Hong Kong police urged to step up training after officer warned over botched evidence collection
Watchdog warns that some officers are not following procedures – with one even keeping sealed evidence in his desk drawer
Hong Kong’s police watchdog on Friday called on the force to strengthen training and reinforce guidelines while revealing that an officer was warned over the botched handling of evidence in a theft case.
The chairman of the Independent Police Complaints Council, Larry Kwok Lam-kwong, said officers were required to follow procedures when handling evidence. However, the watchdog found some had not done so, with one even keeping sealed evidence in his desk drawer.
Daniel Mui, deputy secretary general of the council, said that in one case, the complainant was hired by a company to sell seafood and would enjoy a 10 per cent share of the daily profit as a salary.
The shop owner alleged the salesman had failed to return over HK$80,000 (US$10,200) and made a report to police. When following up, the investigating officer, who had over 30 years of experience, did not collect the accounts as evidence. Instead, he just made copies of the pages concerned. Later, after arresting the salesman, who was charged with theft, the officer took a further statement from the shop owner and then seized the accounts as an exhibit.
During the trial, the salesman’s defence challenged discrepancies between the photocopies and the exhibit, which showed the officer did not verify the documents.
The officer was also found to have improperly kept the sealed exhibit in his locked drawer instead of depositing it in the police’s property office.
The Complaints Against Police Office classified the case as substantiated and suggested a penalty of “advice” without an entry on the officer’s record. But the council considered that insufficient and after deliberations, the office agreed and gave a warning without an entry on the officer’s record.
Mui noted the discrepancy did not directly affect the trial verdict, which centred on whether the complainant had paid back money.
In all, Mui said there were 13 complaint cases on handling evidence from April 2017 to February this year, and 18 from April 2016 to March 2017. Of the 31, three were substantiated.
“We do not see a situation in terms of the numbers of complaints,” Mui said, adding he believed most officers adhere to guidelines.
But Kwok urged the force to still take the opportunity to strengthen officers’ training, and if necessary, reinforce the relevant Police General Order.
“Officers should be reminded to handle exhibits carefully to avoid any adverse effects on the investigation work,” he said.
A police spokesman said the force attached great importance to ensuring the proper handling of exhibits in accordance with relevant guidelines, which cover matters including their seizure, storage and disposal.
“Police would take appropriate measures to ensure officers’ compliance with relevant guidelines,” he added.