Hong Kong police

Hong Kong police ‘take animal abuse as seriously as murder’ despite low conviction rate

Of 60 to 80 cases each year, only 30 to 40 per cent lead to convictions

PUBLISHED : Friday, 26 January, 2018, 7:30am
UPDATED : Friday, 26 January, 2018, 7:30am

Hong Kong police have insisted their specialist teams investigating animal abuse take the crimes “as seriously as murder”, despite less than half of cases ending in a conviction.

A senior inspector said the offences they deal with can be hard to prove.

The force launched its Animal Watch Scheme in 2011 to coordinate investigations into animal abuse. Fourteen dedicated teams, composed mainly of inspectors from the criminal investigation department, were also set up to handle cases.

But animal abuse often happens without witnesses, making prosecutions more difficult, one officer said. Acting senior superintendent Dennis Cheng Wai-kin said of an average of 60 to 80 abuse cases each year, only 30 to 40 per cent lead to successful convictions.

Between 2014 and 2017, an average of only 31 people were arrested over the abuse each year.

“But I can assure you these officers treat these cases as seriously as murder,” Cheng said.

Animal welfare activists have said the teams only spring into action upon tip-offs, and have been pressing authorities to set up full-time animal police posts.

Cheng would not comment on that recommendation, saying only that police had been liaising with relevant parties on a regular basis to improve their work.

Cheng’s comments came as the force launched a social media campaign that it hoped would raise funds for charity and raise awareness about animal welfare issues.

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Starting next month, animal lovers can join officers, as well as celebrities and athletes, in a “one-arm push-up challenge”.

Participants are called on to upload a clip of themselves performing three push-ups using just one arm, before tagging three friends and encouraging them to follow suit.

Each participant would also commit to a minimum donation of HK$128 to the Society for Abandoned Animals (SAA), a local group looking after pets passed up by owners.

When the 10-week campaign draws to a close in April, 250 police officers, including those from the elite counterterrorist and airport security units, will attempt a world record by performing the challenge in unison.

Crystal Ng Chui-ting, acting senior superintendent from the police’s public relations branch, said she hoped participants would empathise with less fortunate animals.

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“When we visited animal shelters, we realised many suffer disabilities. They require as much love and care from us as their able-bodied counterparts,” Ng said.

El Chan Suk-kuen, who founded the SAA in 1997, noted more people got pets in haste these days.

“People think it is easy, plus the upfront cost is not that much. But once the animals get older or fall ill, owners might try to avoid the hassle and hefty bills by simply abandoning them,” she said.

Chan added that 80 cats and 150 dogs were waiting for adoption at the group’s Yuen Long shelter and that their operating costs came to about HK$800,000 each month.