Hong Kong protests: police to trial new anti-riot weapon for tackling violent disorder

·4-min read

Hong Kong police will equip frontline officers with a new anti-riot weapon they say is capable of firing irritant pepper solution at targets with more accuracy than offered by existing hardware while inflicting less harm.

The force said some of its officers would be supplied on a three-month trial basis with the pistol-shaped OC launcher, an upgrade designed to deliver a faster and safer response to violent disorder.

In the wake of the 2019 social unrest, the force said it needed to obtain alternative weapons that were more effective at minimising the impact on those who were not the intended target.

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An OC launcher. Photo: Sam Tsang
An OC launcher. Photo: Sam Tsang

The OC launcher is seen as less lethal than the pepper-ball loading guns currently in service, while offering more precision than spray canisters.

“As a responsible law enforcement agency, we need to develop and provide frontline colleagues with some suitable and different less-lethal weapon options to meet their operational needs,” said Superintendent Yuen Wing-hong of the Police Tactical Unit (PTU). He is responsible for training officers including those from the Emergency Unit.

Under the trial, to run from this Sunday to mid-January next year, Hong Kong Island Emergency Unit vehicles will each be equipped with the new weapon. Police will review the arrangement after the trial period to see if it should be extended to more officers.

The unit performs regular vehicle patrols across the city to provide a quick response to emergency situations, including 999 calls, and help uniformed officers on foot patrols to fight crime.

The force has not disclosed how many officers make up the Emergency Unit or the total number of pepper launchers it has bought, citing security concerns.

Currently, police use guns that can be loaded with either 100 pepper balls or powerful jets that release pepper spray. Both are designed to be deployed against larger crowds. Beat officers are also equipped with pepper spray canisters.

Made in Switzerland, the OC launcher is a short-distance weapon with a maximum firing range of 7 metres.

Hong Kong Island’s Emergency Unit will carry OC launchers from mid-October on a trial basis. Photo: Sam Tsang
Hong Kong Island’s Emergency Unit will carry OC launchers from mid-October on a trial basis. Photo: Sam Tsang

The launcher fires oleoresin capsicum (OC) – a natural, oily extract of pepper plants – that irritates the skin and eyes and helps officers to subdue people.

Each launcher weighs about 600 grams and can fire four rounds of liquid pepper solution at a time in the form of a jet.

The active ingredient can force the eyes to close, while causing coughing and burning sensations to the skin, mouth and nose. It may also trigger vomiting.

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A blue dye in the pepper liquid solution leaves marks on the person’s nails, skin and clothes. The effects are said to wear off after 30 to 45 minutes without leaving those affected with any permanent injury.

Yuen said the weapons could be used both indoors and outdoors, but he cautioned they must only be deployed in public areas following a careful risk assessment.

According to the manufacturer, the launcher could be aimed at someone’s head, but Yuen said police would limit the target to the “very central part of the body”.

“We want to use the most appropriate and least [powerful] weapons to achieve the goal,” Yuen explained.

But he also added that if one round was not enough to stop the suspect, the officers could fire more rounds or use other weapons, depending on the situation on the ground.

Yuen added: “Compared with pepper spray, it is less affected by wind or rain. A red dot sight also helps the launcher to aim more accurately. [Police can] strike violent radicals precisely and reduce the impact on surrounding residents.”

Additional reporting by Christy Leung

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