Hong Kong’s police chief insisted on Monday the force needed the drastic increase to its budget revealed last week to counter the “new normal” of petrol bomb attacks and the threat of local terrorism. Commissioner of Police Chris Tang Ping-keung also said the force had reprimanded 21 officers after launching its own misconduct investigations into the anti-government protests that erupted in June last year, as he pledged greater transparency in city policing. Tang defended the bumper increase unveiled in the Hong Kong budget for manpower and weapons, while also responding to unguarded comments he made at a private dinner with stars from the entertainment industry, and admitting to flaws in his approach to the coronavirus. The commissioner accused his detractors of turning his sense of humour into a scandal after he came under fire last month over a leaked video showing him, as a working police officer, telling Jackie Chan that the kung fu film legend had taught him how to do the job. The presence of police officers gathering at the event without surgical masks during the outbreak of the deadly coronavirus also drew criticism. On Monday, Tang admitted: “I was not sensitive enough when it comes to social distancing.” Tang spoke out on Monday after visiting newly built public housing on the Chun Yeung Estate in Fo Tan, which has been turned into a quarantine centre as part of the government’s emergency response to the epidemic. He took the opportunity to rebut accusations the force was overfunded, as his scheduled appearance before the Legislative Council’s security panel on Tuesday was adjourned because of the coronavirus. Opposition lawmakers earlier said there was no urgency for the funding, and the government had failed to respond to calls to reform the force. Police to get 2,500 new posts in ‘biggest manpower boost since 1997’ Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po revealed police overtime pay and allowances for the previous financial year had soared to HK$2.5 billion (US$321 million), 10 times the original estimate, when he unveiled his 2020/21 budget last Wednesday. The spending plan also earmarked HK$21.9 billion for the force to increase its headcount by 2,543 and HK$612 million for “specialist supplies and equipment”, a broad category covering firearms and anti-riot equipment. On Monday, Tang said the months of anti-government protests, which were sparked by the now-withdrawn extradition bill , led criminals to increasingly radical behaviour, even though there had been relative calm in the past few weeks. He said the discovery of four remote explosive devices and five firearms over the last two months was particularly concerning as he likened the criminality to “potential local terrorism”. The police boss said the force had boosted manpower by 1,000 following the Occupy protests in 2014, and the Mong Kok riot in 2016. Protesters marking Yuen Long mob attack celebrate officer getting coronavirus “But as you can see today, even with that additional 1,000 police officers, is it enough?” he asked. “I think we have to face the reality that there is a new normal.” “The new normal is that things cannot go back to one year ago. As you can see petrol bombs are being thrown every day at police stations, stores and clinics.” Tang, who took the helm in November, said some of his officers in extreme cases worked up to 60 hours in one continuous shift during the protests, so it was reasonable for them to be compensated. They would each receive little more than HK$10,000 a month for their overtime. He said the extra funding for more officers was to save money on overtime pay, while new crowd control equipment was required to give them more options in deploying minimal force. The city’s top officer pledged to increase openness and said the force had taken the initiative to investigate allegations of misconduct, leading to reprimands for 21 officers. Among those rebuked was an officer filmed ramming the motorcycle he was riding into a group of protesters in November, as well as two cases where journalists’ identity cards were held in front of a live-streaming camera. A third of the 1,639 officer misconduct complaints made to police were designated for investigation. Of those, 125 had been handed over to the Independent Police Complaints Council, the force watchdog. Two men accused of rioting in Hong Kong have charges withdrawn Democratic Party lawmaker Lam Cheuk-ting said Tang’s explanation could hardly justify the extra funding as he criticised the quality of policing. He said some recent court cases had shown officers made wrongful arrests because prosecutors had to withdraw charges, and even had to shoulder legal fees. “When you asked me about the ‘new normal’, I thought you meant police brutality and abuse of power,” Lam said. The lawmaker said a reprimand was too light a punishment for the police officer who rode a motorcycle into a crowd of protesters, adding Tang had still failed to address what Lam described as widespread instances from police of excessive use of force. He said in the past officers would have been criminally prosecuted if they had assaulted protesters. But legislator Vincent Cheng Wing-shun, of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, said the funding injection was needed because the protests exposed the lack of police manpower to deal with other crimes during large-scale unrest. He said it was a good sign police were reviewing officers’ actions and urged them to be transparent to regain public trust. Police arrest 115 after biggest outbreak of protest violence since coronavirus crisis Giving his latest update, the police commissioner said 7,549 people had been arrested since June for protest-related offences including rioting, possessing explosives or firearms without a licence, arson, criminal damage and unlawful assembly. Among them, 3,091 were students ranging from secondary school level to tertiary institutions, which accounted for up to 60 per cent of those arrests. He said there was a worrying trend that the ages of those held was getting younger as the unrest continued.