Hong Kong’s police overtime bill tops US$120m during protests

Riot police run towards protesters on Nathan Road in Hong Kong on December 1, 2019. (PHOTO: Nicolas Asfouri/AFP via Getty Images)

By Iain Marlow and Aaron Mc Nicholas

(Bloomberg) -- Hong Kong police officers have racked up more than US$120 million in overtime wages and other allowances as they work weekends and long hours to handle unprecedented pro-democracy protests in Asia’s main financial hub.

Roughly 11,000 officers were paid more than HK$950 million (US$122 million) for extra shifts between June and November, according to a document posted on Facebook by Cheng Chung-tai, a member of the city legislature’s Finance Committee. The Hong Kong Police Force’s total budget for wages, allowances and other operating costs in the current fiscal year was HK$20.2 billion ($2.6 billion), according to the document.Hong Kong police didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment Friday.

Although the impact of the historic protests have already shown up in sharply reduced retail sales and tourist arrivals, the new figure is the first real glimpse at the extra policing costs. Thousands of officers have deployed nearly every weekend since the unrest began six months ago, while running street battles with protesters often stretch into the early hours.

The former British colony has been gripped by demonstrations since June, when large crowds took to the streets to oppose a bill that would have allowed extraditions to mainland China. Although Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s government eventually withdrew the bill, rallies continued and turned increasingly violent and disruptive.

Hong Kong’s police officers have been harshly criticized by human rights groups including Amnesty International and foreign lawmakers for aggressive tactics, which police have argued are simply a response to violent acts on the protesters’ side.

Earlier this month, Hong Kong Financial Secretary Paul Chan forecast the city’s first budget deficit since the early 2000s.


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