Hong Kong police commissioner looks to boost force morale after officers jailed for Occupy assaults
In a letter to city’s 30,000 officers, commissioner Stephen Lo calls for patience and professionalism as frustration mounts over Occupy convictions
Top brass at the Hong Kong police have swung into full damage control mode, trying to boost morale among officers frustrated over the jailing of several officers for assaulting civilians during the 2014 Occupy protests.
In an open letter to the 30,000-strong force made public on Thursday, Police Commissioner Stephen Lo Wai-chung said he was “deeply saddened” by Wednesday’s three-month prison sentence for former superintendent Frankly Chu for hitting a bystander with his baton.
“Although Mr Chu has retired, the force has been in close contact with him and his family while at the same time taking care of their welfare needs,” Lo wrote. “We will continue to provide the best possible assistance and support to them in the future.
“During this challenging moment, I hope we stay united, remain steadfast in our duties and demonstrate professionalism.”
The letter marked the second time that Lo and police management have rallied behind their own after a similar display of unhappiness over an unfavourable court ruling when seven officers were jailed for assaulting a protester who had earlier poured liquid on their colleagues during an Occupy protest.
Both rulings have caused deep unhappiness and resentment among police unions, which have raised concerns that such judgments make frontline policing more difficult.
The difference of opinion between police and the courts has also put the spotlight on a potential rift between the two pillars of law and order in the city.
Lo did not say if he respected the ruling against Chu, but stressed that he fully understood the unions’ concerns about relevant policies and guidelines on the use of force during execution of duties. He noted that police had set up a working group to gather views from frontline officers and review the relevant policies.
A police insider said Lo hoped to boost morale among the ranks as officers were upset and confused by the prosecution of colleagues after facing unprecedented challenges during 79 days of road blockades in the name of democracy in 2014.
“Lo did not state his position on the court decision. You accept the sentence and you are still allowed to be sad, right?” the insider said.
Opposition lawmaker Lam Cheuk-ting said the “bitterness” among police ranks was evident, but their chief should be reminding them to learn a lesson and not cross the line when carrying out their duties.
“The court has convicted Chu but the force seems to think there is no problem at all,” Lam said. “Lo should now at least remind his men not to cross the line. If the court still finds Chu guilty after all the appeals, Lo should then apologise.”
Lo sent out his letter late on Wednesday night, following Chu’s jail sentence for assault occasioning bodily harm. While the 58-year-old retired officer was immediately released on bail pending his appeal, the magistrate stated that his “culpability was too serious for community service” and “a deterrent sentence is necessary so that other officers will not be tempted to follow a similar line and public confidence can be restored”.
Three unions earlier expressed “extreme disappointment” over Chu’s punishment, with the Junior Police Officers’ Association saying it would ask top brass to address their concerns over the legal use of force while on duty.
“The association believes the judgment will have a great effect on frontline police officers enforcing the law and gravely impact officers’ morale ... but [we urge] all members to perform their duties in accordance with legal procedures and stand fast to their posts to maintain law and order,” chairman Joe Chan Cho-kwong said in a statement.
Meanwhile, the chairperson of the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC), Professor Alfred Chan Cheung-ming, said in a statement on Thursday and slammed the verbal attacks on the magistrate’s non-Chinese ethnicity.
“Such abusing words do not help build a harmonious society, but erode the image of an international cosmopolitan city and our sublime equal value,” Chan wrote.
The jail term by Principal Magistrate Bina Chainrai, who was born in India but educated in Hong Kong before she was called to the bar in 1982, drew fire from more than 100 of Chu’s supporters who chanted “injustice” outside court on Wednesday. A woman with a megaphone shouted: “Dismiss all foreign judges. We want Chinese ones. This is outrageous,” prompting the judiciary to look into the matter to see if further action was required.