers, given how they’ve been in the news for all the wrong reasons.

There’s no glossing over the integrity problem the force is facing, with top brass revealing this week that 24 officers were arrested in the first half of the year – an average of one a week – compared with 13 over the same period in 2017. Offences ranged from petty shoplifting and attempted burglary to indecent assault and faking a crime scene.

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Police director of operations Chris Tang Ping-keung went on the record to reflect the force’s distress over the trend and vowed a zero-tolerance policy to reverse it. How is it offensive and morale-destroying, given all these facts, to state the obvious that “not each and every cop is a good guy”?

The fact remains that our men and women in blue still deserve full credit for making Hong Kong one of the safest cities in the world.

As Commissioner of Police Stephen Lo Wai-chung pointed out earlier this year, the number of officers arrested accounted for less than 0.1 per cent of the entire force. “It means that 99.9 per cent of our officers still stand fast in their duties and protect the security of Hong Kong,” he said. There you go.

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I have spoken up in defence of our police officers many times in this space. They sorely needed public support and a major morale boost in the wake of the Occupy protests of 2014, when they were left feeling confused and disrespected after having had to turn a blind eye to activists blocking roads and breaking laws for 79 straight days in the name of fighting for greater democracy. But it’s time to get over it now.

Since then, police have become injudiciously more political, a case in point being the mass rally attended by 33,000 serving and former officers last year in support of their colleagues who were jailed for assaulting an activist during the Occupy unrest.

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They may argue they’re human, too, and entitled to feelings and the right to protest. That’s all fine and dandy, but they’re not ordinary citizens – we expect them to be whiter than white when it comes to crime and corruption, neutral to the extreme in terms of politics, and broader shouldered than the rest of us in general. That’s why they’re “the police”.

So officers, with all due respect and pretty please, with sugar on top, stop being so touchy. Leave the melodrama and protests to the politicians.

Yonden Lhatoo is the chief news editor at the Post