Hong Kong protests: can other disciplined services lend manpower support to city’s beleaguered police force?

Chris Lau

Manpower from the other disciplined services could be used to help Hong Kong police enforce the law as violent anti-government protests continue to intensify, but this would amount to “little more than 200” extra people, sources have told the South China Morning Post.

The idea was floated recently when all the heads of the city’s disciplined departments met with Secretary for Security John Lee Ka-chiu, a police source told the Post.

The proposal involved each department – the Correctional Services Department, the Fire Services Department, the Immigration Department and the Customs and Excise Department – sparing about 50 officers each, who would be recruited on a voluntary basis, the source said.

The idea was still being explored, he said, while Deputy Police Commissioner Chris Tang Ping-keung said on Monday he would not rule out such an option in the future.

The protests have steadily escalated in regular acts of violence and destruction over more than four months. Photo: Felix Wong

But several non-police disciplined service members poured cold water on the plan, saying some of their departments were also struggling with a manpower shortage.

A senior law enforcement source, who preferred to remain anonymous as he was not authorised to speak openly, said he feared the proposal would bring “collateral damage” to the other services, subjecting them to the same hatred the police are facing.

“It takes huge courage for the officers to come out and work for the force because of the doxxing situation,” he added, referring to the malicious leaking of private information onto the internet that has increased since the protests began, targeting many police officers.

The protests, which began as peaceful marches against the government’s now-withdrawn extradition bill, have steadily escalated in regular acts of violence and destruction over more than four months.

This weekend, a radical protester slashed one police officer in the neck while petrol bombs rained down on others in various districts.

To disperse them, police fired tear gas and other projectiles, one of which struck a driver working for broadcaster Now News.

Police top brass have flagged the long hours some of the city’s 30,000 police officers have endured during recent operations.

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Under the Public Order Ordinance, the chief executive has the power to authorise the commissioner of police to appoint special constables.

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor could also invoke the emergency law, just as she did to enact a recent ban on masks at public rallies.

Riot police arrive in Mong Kok to remove roadblocks. Photo: Sam Tsang

The ban, which carries a maximum sentence of one year’s imprisonment, aimed to deter violent behaviour by requiring protesters to remove their masks during rallies. But it was also criticised as an encroachment on civil liberties that usurped the function of the legislature.

“It is not an easy decision to make as the [Lee and Lam] have to consider a lot of things such as public perception the efficiency of the proposed arrangement,” a government source said. “The harm it could bring may be bigger than the benefits.”

He said the plan was to assign loaned staff back-end duties which would free up more officers to join the front line.

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Pro-Beijing heavyweight Elsie Leung Oi-sie suggested that officers borrowed from the Correctional Services Department could help escort suspects to custody, while firefighters could remove road blocks.

One firefighter, who asked for anonymity, said the plan would not be feasible because their workload had also increased due to the protests.

“We don’t even have enough rest ourselves,” he said. “Also, how would we know how to do the police’s job? If we made mistakes, it would not be good.”

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