Hong Kong police chief Stephen Lo to stay in job for extra year as force prepares to lose third of its senior officers in next 12 months
Government makes move to ensure ‘smooth transition’, with sources naming Senior Assistant Commissioner Chris Tang as likely successor
Hong Kong’s police chief Stephen Lo Wai-chung has had his term extended for another year, as the force faces the prospect of losing a third of its senior managers in the next 12 months.
The government announced the move on Thursday, and said the decision had been made to ensure a “smooth transition” of power within the force, as the three most senior officers will reach mandatory retirement age this year or next.
Police sources said Senior Assistant Police Commissioner Chris Tang Ping-keung was being groomed to replace Lo.
The police chief turns 57 on November 19, but his No 2, Deputy Commissioner of Police (Operations) Alan Lau Yip-shing, will also be the same age later this year, meaning he too, will retire. Both men joined the force 34 years ago.
“The purpose of granting commissioner Lo an extension of service is to facilitate a smooth transition of the senior management of the police force,” a government spokesman said.
The sources said extending Lo’s term was a “reasonable” move by the force, as it could then install a new and younger head next year, giving that person longer in charge.
By keeping Lo in place for another year, the new deputy commissioner to replace Lau would also have one year to settle in.
But, the new person is unlikely to be the force’s highest ranking female officer to date, who is now third in command.
Deputy Commissioner of Police (Management) Winnie Chiu Wai-yin, is 56 this year. She was promoted to her post last year, and is expected to retire in mid-2019.
Tang, who is also Director of Operations, cannot be made police chief immediately, because he has not yet served as a deputy commissioner.
Keeping Lo allows Tang to take Lau’s place, before rising to the top job the following year.
“The optimum term for a department head would be three to four years,” a source said. “This explains why the top female officer, 56, could not fill the top post. Tang is at a good age.”
According to several sources, Chiu is likely to be replaced by either Kenneth Li Kin-fai, the Senior Assistant Commissioner in charge of personnel and training, or Kwok Yam-shu, the Senior Assistant Commissioner in charge of management.
A force insider said Edwina Lau Chi-wai, director of Hong Kong Police College who holds the rank of assistant commissioner, was likely to be promoted to senior assistant commissioner.
Meanwhile, Assistant Commissioner (Operations), Cheng Yiu-mo retired earlier this month.
Another four assistant police commissioners, including Chung Sze-pong, Irene Ho Yuen-ha, and Yu Tat-chung, are expected to retire over the course of the next year.
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A source said the shake-up in the top management team would not affect the force’s operation.
Term extensions in the force have taken place before, with former deputy commissioner Chau Kwok-leung’s term extended for 14 months until last July to “meet operational needs”.
Lo has been in the force since graduating from the University of Hong Kong with a degree in social sciences. He became Deputy Commissioner of Police (Operations) in 2013, and was promoted to the top job two years later.
The city’s 30,000-strong force has generally been seen as professional and effective, with the city’s crime rate among the world’s lowest. But, with heightened activism resulting in clashes with police during the 2014 Occupy protests for greater democracy, there are growing concerns over the force becoming more politicised, as their job to maintain peace gets more challenging.
Pro-democracy camp lawmaker Au Nok-hin, who is the convenor of the police monitoring group under the Civil Human Rights Front, said he wanted the next police chief to correct what he described as “an unhealthy trend”.
Au said during Lo’s term, the police were seen using foul language during a union gathering of the Junior Police Officers’ Association, to which two-thirds of the force belongs.
Lo seems to have allowed such behaviour, Au claimed.
“Society wants police to be accountable, and not for irrational voices within the force to be tolerated,” Au said.