Police will have a new weapon to combat violent demonstrations in Hong Kong next year when three anti-riot vehicles equipped with water cannons that fire 1,200 litres of water per minute hit the streets.
Law enforcement sources said the Mercedes-Benz crowd control trucks were expected to be ready to use in the first quarter of 2019.
The news came as a team of French police officers and experts from the manufacturer visited the Fanling base of the Police Tactical Unit to coach local instructors in the use of the vehicles.
Shipped to Hong Kong in mid-2018, the trucks were handed back to the force and driven into the Fanling base on Saturday night, following an inspection and test by the Electrical and Mechanical Services Department.
One police source said the force would also send officers to European countries later this year to learn how to use the vehicles from their overseas counterparts.
“We will also have to get approval from the Transport Department to train and test our officers on the vehicles in our driving school,” he said.
In addition, frontline officers would be given training on tactics to cope with the use of the vehicles, he said.
Another source added: “Given the time needed for training and assessments, the three vehicles are scheduled to enter service in the first quarter of next year.”
According to police statistics, there were 11,811 public processions and public meetings in Hong Kong last year. Figures show the number of such public order events rose from 4,287 in 2008 to 13,158 in 2016.
The three vehicles, which were made to order in France, cost a total of HK$16.59 million (US$2.11 million), which was 38.5 per cent cheaper than the HK$27 million earmarked for them in the 2015 budget.
Police proposed the purchase in the government’s budget in February that year, two months after the 79-day Occupy protests ended. During the pro-democracy protests, the force was criticised for using tear gas in a fruitless attempt to disperse protesters outside government headquarters in Admiralty.
Andy Tsang Wai-hung, the police commissioner at the time, denied the vehicle request was in response to the 2014 protests. He said the decision was prompted by a post-operation review to ensure the force was well equipped to maintain order.
Human rights groups and some legislators raised concerns at the time that water cannons had caused deaths during protests in other countries. In 2016, a South Korean farming activist was killed by injuries sustained from a water cannon.
Tender documents show the two roof cannons can fire more than 1,200 litres of water per minute over a distance of 50 metres. Six cameras are installed on each vehicle. The water can be mixed with tear gas or liquid dye, allowing police to identify suspects after they are dispersed.
In a written reply to lawmaker Wong Kwok-kin in 2016 on whether police would review their equipment after the Mong Kok riot in February that year, Lai Tung-kwok, security chief at the time, said specialised crowd management vehicles could provide police with an additional operational option.
On the first night of Lunar New Year in 2016, protesters hurled bricks dug up from pavements at police and lit fires on the streets of Mong Kok. About 100 officers were injured during the violent unrest, which lasted more than 10 hours.
This article Hong Kong police take delivery of new HK$16 million weapon to use against violent demonstrators first appeared on South China Morning Post