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The Hong Kong Police Force not only missed recruitment targets by more than 40 per cent in the past year, they saw nearly 450 officers quit their jobs before retirement age. Photo: Dickson Lee

Nearly 450 Hong Kong police officers quit unexpectedly amid last year’s anti-government protests, Security Bureau says

  • The force also fell short of recruitment targets, making just 766 new hires, compared with 1,341 the year before
  • Numbers are no surprise given physical and mental toll taken by protests, chairman of city’s largest police group says
Nearly 450 Hong Kong police officers quit the force during months of social unrest that engulfed the city in the past year, while the number of new hires fell far short of recruitment targets, the latest official figures show.

The city’s largest police group on Wednesday said it was not surprised by the resignations, adding the force still received more than 10,000 applications annually and needed to carefully choose the right candidates amid unprecedented challenges.

The revelation follows the city’s financial secretary approving a 7 per cent increase in police manpower for the new financial year. The biggest boost in decades will see an extra 2,543 posts created at a cost of HK$21.9 billion (US$2.8 billion), raising police operating expenses by 24.7 per cent.

The chairman of the Junior Police Officers’ Association said attrition among the ranks was unsurprising given the physical and emotional toll taken by months of protests. Photo: Felix Wong

In written replies to lawmaker questions delivered on Tuesday night, the Security Bureau defended the proposed budget increase, explaining that 446 officers not expected to leave the service had quit between June and February this year, an increase of 38.5 per cent from the same period the previous year.

“For these officers, their reasons for leaving include resignation during training, early retirement, family and personal reasons,” the bureau said in a reply.

Over the same period, the force rehired 1,110 retired or retiring officers under the government’s “Post-Retirement Service Contract Scheme” to ease the pressure on personnel stretched to the limit by months of protest chaos and violence. The ranks involved ranged from constable to deputy police commissioner.

Police to ramp up manpower by more than 7 per cent with 2,500 new posts

The protests, which began in June last year in response to the now-withdrawn extradition bill, eventually morphed into a campaign calling for greater democracy and eventually an independent investigation into police use of force.

The months-long protests soured relations between police and public, with the force seen by many as an enemy for its handling of demonstrations while frontline officers’ anger reached boiling point amid the escalating violence,

Despite the unexpected resignations, the overall wastage rate of 3.6 per cent declined compared with the previous two financial years, when officers left the force in 2017/18 and 2018/19 at a rate of 4.2 per cent and 4.4. per cent respectively.

An average of 1,238 officers have left the force each year over the past three years. About two-thirds of those were retirees, while the rest resigned for other reasons.

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As 2019 came to an end, there were 31,154 police officers on the force, up from 29,843 in 2017/2018.

Police set a recruitment target of 1,815 officers between April 2019 and February 2020. But despite receiving 10,846 applications, the force ultimately made just 766 new hires, compared with 1,341 the previous financial year.

Lam Chi-wai, chairman of the Junior Police Officers’ Association, which represents 80 per cent of the force, said he was not surprised by the sudden resignations given the unprecedented physical and mental challenges officers had faced over the past months.

“We clearly need to fill the vacancies, but we don’t do it for the sake of doing it. It is important for us to find the right people as we look at factors such as a candidate’s integrity and emotion management, apart from education qualifications,” Lam said.

The bureau’s written answers to lawmakers added that the force had adopted a proactive recruitment strategy to attract high-calibre candidates with the required competencies.

It said police aimed to hire 1,620 police constables and 225 probationary inspectors in the coming financial year to enhance the support the high demands of policing services, including handling public order events.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: 446 officers abruptly quit duringprotests